Chapter 12 – Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration

The principle

To ensure that child soldiers are included as a priority in the planning and execution of all United Nations supported disarmament, demobilization, reintegration, and, where appropriate, repatriation efforts, taking into account their specific needs, including those based on gender, age, and other identity factors, to assist in their successful transition to normal life, and to prevent their re-recruitment.

Why is this principle important?

UN-supported disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) efforts are crucial in helping children leave armed forces or armed groups and reintegrate into their families and communities. The importance of DDR efforts for children is clear: appropriate interventions that are tailored to the specific needs of the child – based on gender, age, and other identity factors – can help bolster the resilience of the child against the worst effects of conflict and facilitate their recovery. Support from Member States in facilitating DDR can both assist in the successful transition of child soldiers to civilian life, as well as help prevent their re-recruitment.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, as well as the Paris Principles, constitute the foundational framework for the principles, norms, and standards that underpin DDR programs for children.Endnote 134 Further to these, the UN has developed Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS) to guide DDR efforts in the context of UN peacekeeping operations.Endnote 135

Given that the recruitment and use of child soldiers is prohibited under international law, DDR programs differ between adults and children in some fundamental ways. Unlike adults, child soldiers should first and foremost be considered victims, and DDR programs should be offered to children without condition. While this principle focuses on UN-led DDR efforts, DDR can occur independently of formal DDR processes that follow a political agreement. Where there are formal DDR processes, special provisions should be made for children. The absence of a formal DDR process, however, should not prevent activities in pursuit of the release of children from armed forces or armed groups.

How can this principle be implemented?

Advocate for the prioritization of children in the planning and execution of all UN-supported DDR programs and activities: Member States can apply political pressure within and outside the UN system to ensure children are appropriately incorporated into and prioritized in DDR efforts. DDR efforts for children should be driven by the following core objectives:

  • DDR for children should be available early and without qualification. It should not be contingent on political negotiations, broader security sector reform, or concurrent adult DDR, and should not be conditional on the submission of a weapon or proof of familiarity with weaponry.
  • Children should be consulted at all stages of their DDR process, and should be given the opportunity to identify what is in their best interest.
  • DDR efforts should be coordinated with and inclusive of relevant child protection actors.
  • Information on DDR programs should be made available to, and understandable for, children.
  • DDR programs should be accountable not only to national and international partners, but also to the local population – including children. Appropriate monitoring, reporting, and evaluation of services available to children through DDR programs is therefore required.

Educate peacekeepers on DDR, and their supporting role in the DDR process, in accordance with the UN IDDRS: While peacekeepers do not design or carry out DDR programs themselves, they play an important supporting role in UN-led DDR efforts. Any child soldier who comes forward to register for a DDR program should be immediately referred to a CPA for age assessment and handover to the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) for reintegration. Peacekeepers may also support DDR efforts when they are mandated to provide security to DDR efforts, gather and distribute information specifically related to a DDR program, monitor and report on security issues, and/or provide logistical support and other tasks.Endnote 136

Adequately fund long-term and inclusive DDR efforts for children: Successful reintegration requires long-term funding for child protection agencies and for programs in order to ensure continuous support for education, training, and monitoring for children. Member States should consider providing funding for child DDR, preferably through a funding mechanism that is independent of, and managed separately from, adult DDR. Funding should be made available to child protection actors as early as possible, including in the absence of a formal peace process and formal DDR planning.

Examples and resources

Peace agreement between the Government of Sierra Leone and the Revolutionary United Front (Lomé Peace Agreement): The Lomé Peace Agreement, which aimed to bring an end to the civil war in Sierra Leone, paid special attention to the unique needs of child soldiers, including in DDR programs.Endnote 137 For further information, see the 2005 UNICEF publication, “The Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration of Children Associated with the Fighting Forces: Lessons Learned in Sierra Leone.”Endnote 138

UN IDDRS: The UN IDDRS provides direction and guidance to those engaged in preparing, implementing, and supporting DDR programs.Endnote 139 Although the IDDRS were developed for DDR programs taking place in peacekeeping contexts, most direction and guidance is also applicable to DDR programs taking place in non-peacekeeping contexts. As well as outlining the basic elements of each phase of DDR, the IDDRS offers specific guidance on DDR for children.

Implementation checklist

To implement this principle, Member States should undertake the following:

  • Advocate for the prioritization of children in the planning and execution of all UN-supported disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) programs and activities.
  • Educate peacekeepers on DDR, and their supporting role in the DDR process, in accordance with the UN Integrated Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration Standards (IDDRS).
  • Adequately fund long-term and inclusive DDR efforts for children.

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