A Lost Generation: Young People and Conflict in Africa
Thirdly, disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) programmes are failing young people, and in particular young women with children. Again, this failure is not only contrary to law, but also relatively practical to redress, given the requisite political will. As the Burundi case study in this volume suggests, those responsible for managing the demobilisation process, (i.e. military commanders, either government or rebel) are often unaware of international conventions defining all girls associated with military forces as eligible for demobilisation. Indeed, the girls themselves, not having received full information about the nature of the process, may not see themselves as ‘child soldiers’, but rather as camp followers, and hence make no attempt to access DDR benefits and training. Some may decline to go through the process because the material benefits offered (which may include items such as food and clothing) could mark them out to their communities as being ex-combatants, and thus impede their attempts to reintegrate. Some young women may be held back from entering the DDR process by militia or rebel group leaders who see them as their ‘property’.
Governments and UN bodies with statutory responsibility for humanitarian action are the principle duty bearers in upholding the rights of children and youth in situations affected by armed conflict. However, other responsible bodies, such as international and local non-government agencies, bear a share of responsibility too. This is especially the case where statutory provision is not in place, as for example in Uganda, where no formal demobilisation process has yet been set in motion. Interventions from NGOs are particularly important in combating the day-to-day discrimination faced by young people from within their communities in situations affected by armed conflict. However, both government bodies and some NGOs may suffer from the same blind spots as exist in the community at large.
For example, in Uganda, returning ex-combatants can go through a registration process under the Amnesty Act of 2000, and registration confers benefits in terms
of access to NGO programmes offering support to ex-combatants.
girls who, through choice or ignorance, fail to obtain proof of registration, may be excluded from access to these programmes. Respondents in Uganda told us repeatedly of how duty bearers in, for example, the police service, the courts, and NGOs, discriminated against them and dismissed their entitlements, because the individuals concerned were motivated by the same prejudices against child mothers that dominated their relationships with their communities. Efforts to combat this discrimination must therefore be directed simultaneously at the local, national and international levels and linkages sought between them.