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The Social Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Child Soldiers

H.R.H. the Princess of Hanover 

Dear President, Madame Margaret S. Archer,

Mr Chancellor, Monseigneur Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, 

Academicians,

Allow me first of all to share my great satisfaction in being here with you today to participate in the work of the prestigious Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. I am delighted to be talking to you in my capacity as President of AMADE Mondiale. AMADE Mondiale is an association dedicated to protecting children around the world. It was founded by my mother, the late Princess Grace of Monaco, in 1963, a few years, in fact, before the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the international community. 

AMADE is based on a vision: the vision of a world where every child, whatever his social, religious or cultural origins are, would have the capacity to live in dignity and security, his fundamental rights fully respected. The vision of a world where every child would have the opportunity to fulfil his potential. I currently chair the association, which is based in the Principality and has an international network of partners and national branches.

AMADE is strongly committed in favour of child protection and empowerment all around the world. AMADE contributes to implement these commitments through the following missions:

- To protect the most vulnerable children from violence, exploitation and abuse

- To promote the empowerment of children by improving access to education and health

- To accompany change through awareness and advocacy

Among the different issues which affect children and with which AMADE is actively involved, I wanted to take this opportunity I have been given to discuss with you the specific situation of children who are part of armed groups, so-called “child soldiers”. Last September, I had cause to visit the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo in order to observe the actions implemented by AMADE Mondiale on site. There, I was confronted with the harsh reality of the daily violation of children’s rights. Children are the first victims of the poverty and indiscriminate exploitation of natural resources which is endemic in this part of the world, and the resulting internecine wars. I met children whose futures had been shattered overnight following the death of one of their parents by the need to flee their villages as rebel groups advanced.

Children involved with armed groups, or “child soldiers”, are not all combatants. The youngest are assigned to such duties as collecting wood, preparing meals, managing supplies, or crossing “enemy” lines to act as spies. Young girls – because armed groups also recruit little girls – are particularly vulnerable as you might imagine. Many of them are undocumented. Known as “ghost” children, their time on Earth leaves behind no statistics, no official trace. The suffering endured by these children is, however, very real and is something I was able to observe and share with them during my brief visit.

At my initiative, AMADE Mondiale is therefore contributing to the efforts of various stakeholders, primarily UNICEF, MONUSCO and the ICRC, to prevent these vulnerable children from becoming enlisted in armed groups and to support the demobilisation and reintegration of these young people. The international community estimates that there are 300,000 children involved with armed groups throughout the world. In fact, it is highly likely that the actual number of children reduced to serving the interests of rebel chiefs and other warlords is much higher, since it is difficult to obtain statistical data in this area.

It would be wrong to believe that this phenomenon is unique to Africa. lt is also an issue in Asia and South America.

AMADE seeks to be innovative in its approach to the demobilisation and reintegration of child soldiers. With the support of the Brazilian Ambassador in the Democratic Republic of Congo, therefore, we have used capoeira as a means of resocialising these children of broken dreams. In this dance, which originated in Africa, based on the “peaceful” combat practised by captive slaves, there is no contact; there are no winners or losers. The results of this project, which was begun three years ago now, are extremely convincing. The practice of capoeira, taught by Brazilian masters as part of the long process of demobilisation and reintegration carried out in transit and orientation centres managed by UNICEF in partnership with local NGOs, thus makes an active contribution to the psychosocial process of reintegrating these children. Thanks to capoeira, the children have been able to reclaim ownership of their bodies, bodies which often retain the scars of the suffering they have endured, to gain control over their impulses and to respect their opponents. In capoeira, boys dance with the girls. The “rueda”, a circle made up of capoeiristas, rebuilds the spirit of community which dominated prior to the emergence of armed groups.

During my visit, it was a great pleasure for me to attend the baptism of the first 200 young people to benefit from this initiative. These children, all dressed in white and given a surname, were able to reintegrate into society, and particularly with their families. I witnessed deserving children rediscover their innocence, a new identity, a family and hope for a better life. I was moved by this event, but I was also touched by the accounts I heard from other, younger children, left to fend for themselves. They told me that without any real hope for the future, without access to education, they were considering joining the local rebel chief, the only adult figure able to guarantee them a daily meal and a little security. A small boy who was barely six or seven years old confided to me that he knew it wasn’t a good idea for him, but that he had no other choice.

As part of this visit, I went to the Mungote camp for internally displaced persons in North Kivu. It is now 15 years since these people were first displaced. Of the 6,000 children living in the camp, just 600 were receiving an education in the school close to the nearest village. The others, left to idle, were mostly playing war games. Under such conditions, without finding the resources needed to educate these children, how can we put an end to the disastrous vicious circle of this fratricidal war? I welcome the commitments undertaken by the international community to combat this phenomenon, which is violating the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and particularly the Paris Declaration, day after day.

But beyond these commitments, how can this process be halted without returning hope and dignity to these children, guaranteeing them at the very least a high-quality education, which would enable them to extricate themselves from the “benevolent” yoke of these warlords? Although some initiatives have been taken to alert public opinion, I wanted to go beyond speeches and declarations and allow these children to speak for themselves. AMADE Mondiale therefore commissioned a photographer, William Dupuy, to visit this region of the world in order to collect photographic portraits of these children who, after being absorbed into these armed groups, are involuntarily growing up too quickly. These portraits will support an advocacy campaign that AMADE will initiate in the coming weeks. I would now like to share with you a short video of this mission to North Kivu.

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