Ex Child Soldiers: From Victims of War to Protagonists of Peace

"Children and Young People Affected by War: Learn, Understand, Act"

ROME, 23 June 2009 – Two young people, former child soldiers, who have transformed their brutal life experiences toward helping the more than one billion children whose lives are currently touched by war today told the international community, including Franco Frattini, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Giovanni Alemanno, Mayor of Rome, what must be done to ensure that children are fully protected even in the heat of war.

Grace Akallo, originally from Uganda, and Kon Kelei, originally from Sudan, narrated their personal experiences as former child soldiers and spoke of building their network of children and young people affected by war that they helped found – Network of Young People Affected by War (NYPAW) to a gathering of ambassadors, government and United Nations officials and civil society partners.

The young people highlighted that children who have been affected by war need extra support and attention in order to overcome their difficulties

Globally, it is estimated that around 250,000 children are currently exploited by armed groups and forces as soldiers. As such, they are fulfilling functions as frontline fighters, porters or sex slaves. Over one billion children live in countries or territories affected by armed conflict – almost one sixth of the total world population. Of these, some 300 million are under the age of five. Since 1998 to now, more than 100,000 children have been demobilized and reintegrated into society.

They suffer from both the direct consequences of conflict, as well as the long-term effects on their development and well-being.

Hosted by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the City of Rome, the symposium, "Children and Young People Affected by War: Learn, Understand, Act," was attended by, in addition to Ms. Akallo, Mr Kelei (NYPAW) and Mr. Frattini (MFA), the participants included Mr. Giovanni Alemanno, Mayor of Rome, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict;. Ms. Marta Santos Pais, Director, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Appointed Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, Ms. Rima Salah, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for Central African Republic and Chad; Ms. Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Secretary General of International Save the Children Alliance; Jean-Marc de la Sablière, Ambassador of France in Italy, former President of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict; Giuliomaria Terzi di Sant'Agata, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations. The moderator of the event was Francesca Caferri, correspondent for La Repubblica.

Video messages were sent from other members of NYPAW: Ishmael Beah (Sierra Leone); Zlata Filopović (Bosnia Herzegovina).


Following are quotes from the participants:

"My own story is one among the thousand-fold stories you have not heard. There are dozens of armies and rebel groups who continue to ruin the lives of children in the same ways around the world. NYPAW is here to let you know the very real suffering of these children and young people, both abducted or not abducted, they are innocent, they deserve protection, love and a future. No child, I repeat no child deserves this kind of suffering. "

Grace Akallo, founding member of NYPAW and former child soldier


"We founded this network, not to promote ourselves, but to communicate to the world that there is hope and children and young people who were once traumatized by war can recover and become important citizens of the world."

"This network will be a group that governments, UN agencies, NGOs, media, teachers, community members and others who are seeking to effectively support children in this capacity can turn to for realistic advise, guidance and to facilitate the creation of successful and meaningful reintegration and rehabilitation projects.

– Kon Kelei, founding member of NYPAW and former child soldier


"For years, Italy has been working tirelessly to protect and assist all over the world children and child victims of armed conflict with interventions at the highest international meetings and institutions, focusing on three fundamental objectives of prevention, reintegration of the victims and their integration into the social fabric. Through the work of the Italian government humanitarian aid and development agency, COOPI, for many years a great number of projects in conflict and post-conflict countries in every continent have received funding. So we are particularly pleased that last November, Italy was able to help with the launch of NYPAW, and will help, together with the United Nations, UNICEF and the NGOs in the important road that NYPAW has taken.

With the meeting today and the photographic exhibition, we want to launch a new and powerful appeal to civil society and the international community so that the thousands of Italians and foreign visitors that visit Rome recognize that when we speak of children harmed by armed conflict, there is an irreparable damage that humanity experiences when even one of these young lives is destroyed.

– Franco Frattini, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs


"The expression ‘child soldier' is in itself a terrible paradox, because it alludes to the idea that childhood, as a symbol and reality of the future, is taken away. That is why by confronting the problem on a global level we are also addressing the local issues. For example, the City of Rome is this year financing some decentralized partnership projects, aimed at assisting the reintegration of the child soldier into society, for example in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo."

– Giovanni Alemanno, Mayor of Rome


"Advocacy must be reinforced by real action. Perpetrators of grave violations against children have to be held accountable and impunity must end."

"We must let the world know children's stories and we must take effective protective, legal and political actions to ensure that as many children as possible are spared the brutalities of war. Our joint action has, and will, make a difference, if only we make the effort."

– Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict

"The role of education is critical to the protection of children affected by war, in the prevention of conflict and peace building. Save the Children launched in 2006 the "Rewrite the Future" campaign, thanks to which, 10 million minors that live in more than 20 countries affected by war -of whom were also many child soldiers – had the opportunity to get an education."

– Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Secretary General of International Save the Children Alliance


"Today we have listened to the personal experiences of courageous young people who have faced the brutal consequences of war. They have turned tragedy into victory and their testimony clearly shows the important role of children and young people in reconciliation and peace-building efforts. But there must be long-term commitment to guide and support young people in achieving realistic and sustainable solutions. This requires our urgent attention. We cannot fail to answer their call to action."

Marta Santos Pais, Director, UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre Appointed Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children


"Today UN peacekeeping operations are working in close collaboration with UNICEF and other child protection actors, in various conflict and post conflict contexts to ensure that child protection issues are integrated as a key priority within the political processes and that they are adequately addressed in the peace-building and consolidation phases. In both Burundi and Eastern Congo these efforts have recently resulted in the release of hundreds of children from armed groups."

Rima Salah, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General for Central African Republic and Chad


Note to editors: Today a photo exhibit, "Children of War – Broken Childhood"was opened in Piazza Campidoglio by Giovanni Alemmano, Mayor of Rome, Franco Frattini, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Radhika Coomaraswamy, SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict and Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, Secretary General of International Save the Children Alliance. The exhibition will remain outdoors on display in Piazza Campidoglio until 29 June 2009.

The exhibition is composed of four themes: girl-child soldiers, reintegration, small arms and light weapons and the fight against impunity and was taken from the book by Leora Kahn, "Child Soldier" – that features the work of renown war photographers. The exhibition is taking place thanks to the support of the Department of Culture Policies and Communications, the Superintendent of Fine Arts with the technical expertise of the Capitoline Museums.

For further information, and video b-roll, please contact:

UNICEF New York Media Section- Kate Donovan Cell: ++ 1 917 378 2128, e-mail: kdonovan@unicef.org Ufficio stampa UNICEF Italia: tel.: 06 47809233-226 e 335 7275877; e-mail: press@unicef.it Ufficio stampa SAVE THE CHILDREN ITALIA: tel.: 06/48070023-71 e 338.7518129; e-mail: press@savethechildren.it Ufficio stampa Campidoglio, Cristiana Pumpo: tel.: 06 67105579 e 335 8432006 e-mail: cristiana.pumpo@comune.roma.it Laurence Gerard, SRSG office. Tel.++ 1 347 9678606 gerardl@un.org