A Childhood Lost? The Challenges of Successful Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration of Child Soldiers: The Case of West Africa

Working Paper, NUPI

[Abstract] After a conflict ends, there is a need to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate child soldiers into society. This report examines the challenges of achieving successful disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of child soldiers, with reference to DDR processes in West Africa, and suggests how such problems can be overcome. The challenges posed by the DDR of child soldiers in West Africa are vast and complex. The disarmament and demobilisation phase involves a dilemma between the need to include as many child soldiers as possible in the DDR process (many whom do not carry weapons), with an often- conflicting need to collect as many weapons as possible. In the reintegration phase of DDR come the challenges of rehabilitating former child soldiers, both physically and psychologically; the difficulties of reuniting child soldiers with their families; and the difficulties of creating viable opportunities for demobilised child soldiers in a post-conflict society. It is argued that DDR can succeed only if it addresses the needs of all child soldiers, including those who circumvent the official process, child soldiers who demobilise as adults, and girl soldiers. Moreover, DDR has to address the broader regional implications of conflict; it should take local circumstances into consideration; be carried out within the context of wider post-conflict reconstruction and peace-building; and must address the needs of the entire community into which the former child soldier is to be reintegrated.