On September 24, 2018, world leaders came together on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to pledge their support for children formerly associated with armed forces and groups. At a side event co-organized by the Kingdom of Belgium and the Office of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (OSRSG-CAAC), policy makers discussed the challenges to reintegrating these girls and boys back into society and ways to overcome these obstacles.

Each of the panelists highlighted the need for sustainable, long-term support for reintegration. H.E. the Queen of the Belgians underscored the need to provide economic support to affected children and their families, as well as to promote the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, in order to address some of the root causes. The President of Malta highlighted in her remarks the special needs of children on the move, who may be more vulnerable to recruitment, trafficking, and other abuses. She called upon UN Member States to provide adequate resources for dedicated child protection advisers in UN peace operations – a recommendation which Watchlist has echoed on a number of country situations, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan. In his presentation, the Foreign Minister of Nigeria, Mr. Geoffrey Jideofor Kwusike Onyeama, highlighted some of the positive steps his country has taken to protect children affected by the armed conflict.

The Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC), Ms. Virginia Gamba, presented a proposal to create a global fund to support the reintegration of children around the world. Resources are not keeping up with the needs, she explained: the average reintegration program runs for a mere six months, and as many as 25 percent of children released do not even have access to reintegration programming.

In his presentation, the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, Mr. Omar Abdi, identified three lessons learned from his agency’s work on reintegration. Firstly, he explained, the process of leaving an armed group takes time, especially for girls who face significant stigma; in order to successfully reintegrate, children need support to access education, livelihoods, and other basic rights. Secondly, the needs of all children – especially boys and girls – are different, and reintegration programming needs to be tailored accordingly. Thirdly, a holistic approach to reintegration should consider family, health, education, justice, law enforcement, and psychosocial support in order to ensure success.

Mr. Mohammed Sidibay, a child rights advocate and former child soldier, gave an inspiring presentation about his own experience in Sierra Leone. He explained that the reintegration assistance he received some 20 years ago was not perfect, but being among the first programs of its kind, it was important and needs continued strengthening. In particular, he highlighted the need for long-term, sustainable support, including access to education.

The World Bank Director of Social Development, Mr. Maninder Gill, echoed his support for UNICEF and its partners carrying out reintegration programming and expressed the World Bank’s willingness to continue to aid such work.

Lastly, Mr. Rob Williams, the chief executive officer of War Child UK, provided three recommendations to States: 1) dedicate adequate funding to reintegration in order to ensure a holistic approach; 2) remobilize the Paris Principles, focusing on accountability for recruitment and use and the idea of children as agents of peace; and 3) work in coalition with UN agencies and civil society to promote an ambitious agenda for children.

To read more and to watch a video of the event, visit: https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/united-for-the-future-supporting-the-reintegration-of-former-child-soldiers/.