Former child soldiers launch UN-backed network for children caught in conflict

20 November 2008

Former child soldiers have teamed up with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to launch a new group seeking to give a voice to young people who have been made to suffer from violence.

Former child soldiers have teamed up with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to launch a new group seeking to give a voice to young people who have been made to suffer from violence.

With an estimated one quarter million children worldwide unlawfully recruited to take part in armed conflicts, the Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW) – spearheaded by five former child soldiers and young people who have experienced war first-hand – aims to help children whose lives have been derailed by fighting.

“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 (LRA) in northern Uganda, told reporters today, Universal Children’s Day, at UN Headquarters in New York.

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 this new 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.

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

“We condemn these acts and we don’t want this to happen to our peers because if this continues to happen, we’re going to have a world where the future leaders would not have any moral and ethical standards at all if we leave these children behind.”

Today’s press conference in New York also heard from Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, who said that too many children worldwide are being affected by violence. “War violates every right of the child,” she said.

Also addressing reporters, UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director Saad Houry said that NYPAW is a testament to their founders’ resilience and “also on how young people can affect change.”

Meanwhile, an exhibition featuring the work of prominent photographers and based on a book entitled Child Soldiers is being unveiled tonight in New York.

It has been organized by Ms. Coomaraswamy’s office, with the support of the Italian Government and in collaboration with the UN Department of Public Information (DPI).

 

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