Practical Guide on Community Reintegration

Full guide to be added soon. In the interim, the below is a summary.

Objectives

This guide proposes practical interventions to help DDR actors respond to the needs of girls formerly associated with armed groups in eastern DRC. It is a collection of ideas and experiences compiled from Child Soldiers International’s partners in DRC. Therefore, many of the interventions are not new, but they are not necessarily known or systematically used. Users of the guide are strongly encouraged to share any useful comments or experience they may have to enrich and complement it.

It must also be noted that the guide does not intend to provide definitive guidance on girls DDR: it presents practical recommendations to circumvent some of the current difficulties faced by DDR actors. It should be used to complement current international standards (such as the Paris Principles) and not replace them.

As limited funding continues to present a major challenge, the guide places a strong emphasis on interventions that are inexpensive and can be carried out by community members – building on existing community resources.

A. The ultimate suffering: Rejection from family and friends

It is well established that stigmatisation prevents psychosocial recovery, and that family and community acceptance is the most critical factor for the successful reintegration of children formerly associated with armed forces or armed groups.

Community acceptance must be at the heart of reintegration programmes. How?

A1   Sensitise key community members

Sensitisation sessions can be organised by DDR providers and other child protection actors (at government, NGO and community levels) for community members including families of former child soldiers and their neighbours; community leaders; school teachers and students; youth associations; etc. Sensitisation should begin as early as possible, preferably before girls return to the community. Sensitisation sessions should discuss the likely psychological and social impact of the girls’ experiences and stress that they do not deserve blame.

A2  Organise welcome ceremonies for returning girls

The purpose of such interventions is to invite a welcoming gesture on behalf of the family and the community, and to emphasize their responsibility to care for their child. The ceremony can take different forms and be as simple as a shared meal. To be effective it needs to be carried out by a respected member of the community. It is never too late to organise a welcome ceremony.

A3  Create “Community Reintegration Groups”

These groups must be composed of at least one influential community member, families of girls formerly or currently associated with armed groups, as well as girls and young women who have successfully reintegrated in the community. Their mandate is twofold: (1) Conduct sensitisation (see A1); and (2) Promote concrete actions by influential community members to foster acceptance and respect of the girls. (E.g. Priests could use their sermons to urge their congregation to be more charitable towards returning girls.)

A4  Identify self-demobilised girls who have not received any assistance

Child protection actors (at government, NGO and community levels) should endeavour to identify self-demobilised girls, or those abandoned by armed groups, who are less likely to have received assistance. To this end, they could ask for the help of other girls formerly associated with armed groups, who could more easily reach out to them.

B. How can a girl regain her “lost value”?

The majority of respondents in our study agreed that girls returning from the bush had “lost their social value” because they had “known men”. However, they shared many suggestions on how girls could regain a positive role and identity, and therefore be more accepted by their communities.

Help girls identify and acquire a positive and valued status within their families and communities. How?

B1   Involve girls in activities organised by and for the community

If a girl receives a specific task to accomplish, or is invited to join a group activity, especially if the initiative comes from an influential person in the community, it can greatly contribute to promoting a change of attitude from her family and community. These activities may be recreational or they can be of public interest. (E.g. The village chief could ask a girl to help decorate a room for a community event.) One must never give up on a girl who refuses to join such activities, as she is likely to refuse out of fear of exposure to criticism. This type of intervention requires very little or no funding and should be prioritised.

B2  Help all girls formerly associated with armed groups to return to school or to attend literacy and numeracy classes

Education is another effective way for girls to regain their social value and achieve a form of redemption in the eyes of the community. All the girls we met wanted to learn but faced many difficulties, including lack of funding and stigmatisation. This intervention proposes creative ways to facilitate the girls’ return to some form of formal learning. (E.g. Arrange free enrolment in exchange for material and financial support to a school.) Enrolment efforts need to be accompanied by sensitisation to foster support from parents, teachers and students. (See A1.) All illiterate girls should receive literacy and numeracy classes. (See B3.) Such classes can be set up at a very low cost using classrooms out of hours, and hiring volunteer teachers.

B3  Provide girls with relevant vocational training and help them develop viable IGAs

Activities which enable girls to contribute to the family’s income and give them more economic independence, also greatly contribute to restoring their social value. However, these interventions will only improve a girl’s status if she can manage her business successfully. This requires a rigorous preliminary assessment. (E.g. Is the market not saturated? Are the parents supportive? Does the girl have the required literacy and numeracy skills?) Therefore these activities are to be considered on a case-by-case basis according to the girls’ personal and family circumstances, and without necessarily excluding girls who are in school or who attend literacy and numeracy classes. NGOs are best placed to implement these interventions, but they can rely on RECOPE and Community Reintegration Groups for monitoring and follow-up.

B4  Strengthen the girls’ capacity in agriculture and animal husbandry

Revenues from agriculture and animal husbandry can also considerably improve the girls’ financial independence and give them a valued role in the community. These activities should be considered for all girls who live in rural areas and already have some practical experience of these activities. Strengthening the girls’ capacity in these activities will not simply amount to giving them tools and animals: to ensure a profit and increase their social status, it is essential to provide the girls with ongoing advice, encouragement and technical support. NGOs are best placed to implement these interventions, but they can involve community-based child protection actors.

C. Direct psychosocial support: the importance of supportive listening

All interventions mentioned in this guide so far are examples of psychosocial support since they automatically and positively influence the girls’ social relationships and psychological wellbeing. However, there is another type of intervention which can more directly address their emotional distress: it is called “active listening”.

Dedicate more time to active listening in order to support girls formerly associated with armed groups. How?

C1   Identify and train community members who are willing and able to provide regular listening without judgement

RECOPE members, teachers, or religious leaders, might be the best placed to provide this support, but a “listener” can be any sympathetic person in the community that the girl trusts and who can demonstrate an interest in her concerns for a few months or more. At a minimum, the listeners should be trained on the basics of active listening. (I.e. To meet the girls regularly; listen to her with empathy and interest, without pushing her to talk or passing judgment; to never make promises that are hard to fulfil; and to treat all conversations confidentially.)

D. RECOPE: On the front line of reintegration efforts

With a child protection mandate, and as members of communities affected by child recruitment, the RECOPE are best placed to promote and support the reintegration of girls coming out of armed groups, and to negotiate their release. However, their capacity is often extremely limited.

Support the RECOPE, which are on the front line of reintegration efforts. How?

D1   Invest more systematically in providing training and follow-up support to RECOPE members, as well as in recognising their work

Strengthening the capacity of the RECOPE and sub-RECOPE (on which the RECOPE rely on in the most remote areas) is the responsibility of all: government, UN and NGOs child protection actors. More members should be mobilised to join the RECOPE and sub-RECOPE, especially women. At a minimum, members should receive regular training and follow-up visits, and be equipped with sufficient resources (for transport, communication and stationery) to be able to negotiate the release of girls held by armed groups and provide adequate support to those that have returned.

E. The girls left behind: Can we do better to release them from armed groups?

Demobilisation interventions are regularly and successfully conducted by UN and NGO actors, as well as courageous members of affected communities. However, they mostly result in the release of boys, despite the fact that there are large numbers of girls associated with armed groups.

Make systematic efforts to identify and demobilise girls associated with armed groups. How?

E1   Encourage and train communities to engage with armed groups in order to advocate for the release of children, including girls

Actors specialised in the demobilisation of children should encourage, train and support communities to engage with armed groups. Trainings should convey the fact that the use of children for domestic or sexual purposes is a grave violation punishable by law. The sub-RECOPE are particularly well placed to negotiate the release of girls and should be targeted in this type of intervention. (See F2.)

E2  While the girls are still in the bush, sensitise the communities about their suffering and their vital need for understanding and support (See A1)

All communities affected by child recruitment should be sensitised, regardless of whether girls have started to return. When communities are prepared for the girls’ return, that message should be broadly disseminated with the hope that it reaches the concerned children. DDR actors and other child protection actors who are in contact with communities are best placed to carry out these interventions, but they must work with community child protection structures where they exist.

F. Preventing recruitment and re-recruitment

Two-thirds of the girls we interviewed told us that they had been abducted, but a third had decided to join an armed group themselves. They gave us four types of reasons to explain their decision: interrupted schooling; need for protection; desire for revenge; and poverty. In many cases, family problems and the influence of peers also played a role. Prevention strategies must take this complexity into account and target all actors and factors that contribute to the recruitment of girls at the community level.

Promote and strengthen community efforts to prevent the recruitment of their children. How?

F1   Sensitise communities to prevent child recruitment in the first place

Communities that support child recruitment should be identified, after which regular group discussions can be set up to disseminate information on the prohibition of child recruitment (even for the purpose of self-defence), and the long-term harm it inflicts on children, particularly girls. (See A1.) Children could also be sensitised and become advocates within their families and communities. UN and NGO actors working on DDR, in collaboration with government child protection agencies, are the best placed to carry out these interventions, which must involve community-based actors such as the RECOPE.

F2  Inform armed group commanders about the prohibition on child recruitment and corresponding penal sanctions

This intervention necessitates an initial mapping of armed groups that recruit and use children. This should be done by UN, government and NGO actors in DRC. Engagement with armed groups can then be conducted by all DDR actors, including at the community level. These actors should convey the message that the use of children for domestic or sexual purposes is a grave violation punishable by law. They can seek advice and sensitisation material from organisations such as Geneva Call and Child Soldiers International.

F3   Sensitise communities and donors on the importance of education in preventing recruitment

Many of the girls we interviewed had joined an armed group because they could no longer attend school for financial or other reasons. DDR providers, in partnership with community child protection structures (RECOPE, sub-RECOPE, Community Reintegration Groups) should therefore sensitise families and communities about the preventive role of schooling. Child protection actors should also educate donors on the role that education plays in protecting girls from recruitment, and advocate for them to fund education programmes. (See B2.)

F4   Promote children’s active participation in community life, particularly that of out-of-school girls

In some cases, out-of-school girls told us that they joined an armed group because they had nothing to do during the day. In addition to promoting school enrolment (see B2 and F3), community-based child protection actors should therefore encourage seemingly idle girls to participate in community activities that are within their reach and where they can be useful and/or learn (see B1.) (E.g. Invite girls to take on small responsibilities in village associations, or ask them to organise games for younger children in the community, while helping them to carry out these activities.)