Local Demobilization and Reintegration Committees, made up of community leaders and locally-based NGOs, began work this week in Herat province to identify and assess up to 500 eligible children; that is, those children of 18 years or younger who have been attached to a military unit with a formal command structure who wish to benefit from the programme's reintegration opportunities. The nationwide programme, which is supported by UNICEF, began in February 2004 and to date has assisted just over 4,000 former child soldiers.
The programme relies heavily upon the support of local communities, who help to identify eligible young people. Reintegration options, which focus on education and vocational training opportunities, are also based in the community in an effort to help young people play a constructive role in their local society. During the demobilization stage, children are also offered medical checks. Each former child soldier who enters the programme is required to sign a pledge of good conduct, which commits the youngster to turning his or her back on the fighting forces and make a contribution to the reconstruction of the nation.
The programme has enjoyed considerable success to date, with more than 3,300 former child soldiers aged between 14 and 18 years old undertaking a range of training programmes including animal husbandry, motor mechanics, tailoring, masonry and carpentry. Training programmes are linked to employment opportunities, to enable participants to have an increased chance of tangible income generation on completion of the one year courses.
The current phase of demobilization will continue throughout July in western Afghanistan, covering a total for four provinces. The programme will then move to the north and north-western provinces of Saripul, Jawjan, Samangan and Faryab in August and will be completed by September in the southern and south-east provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Nimroz, Uruzgan, Zabul, Paktika and Khost.
The child soldier demobilization and reintegration initiative is being funded with support from the Governments of the United States of America, Japan and Germany as well as UNICEF fundraising committees in France, Germany and Japan.