An issue bigger than even Lord Voldemort

As a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Ralph Fiennes — who takes a turn at playing evil as He Who Must Not Be Named in the Harry Potter films — has focused on the decidedly UN-evil cause of calling attention to the plight of child soldiers. His trip to eastern Chad, for example, occurred alongside — and most probably generated the media coverage of — a UN operation to release and demobilize more than 80 child soldiers in the region. This is a great work, but, as this illuminating Foreign Policy story makes clear, reintegrating former child soldiers into society is anything but easy — and there are over 300,000 around the world, creating a far more prevalent and destabilizing phenomenon than is commonly understood.

We think we know what a child soldier looks like: the AK-toting, drugged-out boy “with anger burning in his eyes.” But that isn’t necessarily the case. To dispel the myths about child soldiering, read the whole piece. This is what hit me hardest:

Sending children home via disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs is another favorite method of post-conflict planners. These programs are meant to get children and adolescents out of armies and back where they belong — in schools or in jobs. But here again, results are mixed. Many organizers make the mistake of excluding girls from their programs. They often fail to understand the local economy and therefore train children for the wrong professions. In Liberia, for example, too many ex-combatants were educated as carpenters and hairdressers. Nor do the programs target the roots of intergenerational violence that will long outlast the active fighting. DDR initiatives are often too short term to do much more than superficial training, as even officials from the U.S. Agency for International Development will admit. [emphasis mine]

Forgive the crude example, then, but Voldemort himself could renounce evil and free his child Death Eaters, but if the DDR process isn’t done right, or followed up with rigorous attention to development concerns, then they will still not be able to return to society, or, worse, will be prone to returning to combat. DDR is one of the hardest of peacekeepers’ tasks: convincing former partisans and killers to give up their arms, rejoin the nation they were fighting against, and live amongst their former enemies. With children who have been traumatized in myriad ways, abused and exploited, raised on a diet of economic, sexual, and military conscription, the process is even harder. And it’s discouraging to think that it may not be working that well.