Former Child Soldiers to Spearhead Move to Rehabilitate Children Affected by Wars

by Gopalan on Nov 22 2008 7:39 PM

Nearly a quarter million children worldwide are unlawfully recruited to take part in armed conflicts, their childhood taken away from them. The Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW) will try to bring new light into their lives.

Five former child soldiers have teamed up with the United Nations Children’s Fund and the UN office of the secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict to launch the new group.

“Our clear vision is to create a world without children being used in war, a world that is just, inclusive and supports the participation of children,” Grace Akallo, who was abducted from her high school at the age of 14 and forced to fight in the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda, said at a news conference at the United Nations.

Ms Akallo, who is now attending college in Massachusetts in the United States, also underscored the need for accountability.

“An AK-47 is not made for a kid,” stressed Ken Kelei, who was taken by a militia in southern Sudan when he was just four years old.

What allowed him to recapture his childhood after his horrible experience was “holistic” rehabilitation, he said.

“Our heads are full, packed with traumas, when we are disarmed; we are not able to function like kids,” Mr Kelei, now working towards a Master’s degree in international and European law in the Netherlands, said. “There’s no room to be educated or to observe things.”

Echoing his emphasis on the importance of rehabilitation, Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier who fought with the Sierra Leonean army, said that he was able to rebuild his life by attending school, which allowed him to “rediscover that I was capable of other things, not only what I’d come to know which was war and violence”. Prior to the establishment of the network, former child soldiers and children who have suffered as a result of conflict had no single avenue by which to express their views, he said.

The NYPAW would serve as a forum for them to discuss their experiences, but more importantly, Mr Beah said, it would help to prevent other children from meeting a similar fate.