Funding the Future: Challenges and Responses to the Reintegration of Former Child Soldiers

Remarks by Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

24 September, Conference Room 6, 10:30 – 11:45

Your Majesty, Excellencies, dear colleagues,
I would like to thank Belgium for co-sponsoring today’s event and I am honored to share this panel with Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of Belgium, President Coleiro Preca, Deputy Prime Minister Reynders, Mr. Sidibay, Deputy Executive Director Abdi, Director Gill and CEO Williams. I take this opportunity to thank all of you for your unwavering commitment to better protect some of the most vulnerable boys and girls affected by conflict.
The dynamics in the use and abuse of children in, for and by armed conflict are a constant reminder that children are always the first casualty of war. Tragically, even for those who survive that ordeal, the cycle of violence forced upon their young lives does not end. Survivors are left with both the trauma and the stigma of violence—feeling that violence will never stop, that their hopes will never be realized.
This is where we can make a difference. Reintegration and reinsertion to society is fundamental once the children are separated from the war. Without this possibility of reintegration and reinsertion into societies, without the skills to make a living without resorting to violence, the possibility of living a full life and living up to their potential is more distant.I have visited reintegration centers and had the opportunity to talk to children undergoing this transformative process in places like Myanmar, Colombia, Sudan and South Sudan. I have witnessed the valiant efforts of the partner community led by UNICEF and supported by international non-governmental organizations such as World Vision, War Child and local NGOs, and have asked myself over and over: Is it too little? Is it too late? Is it enough?
Your Majesty, Madame President, you have raised important points on the need of affected children to overcome the long-term effects of war, and we will shortly hear from Mohamed Sidibay about the importance of education in the construction of viable futures for them. But it is equally important to understand reintegration and reinsertion not only as we would wish it to be but as it really is today. We have UNICEF and War Child as well as World Bank speakers who will bring this perspective to the table. The challenges they face are myriad, and the numbers of children requiring assistance continue to grow. Sadly, resources are not keeping up to meet the needs.
The fact remains that the reality for these children is crude: the data shows that even with the basic, standard six-month reintegration program, there are still not enough resources to assist all of the children emerging from armed groups and forces, and in desperate need of help.
Consistently, at least 25% of all children released are unable to join reintegration programs due to a lack of resources. In critical conflict situations, such as the Central African Republic and South Sudan, to name but two, there are less resources today than there were before, even for basic reintegration packages. More importantly, the more we look at the lessons learnt from years of reintegration programming, the more we understand that comprehensive, long-term programs are needed to ensure a definitive break in the cycle of violence. Without assistance, re-recruitment becomes a possibility for some and a probability for others.
Your Majesty, excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Today, I ask you to join us as we move forward together to address these questions through a call to create a Global Coalition for Reintegration.
We are beginning a process today that, over the next 12 months, will convene protection actors, donors, experts and other stakeholders to develop a Road Map towards more comprehensive and sustainable funding for reintegration.
But we are not starting from scratch. Over the years, the UN, especially UNICEF, has developed a wealth of knowledge and best practices on DDR and on child reintegration. NGOs also have years of experience to contribute. Together with UNICEF, we will use this information to come together for the benefit of reintegration efforts, and provide a platform for broad support. We will also be reaching out to member states who want to be part of a new initiative to concretely fulfill our promises to the boys and girls the Children and Armed Conflict mandate was created to help. I urge member states represented here today to join the ‘Friends of Reintegration’ and accompany us on this journey to walk the last mile to a happier life for these children.
Every child used and abused by, in, and for, armed conflict should be given a real chance to create his or her own future. These children are the real game changers of society. We should believe in them so that they can believe in us.