A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
The case studies point to three issues of particular concern. The first is the provision of sexual and reproductive health services for young people affected by violent conflict. Given the violence and abuse that many have suffered and continue to suffer, it is critical that appropriate services are made available, and that young people are able to access these without further stigma. These services would include advice and counselling (including relationship counselling) as well as treatment for sexually transmitted illnesses, safe motherhood services, and child health services. Such a strategy would require increasing the number of structures offering reproductive health services and information to young people, as well as strengthening the capacities of health personnel to deal appropriately with abused girls and women.
The second issue is that of the children borne of sexual violence and abuse. The capacity of abused girls to accept, and maintain, to the full extent of their capacity, children born of violence against them, is one of the most striking features of the testimonies. Yet the love and commitment of the child mothers is not in itself sufficient to protect their children from the damage to their physical and emotional well-being which comes from their rejection by the rest of the community. The sheer numbers of children growing up in such circumstances provides a threat to the future recovery of the communities concerned, unless efforts are made to integrate them more effectively through education, training, counselling and support.
The third issue is about demobilization and social reintegration of women and girl ex-combatants, whose particular needs are often ignored in plans for post-conflict reconstruction. Girls who do not go through formal reintegration systems suffer from a clear disadvantage on their return home, especially those who were not fighters as such but who joined the fighters in other capacities. Yet the testimonies in this study make it clear that international policy commitments such as the Cape Town Principles are being overlooked, both in the planning of demobilization strategies and in their implementation. Given the continuing stigma, marginalisation and discrimination that these girls will face throughout their lives, it is important that service providers live up to their responsibilities and ensure that adequate mechanisms are in place. This means ensuring that the criteria for demobilization assistance drawn up in specific instances do cover women and girl ex-soldiers, regardless of the roles they played in the armed movements. It would also include developing specialized training and support programmes which take into account their specific needs for psycho-social integration and economic support, particularly institutional support for the children of child mothers. Traditionally the parents of a girl provided support for children born out of wedlock but this value is eroded today because of poverty and economic deprivation that has come as a result of