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Colombia: UNICEF welcomes demobilization of 40 child soldiers

Colombia: UNICEF welcomes demobilization of 40 child soldiers

The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today welcomed the release of 40 child soldiers by a paramilitary group in Colombia and is preparing to reintegrate them back into society with school as the top priority.

Thanks to an agreement between UNICEF and the United Self Defence forces (AUC) signed on 29 November 2002, the 40 children, aged between 14 and 17 years old, were demobilized yesterday in Bogotá. Eight hundred children under 18 have officially left guerrilla and paramilitary groups in Colombia since last March.

"These children are in good health but are worried about their future," UNICEF said, promising to provide them with counselling and to send them back to school.

Several phases need to be undertaken for a successful child soldier demobilization activity, including short-term assistance, reintegration into the family and society, psychosocial support and education activity, UNICEF said. If these requirements are not met, the child will have a strong tendency to go back to their previous life.

The agency said some 7,000 children remain enrolled in illegal armed groups in the country and others are engaged in urban militia groups. The Colombian Government estimates that between 30 to 40 per cent of guerrilla members are children under 18, according to the agency.

UNICEF said it needed $3 million to support its 2003 humanitarian interventions for war-affected children and women in Colombia. Only $850,000 has been received so far.