US commits US $13 million to help former child soldiers

Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda are among several countries that will benefit from a US $13-million global effort announced on Wednesday by the US Department of Labor to help educate, rehabilitate and reintegrate into society former child soldiers, the US government reported.

"We can't give child soldiers their childhood back, but we can help them to rebuild their lives," Elaine Chao, the labor secretary, said at the start of a two-day international conference in Washington.

A statement by the Department of Labor quoted Chao as saying that the conference on "Children in the Crossfire: Prevention and Rehabilitation of Child Soldiers" would review strategies on solving the problem of children as young as seven or eight being forced to become soldiers, spies, guards, human shields, human minesweepers, servants, decoys, sentries and prostitutes, often after being drugged. She said the strategies included prevention, disarmament, demobilisation, reintegration and rehabilitation at the community level.

Chao said conservative estimates put the number of child soldiers in the world at 300,000 in more than 30 conflicts worldwide.

She said the US initiative included $7 million to develop comprehensive strategies with the UN International Labor Organization to help former child soldiers in Burundi, the DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Colombia. It also included $3 million to help educate former child soldiers in Uganda.

Some 500 representatives of governments, NGOs, research groups and the media were expected to attend the conference.