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close this bookThe Reintegration of War-Affected Youth: The Experience of Mozambique (International Labour Organization, 1997, 52 p.)
close this folder3. Reintegrating war-affected youth into society in Mozambique through vocational skills training programmes
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View the document3.1. The demobilization and reintegration of former youth combatants
View the document3.2. The reintegration of child soldiers
View the document3.3. The reintegration of youth civilians
Open this folder and view contents3.4. Selected examples of mainstream vocational training courses

3.2. The reintegration of child soldiers

Deliberately excluded from the demobilization process in Mozambique were an unknown number of “child soldiers” under the age of 15.2 According to recent research conducted for the United Nations, some 250,000 children under the age of 18 are currently serving in government armed forces or armed opposition groups around the world. In 1995-96, children took an active part in 33 armed conflicts.3

2 The current international minimum age for recruitment into the armed forces and participation in armed conflict is 15. A great many countries, however, including Mozambique have set 18 as the minimum legal age for recruitment and participation under national legislation, and negotiations continue under the auspices of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to draft an Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which would potentially raise the international minimum to 18.

3 R. Brett and M. McCallin, Children: The invisible soldiers, Ra Barnen, Stockholm, 1996, p. 23.

No one knows precisely how many children under 18 served in the armed forces of FRELIMO or RENAMO during the 16-year civil war in Mozambique, but the number is widely believed to be in the thousands.4 Given that the longer a conflict goes on, the greater is the tendency to recruit ever younger children, it is likely that many of those Mozambican youth who were officially demobilized (i.e. those 15 or over), had originally been recruited as young children. At the end of the conflict, however, the demobilizing agency of the Mozambique Government, Accion Sociale, determined that there were only 850 children under 15 years old remaining in the RENAMO armed force, of whom 574 were identified and referred for rehabilitation.5

4 Guy Mullin, Coordinator of LINK, for instance, thought that 10,000 to 15,000 children had served in the RENAMO army alone. Discussion with the author, 12 Dec. 1996.

5 See International Labour Office, Reintegrating demobilized combatants: Experiences from four African countries, paper prepared for the Vocational Training Systems Management Branch, ILO, Geneva 1995, Country Summary Mozambique, p. 5.

According to Save the Children Federation (US), it worked with some 2,000 child soldiers before the 1992 peace agreement; 850 were found in RENAMO bases during the demobilization in 1994; and another 6,000 were reported by communities as having returned spontaneously when RENAMO let them go during the peace process. The group of 6,000 were mostly porters and domestic help, while the 850 kept in bases until the demobilization were likely to be soldiers.6

6 AIA/Sayagues, Traditional rituals heal child soldiers, press release, Maputo, 18 Nov. 1995. UNICEF, however, reported that although some had been involved in fighting and some had held military ranks, many had worked as servants for the soldiers, washing their clothes, cleaning the compound, cooking and carrying their weapons. (UNICEF, The expansion of CEDC Services/Peace Education Project, UNICEF report, Maputo, undated, p. 15.)

The 850 children who were kept in 19 RENAMO army bases were transferred to 12 transit centres (nine in RENAMO-controlled areas and three in government-controlled areas) in seven provinces in a joint SCF/UNICEF/Red Cross project prior to reunification with their families (where this was possible) and reintegration assistance. Most of the children had been kidnapped between 1988 and 1990 and had lived in the bases for several years; very few had been abducted after the peace negotiations had started.7

7 UNICEF, The expansion of CEDC Services/Peace Education Project, UNICEF report, Maputo, undated, p. 15.

The treatment of child recruits during their “service” in the army was reported to have been extremely brutal:

As soldiers in the [opposition] bases, the children were severely punished if they disobeyed the orders of their superiors. The punishments varied from simple corporal punishment, deprivation of food, amputation of fingers, nose, ears, and even execution carried out by one or the more “mature” children.1

1 Brett and McCallin, op. cit., p. 130.

In addition, the duties that children were required to perform during the conflict have had serious and long-lasting consequences for them:

The main injuries received by the children are deafness, blindness, bums, damaged limbs leading to amputation, given the frail nature of their bodies, and from the hazards of carrying heavy weights, inhaling toxic substances, land mines, and long marches, to name but a few.2

2 ibid., pp. 133-4.

As a consequence, many demobilized child soldiers complained that bullets or pieces of shrapnel had not been removed from their bodies. Their families rarely had the money to pay for the necessary operations.3

3 ibid., p. 133.

The research conducted for the United Nations Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children4 on child soldiers stressed that it was “only through an appreciation of the conditions of life which define the children's social and cultural environment upon demobilization that effective strategies can be implemented to address the consequences of their participation, and effect their social reintegration.” It was found that the linkage between education, employment opportunities, and the economic security of the children's families were factors that would not only determine successful social reintegration but also contribute to efforts to prevent further recruitment.5

4 UN doc. A/51/306 of 26 Aug. 1996.

5 Brett and McCallin, op. cit., pp. 141-2.

Vocational training is crucial to the successful reintegration of former child/young soldiers.6 Research conducted for the ILO in Liberia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone has emphasized the need not only for vocational training per se, but also the children's need for basic education and training in life skills to assist their reintegration.7 As has been the case in the UNICEF-sponsored programme, however, former child soldiers should not be treated as a distinct or separate group but should “be integrated into skills courses with other trainees. It is considered that this will ensure their assimilation and acceptance and work towards conflict resolution. As vocational training is seen as an integral component of reintegration, efforts should be made not to further marginalize the children, but rather to raise awareness that 'their needs may be different, more complex, or more acute than other children in difficult circumstances'.”8

6 M. McCallin, The reintegration of young ex-combatants into civilian life, paper prepared for the Vocational Training Systems Management Branch, ILO, Geneva, 1995, p. 22.

7 ibid., p. 23.

8 ibid.

UNICEF found it very difficult to determine accurately the age of the children although they believed that most had been kidnapped at between 8 and 12 years of age. According to UNICEF, the children were not generally showing signs of trauma.9 A pilot project of trauma counselling was nevertheless established in Maputo and Gaza provinces by AMOSAPU (Associa Mobicana de Saa), an NGO grouping several practitioners of mental health. The project employed qualified Mozambicans to provide psychological support and counselling to 75 youths, some of them previous child soldiers. UNICEF felt that the limited number of children assisted and the use of highly educated staff made the project unsustainable over the long term and incapable of replication around the country.1

9 UNICEF, The expansion of CEDC Services/Peace Education Project, UNICEF report, Maputo, undated, p. 15.

1 Discussion with Jean-Claude Legrand, Chief of CEDC and Emergency Sections, UNICEF Maputo, 13 Dec. 1996. Nevertheless, the experience gained during the project will be summarized in the form of a manual on trauma counselling for social workers and health workers.

Indeed, approaches to the psychosocial care of former child soldiers and other war-affected children vary widely. Some favour a more clinical approach, which seeks to adapt Western expertise in child psychology and psychiatry to the local context, seeking to encourage children diagnosed as “traumatized” to talk about their experiences. Others reject this as fundamentally inappropriate to the situation in Mozambique, since in the local culture silence does not necessarily mean repression.2 Mozambican communities have their own healing mechanisms: religious rites and traditional cleansing rituals. Communities believe that evil is put into the body of a child soldier which must be cleansed.3 As many of the rites include a component of rejection of so-called “modern” or Western values, which are perceived as alien and an enemy of traditional culture, local people are generally unwilling to talk about the past with foreigners.

2 For a detailed discussion of the different conceptions of “trauma” in Mozambique and the West, see S. Gibbs, “Post-war social reconstruction in Mozambique: Re-framing children's experience of trauma and healing”, in Disasters, Vol. 18, No. 3 (1994), pp. 268-276.

3 Discussion with Eunice Sarita Mucache, Director of Programmes, Mozambican Red Cross, 12 Dec. 1996.

In addition, the Western emphasis on healing through play is criticized by some. Enrique Querol, for example, an Argentine psychologist and director of the Red Cross training centre in Chimoio (Manica), states:

It's one thing to take your child twice a week to a psychologist and have the child play in a room full of toys, then to go to a one-room hut where the whole family lives, children have no toys except those they make themselves, and they are expected to work.4

4 AIA/Sayagues, Traditional rituals heal child solders, press release, Maputo, 18 Nov. 1995.

Querol favours an approach where the community activist gains access to the family through other means, and only gradually introduces play as therapy, using the toys made out of bamboo, wood and scrap metal by children. The use of social workers for this role, however, has not been without its problems. Social workers have not traditionally been perceived either by the community or indeed by themselves as interlocutors but as providers. Both parties found the new role a difficult concept to accept.5

5 Discussion with Jean-Claude Legrand, Chief of CEDC and Emergency Sections, UNICEF Maputo, 13 Dec. 1996.

Based on its own experiences, UNICEF felt that it was no longer right to target specific programmes at child soldiers. They also stressed that individual therapy was generally inappropriate. Effort and resources should be put into vocational training with psychological support, including group consultations. Individual counselling should only be used in extreme cases. UNICEF plans to hire a consultant in 1997 to evaluate the success of its vocational training projects.