Monday, May 22, 2006

World Bank Supports Efforts to Save African Child Soldiers

(Source Article: Saving the Smallest Soldiers - World Bank News)

Through the Multi-Country Demobilization & Reintegration Program (MDRP), a collaborative effort amongst several nations and international organizations to disarm and reintegrate combatants in war-torn central Africa, the World Bank provides financial and technical assistance primarily to the MDRP’s efforts in easing ex-combatants' transition to civilian life.

The MDRP is currently working to reintroduce some 400,000 former combatants in the African Great Lakes countries: a region of Africa that has suffered decades-long wars, but in light of recent stability allows for programs such as the MDRP to attempt to rebuild societies therein. Of the 400,000 former combatants, some 18,000 are children as young as 6 years old. Rebel groups, including the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), are notorious for snatching up children at night and forcing them into service as soldiers, spies, cooks and even sex slaves. Despite The MDRP’s efforts, an estimated 30,000 children are still engaged in active combat in the Democratic Republic of Congo alone, and thousands more elsewhere in the region—all while groups like the LRA continue their efforts to kidnap and recruit these child soldiers.

While the MDRP has strong financial support for its efforts (over US$500 million, approximately 200 million of which is funded by the Bank), it is not an easy process to reintegrate children who were deprived of a normal childhood: while most children go to school and play with friends, these kids killed people. As a result, they suffer from severe psychological problems, nightmares, and are prone to violence towards others. Because of this, the MDRP oftentimes only succeeds in reuniting these children with their families, with whom the children aren't always familiar after spending years apart, and not in completely transitioning them into their communities: around 60% of children, once returned to their homes, are engaged in an activity, such as school, with the purpose of providing them with the skills they need to successfully reintegrate. Nevertheless, the MDRP and its partners aim to increase the success rate to 85%, though they remain unconvinced that a 100% success rate is on the horizon.

The MDRP is in the process of helping the local communities form their own child protection groups for the purpose of monitoring and providing reintegration support to the children upon return to their communities. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for instance, a national program already in place that assists adult ex-combatants will soon combine its efforts with the MDRP to provide similar assistance to children.

The World Bank and the MDRP both realize that disarmament and reintegration is necessary for prosperous development in the region. With continued peace, future generations of children will not be subjected to such horrid conditions and life experiences.

1 comment:

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