Former child soldiers still at risk

Militias in Cote d'Ivoire have stopped recruiting children into their ranks and all the groups were taken off the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s global list of child recruiters, according to the 2007 annual UN report on children and armed conflict issued in 2008.

"The absence of evidence of recruitment and use of children for military purposes in Cote d’Ivoire, and the revival of the peace process... have justified this measure," Boubacar Dieng, head of the child protection section of the UN Operation in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI) told IRIN.

The announcement by the UN concerns the former rebel Forces Nouvelles, which was accused of using child soldiers by the UN in November 2005, and four militia groups which supported the government.

They first came under UN scrutiny in 2006 when it was estimated they had absorbed as many as 4,000 children into their ranks since fighting started in 2002.

While no children are currently known to be active soldiers many are still working for combatants cooking, cleaning and running errands, Heather Kerr, director of Save the Children in Cote d’Ivoire told IRIN.

“There is no evidence of children being recruited, but… we have evidence that many are still clearly associated with armed forces,” she told IRIN.

Former child soldiers still face difficulties in adjusting to civilian life and are often rejected by their families and communities. “The most important thing now is to successfully integrate these children." UNOCI’s Dieng said.

Few are literate or have any formal education, said Sylvie Doussou, representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Cote d’Ivoire. “Reintegration will only work if you give them an alternative to combat like training in agriculture, or opportunities to attend school.”

Ex-child soldiers are also more prone to abuses, according to Kerr. “Sexual abuse is the biggest risk that these children face.”

The Secretary General’s report went further, saying that while Ivorian children are less likely to fight in armed forces, many still face an ‘alarmingly high’ risk of being sexually exploited.

The groups accused of having used child soldiers will no longer face the threat of sanctions by the UN Security Council, but an UN-led committee will continue to closely monitor all future recruitments.

The improved conditions for children is partly linked to recruiters’ fear of UN Security Council action, said Doussou.

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