The use of children as warriors is one of the 20th century's tragic legacies. The resolution to this problem has two elements: one, the political will to end the practice and two, the need to accelerate the release of children from armies and to facilitate their reintegration into families and communities.
The pictures and stories that are included in Playing For Keeps represent the difference that appropriate interventions can make in the lives of children who have been exposed to the horrors of modern-day warfare in four African countries: Angola, Liberia, Mozambique and Sierra Leone.
Children who are the victims of trauma, violence and involuntary participation in war are not the only ones who are directly affected. Essentially, all children living in conflict areas suffer from varying degrees of anxiety and emotional distress that, if not effectively addressed, can adversely affect them for the remainder of their lives.
For each child who is killed or injured by physical violence, gunfire, or land mines, many more are deprived of their basic physical, emotional, spiritual, and cultural needs. Millions of children have lost their parents, siblings, homes, education... their childhood. Girls especially are victimized in ways that can have life-long after-effects if timely, proper care and counseling are not provided.
Since 1989, the U.S.
Agency for International Development (USAID) has given assistance to
these children through the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund. With significant
programs in seven countries, USAID has established a strong record of accomplishment.
These child-based interventions are often the first development activities
that take place in a country that is or has recently been affected by war.
One important lesson that has been learned is that when appropriate steps
are taken, most parties can reconcile their differences when the well-being
of their children is at stake.
After achieving independence fro Portugal in 1975, Angola entered a 16-year civil war between FMLA (the government forces) and UNITA (rebel forces). Of the total population of 10.5 million, more than 3 million people were either displaced or directly affected by the war. An estimated 100,000 children were orphaned, and large numbers of children suffered the shock of attack, displacement, separation from parents, destruction of home, hunger, inadequate health care, and often crippling land mine-related accidents. Nearly 10,000 children were forced to become soldiers.
In the past year, tensions have risen, and fighting has begun again between the government and rebel forces. Current estimates are that a total of 800,000 people have been displaced.
USAID has helped to reintegrate more than 300,000 traumatized children in eight provinces in Angola. USAID and Save the Children work with the Government of Angola to help document, trace, and reunite children with their families.
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View our feature on the Hope and Horror in Sierra Leone
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