Chad military still using child soldiers: Amnesty
LIBREVILLE — Boys as young as 13 are still being used as soldiers by the Chadian national army and armed groups on the border with Sudan, Amnesty International said in a report.
"It is tragic that thousands of children are denied their childhood and are manipulated by adults into fighting their wars," the 55-page report quoted Erwin van der Borght, the rights group's Africa director, as saying.
"This scandalous child abuse must not be allowed to continue."
Up to half a million people live in refugee or displacement camps in eastern Chad after being forced to flee their homes by the violence in the region, including Darfur in western Sudan.
"These camps prove to be fertile recruiting grounds for children as the residents have little access to education, few employment opportunities and have often lost relatives and friends in the fighting," Amnesty said.
Well-dressed children are sent to camps with money and cigarettes to lure new recruits, offering between 20 and 500 dollars to those who join up, it said.
"Those aged between 13 and 17 are most likely to be used directly in combat while children as young as 10 are used as porters and messengers," added the report, based on interviews with more than 40 young recruits.
"Some children have been abducted and forced to join the armed forces or armed groups. Others have been motivated by poverty, lack of educational and work opportunities, revenge for killings of family members or pillage of livestock.
"Others told Amnesty International that they wanted to protect their family or ethnic group against attacks by other groups. Young boys often feel they have no choice other than to join armed forces and groups in the area.
A Chadian government programme launched with the assistance of UNICEF in 2007 to demobilise child soldiers and reintegrate them into civilian life has had little success, Amnesty said.
It blamed underfunding, continued insecurity, extreme poverty and the reluctance of political and military officials to engage with the process.
Government officials deny any policy of recruiting children but do admit there are children in the ranks, it said.
"Amnesty International is particularly concerned about the lack of accountability for those suspected of committing human rights violations, including the recruitment of children," it said.
"There have been no prosecutions of members of the army and armed groups for recruiting and using children."
On January 20 Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno ordered an amnesty for crimes committed by members of the armed opposition, "effectively perpetuating impunity for the human rights abuses committed against children used in hostilities," the report noted.
"Instead of benefiting from amnesty, alleged perpetrators of human rights violations including the recruitment and use of child soldiers should be investigated," Amnesty International said.
"Individuals reasonably suspected of being involved in such crimes should be prosecuted in national courts in trials that meet international fair trial standards," it quoted van der Borght as saying.
"President Deby must issue clear orders to all army commanders not to recruit or use children and to cooperate with demobilisation programmes," he added.
"There is never an excuse to violate the rights of children."