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n Commonwealth Youth and Development - Disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration of Rwandan child soldiers
Youth participation in armed conflicts is an increasingly widespread phenomenon particularly in recent hostilities. Throughout the world, more than 300,000 young children have been recruited by government and non-government forces to serve as combatants, cooks, spies, 'wives' and messengers. More than 120,000 of these young people are in Africa, mainly in Angola, Burundi, Congo-Brazzaville, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Uganda (Taylor 2000, 14). Owing to this widespread phenomenon, increasing efforts at analyses and approaches are developed by scholars and aid agencies to understand and investigate the nature of the problem and offer some solutions to it.
This empirical study investigates the situation of Rwandan youth ex-combatants in the DRC. The focus is on how and why young people become involved in conflicts as fighters, how the ensuing conflict influences them, and how the disarmament, demobilisation, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes (DDRR) set up by international aid agencies attempt to address the special needs of the youth as they relate to reintegration in their home communities.
Qualitative semi-structured interviews and group discussions were conducted with 26 demobilised ex-combatants and other stakeholders in northern Rwanda. The study challenges the assumptions of the Western model of childhood and child soldiering and some of the approaches of international aid agencies. This relates especially to the exclusive emphases on victimisation and trauma counselling in response to the needs of young people in armed conflicts. The study argues for a more representative and focused approach emphasising the socio-cultural context of ex-combatants and shows how and why youth join armed groups voluntarily. Their resilience and coping strategies in the midst of conflict and their ability to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of conflict are highlighted. The functionalist notion of order and stability in Rwandan communities plays a role as an underlying assumption in the study.
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