Mahamane, 13, was among dozens of minors interviewed by Amnesty International for a new report, who had joined the Chadian army and armed opposition groups in the east. The report found that 80 percent of the estimated 7,000-10,000 child soldiers recruited in Chad are associated with armed groups, while the remaining 20 percent are involved with the country’s armed forces. These UN estimates also indicate that they may have been used as combatants.
The legal minimum age for voluntary recruitment is 18, with compulsory conscription at 20.
“Some have been abducted and forcibly recruited. Others have joined up to avenge the death of family members or the pillage of cattle, or simply to escape poverty and the lack of education or job opportunities,” states the report. According to Amnesty, children are paid a one-off 10,000-250,000 CFA francs (US$20-$500) by recruiters. In refugee and displaced people’s camps, unemployed teenagers just out of primary school are most at risk, while in villages, children from poor backgrounds or whose family members are in the army or armed groups are likely to be recruited. In some cases, recruiters send children already in their ranks with cigarettes, money or nice clothes to camps to lure other children into joining.
The main reasons for children to join up are poverty and a lack of educational opportunities. The report identifies eastern Chad as one of the most impoverished regions of the country, “largely because of its harsh environment, decades of neglect by the authorities and now widespread insecurity”. Chadian law requires that both primary and secondary education be free of charge for all children (and mandatory to age 14), but the scarcity of schools and teachers in the region leaves most children without many options.
Recruitment is also a way for children to escape attacks on their villages by armed militia groups. Army commanders have been reportedly calling on the Dadjo community living in Chad’s Dar Sila region to send their children to the army as a way of protecting the community, states Amnesty.
Christian Mukosa, a researcher for Amnesty International’s Africa Programme, told IRIN that recruitment of children was not something new, but little had changed in recent years. “In 2007, UNICEF [UN Children’s Fund] evaluated that between 7,000 and 10,000 children were associated with armed groups, but by 2010, less than 900 were released from these forces and groups. This suggests that thousands of children remain in the hands of their recruiters. It was reported by the UN that 13 percent of children released from the armed forces and groups in 2007 and 2008 came from Chad’s National Army [ANT].”
A highly volatile political situation in the east of the country near the Sudanese border and the recent withdrawal of UN forces under the Chadian government’s directive in 2010 may have exacerbated the problem.
Failure to implement laws
In October 2007, the Chadian government adopted a national programme for the release, transitional support and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and groups, but efforts to implement the plan have faced difficulties. The country is also party to international agreements, including the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that countries must take steps to ensure than children under the age of 15 do not take part in hostilities.
According to Amnesty, the main obstacles to implementing these commitments are “a lack of will by political and military officials to engage in the process”. There have been no prosecutions for child recruitment. Instead, says the report, “many of those suspected of recruiting children have been offered senior government posts, perpetuating impunity at the highest levels of government”. In 2006, the government signed a peace accord with the rebel group FUC (United Front for Democratic Change), extending an amnesty to all combatants and appointing some of its members to government.
Dingemadji Carlos, director of studies, legislation and litigation within the Ministry for Human Rights and the Promotion of Liberties, told IRIN that “the amnesty accorded to ex-rebels is the price we must pay for reconciliation and it is necessary for bringing about peace and stability”. He said the country became a theatre of civil war and external aggressions right after independence, and conflict continued to the present day.
Since 2003, eastern Chad has been involved with Sudan’s conflict in Darfur and militia groups from Sudan linked to rebel forces in the east have orchestrated attacks on civilian populations within Chad’s borders. A five-year proxy war between Chad and Sudan ended in January 2010 with a rapprochement, but the Chadian government continued to clash with rebel forces in the east.
Carlos remains adamant that continuing insecurity in the east will not hamper government efforts to abide by its commitments. “We must wait from now until June for the next legislation to be enacted in order for the implementation of the code of protection for children to start again. The government has already submitted the bill to the Supreme Court for a judicial review.” He added that the government was elaborating a plan of action with the UN to help re-integrate children that have been demobilized from the ranks of armed groups and provide increased access to education.
“The government has launched an ambitious training programme for teachers of basic education as part of its policy on education in Chad. Twenty percent of the budget has been set aside for education,” he said.
So far, demobilized children remain vulnerable to re-recruitment even after they return home. While long-term efforts such as increasing stability in the east and implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child are imperative, Amnesty’s Mukosa suggests that resources be allocated to short-term measures. “There are things that the government can do in a short time such as building schools, appointing teachers, and creating youth and training centres,” he said.