Child soldiers: UNICEF program threatened by lack of funding
Hundreds of former child soldiers in South Sudan are benefiting from an international program that helps them rebuild their lives.
The traumatised young people have often been been subjected to horrific abuse and find it difficult to reintegrate into society. Many are shunned by their former community.
Managed by UNICEF, the program has transformed the lives of many. But its future is in doubt because of a lack of funds.
UNICEF’s Helene Sandbu Ryeng spoke to Aid Zone.
HELENE SANDBU RYENG: “The UNICEF reintegration program for children used by armed forces and armed groups is a three year long programme, because there are no shortcuts in reintegration. So the first initial three months we do assessments, understanding their situation, and then we create an individual plan for each child and then we figure out whether it’s formal education or vocational education.
“Every child is also assigned with a social worker that will be a firm hand to hold on to for these three years, because going back to the civil life is not easy. There are no shortcuts, and there will be difficult times.
“One of the major challenges is acceptance in the community. Some of these children have done horrific things under order from their commanders. And it’s very difficult for some of the communities to accept these children back.
“They see them as perpetrators and not as children. So we work a lot with the community to make sure that they understand that these are children and that they were under command when they were doing these things.
“We also see that a lot of these children are quite traumatised by what they have been through in the bush. And they need extensive psychological and social support to figure out a way to live with these memories because you cannot erase them, but you can find ways to learn and live with them.”
AID ZONE: “There have been a few hundred children concerned by the program. There are still many more out there with the armed groups. So how difficult is it to get them out?”
HELENE SANDBU RYENG: “Since the conflict started, UNICEF has released and reintegrated over 3,600 children in total. But there is still a lot of children out there in the bush, and some of them are already registered and they are ready to be released.
“Our main problem right now is that we don’t have funds, and the means to help these children. This programme has been underfunded for over a year and we’ve been using other resources to keep it going.
“But now these funds are exhausted. So unless we have fresh funding coming in, we might need to close Tindoka, where we are now. But also the entire programme, and with the potential peace being prolonged, we will see more children coming out of the woods, and they will need our help.
“But without funds, we can’t help them properly.”