Mohammad Amin, 18, a former child soldier, looks at the countryside from atop the crumbling roof of a barracks in the village of Bagram on the Shomali Plain in the Central Region province of Parwan. An AK 47 rifle is slung over his shoulder. Mohammed, who is in the process of being demobilized, served as a runner in an armed group for two years. He wanted to go to school but joined a fighting force to help support his family. He is now participating in the UNICEF-supported demobilization programme and will turn in his weapon at the end of the process. [#1 IN SEQUENCE OF 11]

In 2004 in Afghanistan, UNICEF is assisting some 5,000 former child soldiers’ to return to civilian life. In a two-phase process, local Demobilization and Reintegration Committees, including community leaders and NGO representatives, identify children who have been attached to a military command structure, provide medical check-ups (including voluntary HIV/AIDS testing) and psychosocial assessments. At the same time, each child takes an oath of ‘good tarbia’ – a promise to respect the social norms of the community and make a positive contribution to its development. The second phase of the programme supports reintegration, including providing basic education and vocational training. UNICEF is funding the entire programme. Most of the demobilized children are aged 15 to 18 years and, to date, are all boys. Girls are known to have participated in some armed groups but traditional stigmas prevent their coming forward to enrol in the programme. There are an estimated 8,000 former child soldiers (from factions associated with Northern Alliance forces) throughout the country, most of whom have left their armed units but need support to return to civilian life.