Education is key to a stable future
"Last July, my young son was enlisted in an armed group during a recruitment campaign near his school. Despite my repeated attempts to intervene, he was covertly sent into military training," a Chadian man recently told JRS.
On Red Hand Day, 12 February, JRS West Africa calls upon the government, with the support of local and international communities, to increase efforts to prevent the use of children in armed groups through the creation of safer schools.
Minors have become involved in inter-ethnic fighting, internal rebellions, and the Darfur conflict. In May 2007, the government and UNICEF signed an agreement to release all children in its ranks. Approximately 600 children, out of as many as 10,000 have been withdrawn. JRS staff working in the country's east report that children are still re-recruited and seen in uniform, sometimes near schools.
In response, JRS has helped rehabilitate, re-unify and re-integrate 225 of these minors with their families. In May 2007, it opened Chad's first Transit and Orientation Center (TOC) for released children in the city of Abéché. However, the center closed last December because no more children were being withdrawn in the area.
Subsequently, JRS now focuses on re-unifying and re-integrating children with their families in collaboration with the government, UNICEF, and other NGOs. Close follow-up with communities is central to the process in order to prevent re-recruitment. "Our ultimate goal is to help strengthen re-integration structures such as education, community dialogue, and family involvement, which protect children," said Catherine Lemare, JRS project director.
The approach has met success. "We have our ethnic problems but we want a school for all our children," said one villager whose community opened a school for both Tama and Zaghawa children after JRS spoke with villagers about preventing recruitment. The low number of teachers, schools, and financial restraints often keep people from sending their children to school. In response, JRS provides school materials and infrastructure, training to parents and teachers, and encourages urban teachers to work at bush schools where their services are desperately needed.
"There is no instant solution. However, we can address the root causes of conflict and recruitment with communities. This brings about peaceful transformations that can benefit the whole country," Lemare said.
Jesuit Refugee Service considers access to education a human right and a means to building peace and development. It urges the government, as a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Paris Agreement, to ensure that schools, available to all children, are non-violent places of learning. It also calls for greater support to teachers through adequate pay and training, especially in rural areas. Increased dialogue in conflict zones is also needed to address the root causes of violence and recruitment of children.
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