Boys attend a class at a transit and orientation center for children demobilized from armed groups, in Bukavu, capital of South Kivu Province. The UNICEF-supported center provides shelter, health, psychosocial services, education and vocational skills training. | © UNICEF/NYHQ2012-0100/Olivier Asselin
You’ve likely seen the video, or the flurry of activity on Twitter, or pundits debating on television. Here are three things we want you to know about children in conflict. One: This is not just about one person or one place. The abuse of boys and girls during armed conflict is a global problem. Today, an estimated 250,000 children are associated with armed forces and groups in at least 20 countries around the world. These children are robbed of their rights and their childhood. They are recruited into government armed forces and rebel groups to serve as combatants, cooks, porters, messengers, or in other roles. Girls are also recruited for sexual purposes or forced marriage. Many have been recruited by force, though some may have joined as a result of economic, social or security pressures. Displacement and poverty make children even more vulnerable to recruitment. The physical and psychological impact on children and their communities is devastating. Simply capturing one man will not solve this problem. Joseph Kony, like so many others in history, could not have done what he did—and continues to do—without the consent, support and actions of others.
Two: We must help children right now and prevent future abuses. UNICEF focuses on the prevention, release, rehabilitation, and reintegration of children affected by armed conflict. Prevention: UNICEF works to promote and strengthen laws that prohibit the recruitment and use of children by armed groups and implements a range of programs that protect children from violence, particularly sexual violence that targets girls. Release: UNICEF works to release children from armed forces and armed groups as soon as possible, even during armed conflict. Since 1998, more than 100,000 children have been released and reintegrated into their communities in 15 countries affected by armed conflict, thanks to the work of UNICEF and its partners. In 2010 alone, UNICEF supported the reintegration of some 11,400 children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups along with 28,000 other vulnerable children affected by conflict. Rehabilitation: UNICEF supports services that care for the physical and mental health and well-being of children affected by conflict, providing them with life skills and engaging them in positive activities toward their future, including education, vocational skills and livelihoods training. Reintegration: UNICEF uses a community-orientated approach that includes support to other vulnerable children who have been severely affected conflict so as to promote reconciliation and avoid discrimination. These actions require a long-term perspective and long-term commitment to these children and to the conflict-affected communities into which they return. Three: We all have a role to play. One organization alone cannot end the abuse and exploitation of children during conflict. UNICEF works with governments, non-governmental organizations, and other groups committed to ending atrocities against children, including community organizations in affected countries that have worked tirelessly for decades to help children. All around the world, children affected by conflict have exhibited extraordinary courage, and UNICEF is committed to amplifying their voices. For example, former child soldier Ishmael Beah, who was removed by UNICEF from the Sierra Leone army and completed rehabilitation in 1996, was recently appointed UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War. He continues his advocacy work to bring attention to the plight of child soldiers around the world and children affected by conflict more broadly. What are you going to do?