Boys and girls who are recruited by armed forces or armed groups in conflict can be used as combatants but also in active support roles such as spies, porters or informants, or for sexual purposes. Children associated with armed forces are exposed to violence and are often abused, forced to use drugs, exploited and injured. Children may suffer severe physical and emotional long term consequences, including disabilities.
To read about interim care and reintegration for children associated with armed forces in practice, click the picture below:
When to provide care for children associated with armed forces:
- In situations of armed conflict where children have been recruited into armed forces or groups
- Where children may not be able to return immediately to their families
- Where existing child protection systems do not provide adequate support for reintegration
- Where you or your local partner have experience of working with children and young people in providing alternative care or child protection work with young people
Some children may be able to return immediately to their families and communities. For other children, interim care can support the process of reintegration:
- Interim care should be a short-term intervention (e.g. up to six weeks)
- Transition centres should be set up to enable young people to access the support they need to be able to return to their community. This may include:
- Life skills training
- Recreational activities
- Catch-up education classes
- Information about reintegration support in their communities
- Psychosocial support and healthcare to meet the specific needs of girls who may have been sexually abused, or are pregnant or have young children
Transition centres should be designed in a way that protects the privacy and safety of girls (for example with separate washing and sleeping rooms). A mixed team should be available to allow both girls and boys to voice their needs and priorities in separate consultations. All staff involved should receive thorough training.
Family tracing and reunification
Before families are reunited, social workers should liaise with them to ensure that the child will not be rejected by the family due to fear of judgement by the community (particularly relevant for girls) or for security concerns (typically relevant for boys).
Assessment should verify that family reunification is in the best interests of the child, taking account of the need to protect them from discrimination, targeted attacks, and further recruitment. Where there are concerns, it may be necessary to involve the appropriate local authorities, existing welfare systems, other agencies and local communities for any further action or future support required.
Reunification should be assisted and followed up. When follow-up support is provided to the child’s family, the needs of the surrounding community should also be considered.
Where reunification of the child with their own family (including extended family) is not possible or would not be in the child’s best interests, other family-based care arrangements should be found.
In reintegration programmes, avoid continuing to identify children associated with armed forces as such – this can cause stigma. For example, psychosocial support can be provided to these children together with other children in the community affected by the conflict.
- Individual support to affected children and families may include:
- Educational, vocational and/or livelihood opportunities
- Referral to medical, psychosocial and legal support services
Community-level reintegration activities may include:
- Peace-building activities
- Games and sport
- Awareness-raising sessions on specific issues
- Where they are culturally appropriate and with the agreement of children and families, religious ceremonies or traditional cleansing and healing ceremonies can facilitate acceptance and return to community life
Additional tools and guidelines
Information on this page is taken from the Minimum Standards for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action (Standard 11: Children associated with armed forces or armed groups)
Additional tools and guidelines on supporting the reintegration of children associated with armed forces and armed groups are here
Several other programmes in the toolkit can support work with children associated with armed forces and armed groups:
- Youth friendly spaces
- Informal education
- Vocational training for young people
- Family tracing and reunification
- Alternative care