Women’s essential contribution to peacebuilding

By: Lina Castellanos

Including women in peace negotiation processes is essential to sustainable DDR

efforts. Throughout history, all sorts of arguments have been made to exclude women’s

participation in peacebuilding: lack of negotiation skills, lack of experience, war being a

men’s field and some others that have proven to be mistaken not only because it is

clear war isn’t exclusively dominated by male combatants but also because women

have experienced war in different roles: as victims, perpetrators and peacebuilders. In

2000, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and

Security acknowledged the importance of including women in peacebuilding. The

Security Council, urged member states to increase the representation of women at all

decision-making levels for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict, and

expressed its willingness to incorporate a gender perspective into peacekeeping

operations and involving women in all peacekeeping and peacebuilding measures. For

the first time, women’s perceptions and contributions were recognized in post-conflict

scenarios. Yet, since the approval of Resolution 1325 it hasn’t always been the case

that women are actively included in peacebuilding efforts. In that sense, women are still

stigmatized and marginalized in their communities in a post conflict environment.

Women tend to be the most affected during conflicts but they are also more likely

to unify and advocate for peace. Besides, they have proven to create non-violent

resistant strategies that enrich the creation of a peace environment. In Colombia, for

example, la Ruta Pacífica de las Mujeres –The Women’s Pacifist Route- is a non-violent

feminist movement that has made visible the way war has affected Colombian women.

Since 1996, the movement has claimed for truth and justice and has successfully

transformed the idea of women perceived solely as victims of the conflict into a more

active role of women being socially and politically engaged in peacebuilding. Today

more than 10,000 women in Colombia belong to the Pacifist Route and without doubt

one of their greatest achievements has been sensitizing society on realities that were

commonly ignored. These women mobilize pacifically and originally; they usually want

to ridicule war by using tactics such as dressing in vivid colors -to challenge the vision of

war as a black and white subject-, they make soap bubbles to imitate war bombs and

they have confronted illegal armed groups with pacific chants when they have been

stopped before starting their protests in areas hard hit by the conflict.

A clear understanding and promotion of women’s rights accompanied by

initiatives to vindicate them is key to conflict and post-conflicts situations. Without those

elements it is difficult to create sustainable peace.

Women’s Role in DDR

By: Julia Rachiele

Women’s role in society is significantly overlooked in many aspects of life, and up until recently this included DDR processes.  DDR is a process that is to be integrated into society to be successful, specifically reintegration measures, to achieve this one can not undermine the power of women. Even if not playing an active role in combat, the capacity of women to influence conflict and post-conflict situations is an asset if utilized properly.  Women facilitate the functioning of roles and social systems in society, and it is only appropriate that this also applies to the success of DDR initiatives.

It is well known that women hold together the social structure of society including family bonds, social interaction, and community values.  This makes women an invaluable resource in upholding the goals of DDR.  Having acknowledged these two main points, they must be taken into consideration.  The need for DDR resources including psycho-social programs and economic programs specifically designed for women, and the ability to integrate women into overall DDR programming.  

Non combatant female roles and female dependents during conflict experience comparable trauma to men, however the manifestations and therefore the ways of coping differ greatly.  Female specific programs are a necessity in assisting women in overcoming the traumas of war even if they played passive roles.  Women who play passive support roles such as cooking, cleaning, and organizational roles are just as involved in conflict as men.  Similarly women and female child dependents of male combatants suffer hardships as well in living the life of being part of a combatant’s nuclear family.  As a result female specific mental health and medical attention need to be made gender specific through the utilization of specially trained counselors and doctors.

Women’s role in DDR goes farther than purely providing services to women.  DDR also includes integrating women in the DDR programs themselves, specifically, in community aspects.  As women are the protectors of social circles and have the responsibility of upholding families, they are valuable in upholding the goals of DDR as well.  Whether it is with women forming their own collectives in jumpstarting local economies, or being a fundamental stakeholder in protecting DDR successes, women are vital.  This is because women are able to enforce rules of DDR programs through mitigating the power that men hold.  They are able to structure society in such a way that women are able to stand in solidarity against what might be the desires of men to disrupt DDR successes.  While also ensuring that children and dependents are unable to sustain mentalities that may bring about new conflicts.

To underestimate the roles women play in society is not advisable in DDR planning.  Women are a vital and underacknowldged resource in post conflict society building.  Integrating women in DDR programs is a way to safeguard society in continuing successful reintegration processes and prevent a fall back into conflict.

A gender perspective in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration

Lina Castellanos

Reintegration of ex-combatants is one of the main challenges in Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration processes. Not only ex-combatants need to be given mechanisms for a sustainable reintegration, but they also need to have the determination to engage in what will be a complex long-term process. Still, one of the most relevant aspects in reintegration is the contribution and participation of society as a whole. Social Absorption –the ability of a community, economy and/or country to include ex-combatants as active full members of the society- is determinant when contemplating a sustainable reintegration. A national feeling of ownership of the process in which citizens are taken into account when planning and implementing DDR is crucial, but even more important is the ability of society to accept ex-combatants and participate in the absorption itself. The willingness to understand and accept that not all ex-combatants are the same, having in mind their live experiences, stories and roles in the past can contribute to planning and implementing accurate mechanisms for reintegration.

The Second Generation of DDR caseloads were no longer exclusively military male (which was the case in the first generation). Women and children were now new actors within armed conflicts. However, their experiences, roles and needs are often under-represented. In the case of women, considering all as victims or simply supporters of male combatants is inaccurate. Women’s experiences and roles inside armed conflicts are numerous and diverse. It is clear that some women experienced sexual slavery, forced sterilization, abortion, the suppression of their femininity and other traumatizing consequences in the context of conflict. Yet, others committed crimes, had coordination responsibilities or for example, were given nursery roles. Not all women experienced the same, and not all fit in the stereotypical conception of women perceived as caring, protective and maternal; some of them actually don’t want to fit in those categories.

Understanding the complexity of individual experiences and expectations will enable a realistic absorption capacity. Considering women’s perspectives, opinions and needs in peace-building is fundamental for sustainable reintegration. Women have the ability of bringing communities together, rebuilding societies and fostering a culture of peace. In that sense, the inclusion of women in DDR is not only a duty but a benefit for society in general. Conditions that allow demobilized women to become productive members of their communities must be one of the main goals in reintegration processes because the failure to do so can



Women and War – Julia Rachiele

The role of women in war has existed long before discourse on the topic came into being.  This blog post will focus on the similarities of female combatants reintegrating during the  DDR process, and female United States veterans reintegrating back into civilian life after discharge. Having spent four years researching the topic of female veterans and how the lack of gender specific services causes higher homelessness rates, it was interesting to learn about the struggles of reintegrating female combatants.  There are many issues that arise in providing services to women who are actively and formerly involved in combat.  Consideration needs to be taken, not only in the immediate needs of female fighters, but also the psychological.

Women’s wartime experiences differ from that of men.  While women might be actively involved in combat, more goes into the female fighter narrative.  Women tend to also play major supportive roles to male fighters.  This hold true for US female military as they were not officially able to participate in combat until recently.  However, unofficial combat roles did exist.  Support roles during war have shown, in some instances, to be more psychologically damaging than combat experiences.  Support roles can range from cooking, organization, and administrative work to clean up after combat (removing bodies).  These roles are overlooked and underestimated in their importance and psychological tole.  Women also have to deal with the added burden of sexual harassment.  Sexual harassment includes verbal comments, gestures, unwanted physical contact, and rape.  Even if avenues existed to report sexual harassment, it has been shown that the stigma behind wartime sexual harassment prevents women from doing so.  All of these additional challenges during wartime cause women to have a more difficult time reintegrating back into society afterwards.

The difference in psychological needs of women coupled with the unique experiences of war, make it more difficult for women to reintegrate successfully.  Women generally have significantly different psychological requirements than men, meaning that female centered services need to be provided if one wants to see successful reintegration.  More female centered and female run psychological services need to be employed to address this need.  This becomes even more important when women are facing PTSD and sexual assault trauma.  Men and women cope differently, so the male centered services offered through DDR and Veterans Affairs are not adequate.  Another important aspect not widely considered for female fighters is their responsibility as a parental caregiver, and experiences of their home lives.  It has been noted that women go into conflict as a way of escaping non-ideal home lives, so when the women return there is a lack of stability leading to more issues.  This is exacerbated when the women are the primary caregiver to children.  Women are then not only responsible for themselves but also their children’s lives.  The additional pressure of children makes it more difficult psychologically and puts women under more stress.  Women fighters need to be consulted when crafting reintegration services to ensure they are what is needed.

Designing services for female fighters is something that has not been perfected even in developed countries such as the United States.  Female veterans are 3 times more likely to be homeless than their female civilian counterparts.  This mean that DDR programs for female combatants needs to be done in a way that truly meets the needs of the population.  Using techniques available to men or even models that have worked for women in other countries will not suffice.  Female fighter reintegration is a context driven initiative and needs to be treated as so.

Implementing Community-Based Security in Bosnia and Herzegovina

By: Kaitlyn Lynes

Inherent in the second generation of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programming is the focus on development objectives and caseloads beyond the scope of ex-combatants. All aspects of society negatively affected by conflict, including women, children, the elderly, and disabled ex-combatants, must be considered to engender sustainable reintegration and peace. The ultimate goal of successful reintegration is the return of ex-combatants to a community, whether the community they originated from or a new one. However, before a return can be achieved, prior conditions must exist. At a minimum, there must be an adequate absorption capacity for ex-combatants. This means there are economic opportunities for both people living in the community and the arriving ex-combatants. An additional complication often includes the return of internally displaced peoples and refugees, all of whom expect a job when they return. Beyond socio-economic reintegration, critical psychosocial issues must be addressed. Intensive community sensitization is the process of dealing with the traumas of war, often in the form of transitional justice and reconciliation mechanisms.  At times ex-combatants are reintegrated into communities which they attacked during the conflict. In essence, victims are expected to live in the same small towns and villages as their former aggressors, causing an extremely fragile security situation that can be improved with targeted psychosocial reintegration approaches. Most importantly, there must be strong local ownership of reintegration processes, ensuring a credible, context-appropriate program designed and implemented by those directly affected.

Community-based security is most effective in weak or failed states, yet has not been implemented in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since the end of the war with Serbia following the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in December 1995, the country has been primarily governed by several international organizations. Many post-conflict initiatives—meant to solve immediate security issues at the local level—are still implemented today. The most well-known example is the two-in-one schools, school buildings across the country that have separate classrooms, administrations, offices, and recess hours based on ethnicity. Students and teachers of different ethnic identities never cross paths, even while occupying the same building at the same time. Recent protests against this system by students highlights the urgent need for community ownership over security considerations. The Bosnian government continues to struggle with a lack of authority and reach, as well as widespread corruption, both strong indicators that a bottom-up approach linking security and community development would positively benefit Bosnia and Herzegovina. Community-based security across the country will allow for efficient and effective governance structures to take hold and provide better mechanisms for finally dealing with psychosocial grievances experienced during the war.

Family, Reintegration & DDR:


– by Ardra Manasi:  The New School

The measurement of DDR outcomes and the evaluation of its success often poses serious challenges. The complexity of the third generation DDR approaches, typified by measures in countering violent extremism (CVE), lies in its shift of engagement from state centric actors to non-state actors, that include often violent extremist (VE) groups like Taliban as in the context of Afghanistan. How does one measure the success of DDR in such a setting? The conventional measurement parameters like the number of weapons collected, the funds utilized and the number of ex-combatants demobilized might present a useful scenario. But can a non-conventional measurement parameter like monitoring the number of days that the individual militant spent with his/her family after demobilization be a useful measure to guide DDR practitioners? How far can family be helpful in understanding an individual’s integration into the community at large?

The Integrated IDDR Standards, the key operational guidelines for implementing DDR on the ground does not pay much attention to the role of family in its reintegration efforts. The disarmament and demobilization phase is followed by ex-combatants eventually returning to their homes, often equipped with socio-economic reinsertion packages. But it is useful to think about of how ‘home’/ ‘family’ becomes a site of both confrontation and adaptation. Is the combatant’s family receptive and welcoming? Or are they hostile and condescending? This gets even more worse for women ex-combatants returning home as they are perceived to have defied their gender roles by taking up arms (The case of women ex-combatants in Sri Lanka’s LTTE illustrate this).

Can an ex- combatant’s family play a role in ensuring that he doesn’t take up arms again? Conversely, what role may a family play in willfully getting an ex-combatnat to become a recidivist?  The family members can turn out to be either positive or negative influencers i.e they can either play a role in “radicalization” of fighters or can play a reformatory role. The latter revealing fact can be leveraged for reintegration efforts, especially for engaging with VE groups. For instance, the family members of such groups can receive special training in terms of taking care of the psychological needs of these ex-combatants and also for aiding in their de-radicalization efforts, supported by the UN or other community organizations. Drawing upon the case of Iraq, Doug Stone (2015), the brain behind the ‘Rome Memorandum’ (a compendium of best practices for rehabilitation and reintegration of violent extremist offenders) argues that for addressing radicalization issues among the violent extremists, the receiving community should be involved along with the militants, either one-on-one or in groups.

Ex-combatants often end up caught between their old extremist affiliations and the very society or community they sought to represent in their struggle. Usually, to the ex-combatant, the former extremist linkages have become unattractive and while the society they seek to integrate into has little need for them. Being caught in such a bind, this results in maladjustment and worse, an incentive to relapse into old ways of violence, criminal behavior, or extremism. This often results from a feeling of being unwanted in their old homes and an ongoing sense of drift. This is particularly true of non-ideological foot soldiers who, unlike ideological leaders, were conscripted into violent struggles to provide “muscle”.  It is here that the families become very important in terms of actively participating in the ex-combatant’s ‘normalization’ process.

Instead of a homogenous rehabilitation package devised for treating individual combatants as an undifferentiated mass, a more effective approach is one that is tiered in how it is administered, is continuously engaged over time, and multi-pronged as far as interventions are concerned.  To this end, this could include bringing families of those affected into community events together, to help them understand the pitfalls and potentialities ahead for themselves and the ex-combatants. This could also involve sensitizing the wives of men who have returned and helping them to cope with the returnee’s stress which may result in psycho-sexual anxieties as well.  On an economic front, if packages for families are tied to the ex-fighters’ continued cooperation and non-violence, there is a collective pressure at work that forces the fighter to aid his family on one end, while simultaneously, it allows the family to see the fighter as one among them.  Furthermore, the family members can be trusted sources for providing reliable information about the ex-combatants and their interactions once they are back home in terms of psychological profiles by a non-professional third party.

It is equally important to design DDR policies which address the psycho-social needs of such families who often face social stigma and alienation from the rest of the community. Developing policy guidelines in the IDDRS for family based integration as a component of ‘Reintegration’ can be a right step in this direction.


The UNMISS mandate through a gender lens: on the DDR process in South Sudan

By Nadine Lainer

The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), established pursuant to Security Council resolution 1996 (2011), incorporates a relatively strong gender lens in its actions and, compared to other missions in the region, regularly includes gender-specific and sex-disaggregated data in its reports. According to S/RES 1996 (2011/OP 3(a)), UNMISS is authorized to support national efforts for peace consolidation to foster long-term statebuilding and economic development. The mission is further mandated to support the Government of the Republic of South Sudan in “developing and implementing a national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration strategy, in cooperation with international partners with particular attention to the special needs of women and child combatants“ (S/RES 1996 (2011/OP 3(c)(ii)))

The first report to mention the DDR process in South Sudan was presented by the Secretary-General in November 2011. The first phase of the program that targeted 12,525 South Sudanese combatants and was implemented under the auspices of the UN country team and UNDP was supposed to be completed by 31 December 2011. The report further informs about the subsequent DDR strategy for 2012-2017, which at that time was under review and scheduled to begin in April 2012, targeting a caseload of 4,500 ex-combatants of the South Sudan Armed Forces and other armed groups in three transitional centers (S/2011/678, P36-40). However, the report does not include any information on women ex-combatants or women associated with armed groups (WAAGs). Needless to say that the actual implementation came to a very slow and delayed start.

The next report to the Security Council that references the national DDR process and its progress was delivered two years later in March 2013. It includes mentions of the inaugural meeting of the National DDR Commission, which was held on 14 November 2013. According to the report, the DDR process is overseen by four security pillar institutions, the DDR Commission, the Ministry of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs, the Ministry of Interior, and the Ministries of Wildlife Services and National Security. The pilot phase of this new “nationally owned” DDR program under the auspices of the DDR Commission was supposed to begin in April 2013. Even back then, the Secretary-General raised concerns about the feasibility of the program due to tight austerity measures of the government (S/2013/140, P 57).

Throughout all Security Council resolutions concerning the UNMISS mandate, which is renewed bi-annually (the last resolution (S/RES 2223) was passed in May 2015), references to the women, peace and security agenda and the respective resolutions (particularly S/RES 1325 (2000)) are made, emphasizing women’s full and meaningful participation in all peacebuilding and conflict resolution efforts. Most importantly, UNMISS is also mandated with the protection of civilians as well as the facilitation of humanitarian access and human rights verification and monitoring (S/RES 2155 (2014)). This particular mandate includes the deployment of Women Protection and Gender Advisors as well as coordinated efforts with civil society and the police to fight sexual violence.

However, none of the mandate renewal resolutions include mentions of the DDR process. The last UN document to reference DDR efforts was the report by the Secretary-General in August 2015, which briefly informed on the work of the National DDR Commission but did not comprise any gender-specific data (S/2015/655).

While the UNMISS mandate includes a relatively strong focus on gender, working towards creating an enabling environment for women’s participation in the national political dialogue and drawing attention to pervasive sexual violence, immense discrepancies between official reporting and accounts of women peacebuilders on the ground remain. Women’s participation in the DDR process continues to be of great urgency. The provision of sex-disaggregated data on the DDR caseloads as well as the engagement of women’s civil society in the planning and implementation of any future DDR program is a must.

According to the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP), as of May 2015, South Sudan has a draft National Action Plan (NAP) for the implementation of resolution 1325 (and all corresponding WPS resolutions) to fully realize the potential of women peacebuilders and include them in all aspects of conflict resolution. Clearly, the National Action Plan must emphasize the important role of women in all DDR and SSR efforts.

Sexual and Gender-based Violence Against Children in the DRC Conflict Part 1: Statistics, Preconditions and Effects

By Ashley Dale

It is no secret that sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is widespread in the DRC; a place that has been dubbed the rape capital of the world and one of the most dangerous places for women and girls to live. The protracted conflict has been the deadliest since World War II spanning nearly two decades and killing roughly 5.4 million people. In June 2012, the Sonke Gender Justice Network and the Institute for Mental Health of Goma implemented a survey as part of a study on sexual violence to men and women in and around Goma in the North Kivu province of the DRC. The study found that instances of SGBV rise during times of conflict. The data gathered from the survey concluded that all people in the region are subject to SGBV including men and boys with women and girls being at the highest risk for encountering SGBV at both the household level and in the field during conflict. Given these facts, it is no surprise that SGBV, particularly rape, is used without hesitation as a key weapon of war in the DRC conflict.

Children account for a large number of actors, both direct and indirect, in the ongoing conflict that has plagued the DRC since 1996. They make up a portion of ex-combatant dependents, outside actors and victims, and child soldiers perpetrating violence and are considered a special needs group (SNG) in DDR. Coupled with the widespread use of SGBV in the DRC, it seems unfathomable that children would not be affected by sexual violence in some way throughout this conflict. In fact, the truth is that children are key targets of SGBV because of their vulnerability and societal status in which they are typically dependents and have no power to make decisions. Children and young adults under the age of 25 make up roughly 60 percent of the target demographic in conflict affected countries. One startling statistic concludes that in the first half of 2012, 74 percent of sexual violence victims and survivors treated at the HEAL hospital in Goma, DRC were children. This number could be much higher since data on this subject is difficult to collect. Many victims live in fear and/or shame and do not come forward to report their abuse. The stigma surrounding SGBV, especially in Africa and particularly in the DRC because of its rampant use, makes it extremely difficult for researchers to get concrete statistics, leaving us with only estimates of the damage done.

Several preconditions typically need to be realized in order for SGBV against children in conflict to occur. First, there is usually a breakdown in governance with a lack of institutional stability; the DRC is a prime example of this being a failed state where institutional instability (and in some cases lack of specific institutions) and lack of governance is glaring. Along the same lines, corruption and absence of rule of law are typically present as well; again this is evident in the DRC. Impunity and lack of accountability are also factors which are also evident in the DRC. A prime environment for SGBV has taken shape when these preconditions mix with communities that are unable to protect themselves, stigmatizing cultural attitudes towards rape and sexual violence, and the normalization of certain behaviors.

The results of SGBV against children in conflict and under the above mentioned conditions are many. Unwanted pregnancies, STDs, HIV, incontinence, and fistula are some of the physical effects of sexual violence against children. Psychological effects include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, flash backs, and drug and alcohol abuse. Some of these psychological effects have longer-term side effects including interrupted or discontinued education, forced marriage, and limited income options (e.g. sex work). SGBV destroys the social fabric of villages in the DRC where children are often rejected by their families and/or whole communities. This in turn creates fear, trust issues, and loss of confidence of the children affected. All of these factors damage children deeply and leave them with minimal hope for recovery. SGBV against children in conflict destroys families and creates breakdown in communities which is a key motivation of combatants who perpetrate this type of violence.

It is important to understand the specific war tactics used in the DRC conflict and what groups they are inflicted upon in order to understand why several DDR processes have been implemented with little success. The newest and third DDR process was recently implemented (May 2015) in the DRC, but how affective will it be in terms of addressing child ex-combatants (child soldiers) who have suffered SGBV? What approaches, if any, will be taken to help reintegrate this specific cohort (as both outside and inside actors in the conflict) of this special needs group back into society? I will address these questions in Part 2 of this blog.

Sexual and Gender-based Violence Against Children in the DRC Conflict Part 2: DDR Issues for Child Soldiers

By Ashley Dale

Children are often left out of the DDR process, especially girls due to gender bias and inequalities in places like the DRC. One challenge is that DDR processes are typically underfunded to begin with. This leaves little room for children in the process, who could be thought of as secondary actors in the conflict, even though many take up arms and actively fight. According to a report from Relief Web, 43 percent of all armed groups around the world use child soldiers with 90 percent of them actually seeing combat.

Another issue is that the DDR process starts with disarmament which acts as a measure of how many combatants need to be demobilized and reintegrated back into society. This process also acts as a measure of success of the DDR process – the more weapons collected, the more successful the DDR. However, not all children carry a weapon, especially girls, which leaves those children out of the DDR process altogether. According to the Relief Web report, only two percent of the female child soldiers in the DRC received any kind of benefits from the DDR process. The benefits they receive are minimal at best. They may get water, a small portion of food, a plastic sheet for shelter, maybe a ride home, and a small, one-time payment if any monetary compensation is given at all.

How could children be treated any differently when they are tasked with the same jobs and cast into the same roles as some of the adult combatants, and how does this relate to child soldiers who were victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV)? It seems that armed groups see children as expendable. They are recruited to fight because they are vulnerable and impressionable, are easily controlled and manipulated, and are cheap to feed and care for. These factors leave them open to acts of SGBV during conflict. Their vulnerability and ability to be easily manipulated also puts them in a position where adult combatants can take advantage of them and force them to be perpetrators of SGBV against other children. This is used as a method of initiation and control, according to the Relief Web report. However, this should not exclude them from the DDR process. Children suffer physical, emotional, and psychological damage that is equivalent or even worse than that of adult combatants. Girl child soldiers are in an even worse position because of gender inequalities and issues only faced by girls such as unwanted pregnancies due to rape, physical trauma like fistulas, and only being thought of as victims of SGBV even though nearly half of girls in conflict serve as active combatants.

Children that are excluded from the DDR process are at a higher risk for reintegration back into the conflict, pose a greater security threat to the country, and are at risk of being cast out of their families and communities. Those children, including boys, who suffer SGBV during their time as child soldiers suffer an even greater physical, emotional, and psychological burden that puts them at even greater risk of the above. In my opinion, no DDR process should be considered a success when it leaves out the most vulnerable group that needs the most help and support – children, especially those who suffered SGBV during their time as a child soldier.

Another issue with DDR of child soldiers is the lack of support for those who enter into conflict as children but are adults by the time the disarmament process takes place. These now adults tend to be left out of the DDR process altogether. This comes back to a lack of funding of DDR processes in general. The money that is allotted for DDR goes to the three main processes that make up DDR, but are crafted for and first given to adult ex-combatants. Future DDR processes need to be designed with special needs groups like children in mind with specific steps addressing their unique needs. Since the newest and third installment of DDR in the DRC was just launched in May of this year, it’s too soon to tell how it will address child ex-combatants, especially those who have suffered SGBV or perpetrated it during the conflict.

Children in DDR: Lessons from Sierra Leone

By Nick Palombo

Recruiting children into governmental armed forces, or other armed groups, is illegal under international law and a violation of human rights. Seen in many conflicts, such as in Uganda, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan, Namibia, and many others, child combatants make up a significant portion of many armed groups. Because of this it is critical that security approaches are developed, adopted, and incorporated into DDR programs that pertain to disengaging minors from militant groups in conflict settings. Children that are soldiers are first and foremost children. This fact must be the basis for all child-soldier reintegration in DDR programs.

The Cape Town Principles and Best Practices (1997) define a child-soldier as:

“Any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than family members. The definition includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and for forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms.”

Incorporating child soldiers in DDR programs require a holistic and child-centered approach, founded on protecting children and honoring their rights. Children are significant to reintegration as they may re-take up arms, especially if they are returning to a situation of poverty, rejection, and socio-economic marginalization. Child-soldiers can be both combatants and non-combatants, as well as both boys and girls ranging from infants to 18. It is important that DDR procedures and peace agreements reflect their needs. This ensures that programming is tailored to suit their successful and permanent reintegrating into society. Measures should be adopted and directed at the individual child, their families, and the greater community.

The rights of children, codified in numerous international documents such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, provide a general direction for practitioners in protecting children in contexts of war. DDR for children should be driven by international legal standards, and accordingly, planned and operated by organizations with child protection central to their mandates.  All programming aimed at children should have the “best interest of the child” in mind. This will require a targeted approach that is specific to each child’s needs, which is counter-intuitive to the traditional ‘cookie-cutter’ approach that regular DDR programs usually entail. Despite many similarities, the experiences of children in conflict will always be vastly different. Therefore, the child reintegration assistance must be customized to help each child in their unique situation.

DDR programs targeting minors must be age appropriate, time-sensitive, and should include children who participated in war, as well as children who supported it, and were affected by it. According to the IDDRS, ‘child-centred reintegration is multi-layered and focuses on family reunification; mobilizing and enabling care systems in the community; medical screening and health care, including reproductive health services; schooling and/or vocational training; psychosocial support; and social, cultural and economic support’.[1] Incorporating this range of operations in DDR programs can help practitioners appropriately include child-combatants, while keeping in mind the exceptional psycho-social necessities for children in warfare. Implementing a child-centered and rights based approach is both resource-intensive and time-sensitive. Also, children do not reintegrate in isolation. Outside factors can heavily affect the process and potential success of this DDR type. Therefore a child-centered approach that focuses on strengthening the family and the community will allow for the best and most sustainable protection of a child’s welfare.

A prominent example of child soldier reintegration took place after the invasion of Sierra Leone by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). This group became known for its extensive use of child soldiers. Through the abduction of children during village raids, the RUF forced children to commit atrocities against their own families or others to instil in them the sense that they could never return back to their village. In the time between 1991 and 2001, 10 000 children were forced to fight in Sierra Leonean armed forces (Odeh and Sullivan 2004). Children became rejected from the community, following their infliction of violence by the command of their militant groups.

The Child-Soldier DDR program in Sierra Leone focused heavily on reuniting children with family and the community, as opposed to solely the individual development of the child itself. The reason for this was because after committing such grave atrocities, child soldiers at risk of being rejected by the community. In Sierra Leonne, because children were so central to the conflict, the standard of dealing with child soldiers was at the forefront of peace operations. Laid out in a comprehensive peace agreement, the Lomé Peace Accord specified that children combatants would be given particular attention and handled differently than adults in DDR settings. One example of this difference was in allotment of cash stipends and skills training. Adult combatants were given financial packages for reintegration and incentive, as opposed to children, who were not given these in fear that holding monetary value would leave them vulnerable to their commanders. Instead, children were assisted with unifying with their families, and they were given a choice between education and skills training. In spite of this, difficulty arose when some children requested to be reintegrated as adults, while others, requesting the same, only wanted to participate to receive cash incentive.

Selection and eligibility for child-soldier DDR was a point of contention in Sierra Leone’s program. Determining the age of a child, which is conducive to determining their needs, was made very difficult for a variety of different reasons (aside from the one mentioned previously). Some children were left out of the program because they did not possess arms. Young girls experienced the greatest marginalization in this respect, as they often do in most child-soldier reintegration programs. For an abundance of reasons, such as inability to access programming, feelings of shame, ‘bush-husband’ influence, and gender bias in programming, many girls and young women were overlooked in the process. Out of the 6845 children reintegrated by 2004, 92 percent were boys and only 8 percent girls (UNICEF 2004).  A large part of this exclusion was that girls did not have weapons and therefore were turned away. An important lesson, which can be found in the IDDRS, is that child-soldier DDR programs should have alternate means for child soldiers, in particular girls, to access reintegration services that are not dependent on weapon ownership or the willingness of commanders.

Many lessons like this one can be drawn from Sierra Leonne to be applied to future projects of child-soldier disarmament, demobilization and reintegration. One is that interventions must be made on a basis that is appropriate and specific to the context that a child is engulfed. In Sierra Leone, this was through ‘community sensitization, formal disarmament and demobilization, a period of transition, family tracing and unification, mediation, traditional healing ceremonies, school and skills training, and encouragement and facilitation’ (Williamson, 192). Undoubtedly, returning children to their families was the most important aspect of child reintegration. Families played a prominent role in the sustainability of child-soldier reintegration, therefore building partnerships with these groups and the community was integral to the sustainability of disarmament.

Another lesson from Sierra Leone is that peace agreements must reflect the fact that children can be both combatants and non-combatants, and accordingly there is a need to incorporate both in the reintegration process.  Special attention to procedures and considerations regarding children must be incorporated into not only peace agreements, but also the training of peacekeepers and military observers. Additionally, young women and girls are at most risk of exclusion, therefore special attention should be given to ensure their inclusion when the process is planned and implemented.  Furthermore, even more attention, as well as humanitarian assistance, is due to young adults (both male and female) who were abducted or otherwise forced as children to become part of a militant group and as a result have been permanently socialized to war.

Understanding the needs of child-soldiers is best understood through a contextual analysis. This involves looking at the political, social, economic and cultural origins of a conflict, as well as the ideologies and structures of armed groups, recruitment targets, the living conditions of children in these groups, and the community’s feelings about the impact of the conflict on the needs of children, to best understand the caseload. DDR for children is separate and different from DDR for adults. Programming should be tailored to the needs of boys, girls, young men, and young women, aside from the normal case-load of former combatants. Since children and young people are disproportionately affected by war and conflict, their special needs must be reflected in their reintegration programs.

[1] IDDRS Chapter 5. Pg.30 http://www.iddrtg.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/IDDRS-5.30-Children-and-DDR1.pdf