Thursday, September 21, 2006

DDR and Child Soldiers in West Africa

Event Title: DDR and Child Soldiers in West Africa
Sponsor(s): Interaction
Location: Interaction
Date: September 13, 2006
Time: 2:30 PM - 3:30 PM
Approximate number of Attendees: 9
Intern Attending: Ashley Smith

Featured Speaker: Guillame Landry, West African Project Manager for the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers

DDR (Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration) is a method of peacekeeping implemented by the UN. It involves collecting weapons from soldiers, disbanding their armies, and reintegrating them into productive society. Unfortunately, in taking these preventative measures to cease fighting, the focus is most commonly on the disarmament of adults even when it is well-known that children are often participants in armed conflict. Additionally, the DDR methods are not aimed at reintegrating child soldiers who may have been a part of the army while not actively engaged in fighting. For example, some may be employed as cooks. The World Bank considered the DDR program in Sierra Leone a success, but this may have been in part because, if the children did not currently have guns, they were not considered a threat. Another issue here is that, once the program was implemented, there would sometimes be a two year gap between the time assistance was promised and when it was delivered. The result of this was that children would often go back to the military. On occasion, once the children were disarmed in one country, they were given a certificate of disarmament from the UN. These UN certificates are known to have been used as proof, when children would travel from one country to the next, of their experience and fighting credentials.

Cote d’Ivoire has a lot of female child soldiers. They go to centers at night where they are involved in educational activities, but then return to soldiering by day. Here, final exams are not allowed. Therefore, the children’s work is never recognized and they are left with a sense of disillusionment as they are never able to move forward, with no opportunity to go to a university. This only encourages children to fight. Cote d’Ivoire has yet to ratify the UN Protocol and the AU agreement has not been signed. Cote d’Ivoire does have some laws enacted to prevent children from becoming soldiers, but they are not enforced. In countries like Cote d’Ivoire, the conditions are so bad that humanitarian organizations are often hesitant to enter. But, with child soldiers in West Africa, it is not simply a case of a humanitarian crisis; it is also a protection crisis.

There is a belief that if Liberia can be saved, the entire region has hope. Liberia is currently the location of the largest DDR exercise. To make this happen, however, it was necessary to pull funding from other parts of the region.

Prevention will require general, local education, education of the children, and good rule of law. In addition, it is important to evaluate the efficacy of DDR programs after they have been implemented, through the use of an independent, interagency approach.

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