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Appraisal of the rehabilitation and reintegration on the right to development of child soldiers: the case of armed conflict in the south west region of Cameroon

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This study examines the effects of rehabilitation and reintegration on the right to development of child soldiers in the Cameroon Crisis. Specifically, the study examines how the Rehabilitation and Reintegration programs impact a child soldier’s right to development. The introduction looks at the origin of the concept of child soldiering and the advent of DDR. The main problem addressed by this paper is to examine how these concepts of rehabilitation and reintegration have impacted the right to development of child soldiers in the region. 

This study draws on qualitative approaches and a desk study is performed. A created analytical framework taking surrounding environments, child development and social and cultural components into account is used.

This paper looks at the effects of DDR on development in the lives of child soldiers during rehabilitation and after integration.  Considering the fact that, DDR is an entirely maiden process to Cameroon, this work proffers solutions and recommendations on how the process can be properly carried out and managed, as the country looks forward to post-war reconstruction and peace building.

The findings demonstrate that there are many systems which are vital and have to be considered for reintegration to be effective. The findings of the research have some implications for the way Cameroon conceptualizes and provides assistance to the young people affected by armed conflicts. It focuses on the need to rebuild the youth’s resilience and coping strategies through proper counselling, education and skill acquisition in order to ensure their right to development.

It concludes that Cameroon needs to draw inspiration from other countries such as Uganda and Sierra Leone, in or der to properly grasp and successfully implement these concepts of rehabilitation and reintegration. It is only in doing this, that the right to development can adequately be enjoyed.




This chapter is the introductory chapter and handles the background to the study, statement of the problem, research questions and objectives. To attain the objectives, the chapter goes further to treat the research methodology, literature review, theoretical framework as well as the significance of the study. Limitations surrounding this work also identified the conceptual definition of key terms made and synopsis of the chapters.


Over time, civilizations have built their military strengths on wars and conquests.  The repercussions of wars are not only catastrophic on the economic, social or political lives of humankind, but go as far as psychological. The participation of children in armed conflict is a historical phenomenon and is rooted in the history of civilizations and traditions. In ancient courts, thirteen-year-old boys would be attached to knights who taught the skills with the sword, lance, and the duties and responsibilities of knighthood. The Squires were required to serve their mentors, look after their master’s horses, polish their weapons and armor and serve them at meals. When the Squires grew older, they were expected to follow their mentors to the battle to protect them in case the knight fell in combat.

The debate as to who constitutes a ‘child’ differs widely between people and societies. According to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), a child is ‘every human being below the age of 18 years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier’[1].  The definition used by the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (hereafter the African Charter)[2] is consistent with that of the CRC.  Whilst this official definition is widely accepted because of its straightforward nature, the definition of a “child soldier” is still largely contested.[3] With regards to the military service, the CRC lowered the age of a child from 18 to 15.  Due to increasing concerns about the minimum recruitment age being higher, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict raised the minimum recruitment age from 15 to 18 years[4]. Thus, this research will apply the definition in the Optional Protocol, which defines a child soldier as any child under the age of 18.

As to the role the child must carry out in the fighting forces in order to fall under the definition of a child ‘soldier’, this research will apply the definition agreed upon in the Cape Town Principles,[5]which states that a child soldier is any person under 18 years of age, who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force in any capacity, including but not limited to cooks, porters, messengers and those accompanying such groups, other than purely as family members. It includes girls recruited for sexual purposes and forced marriage. It does not, therefore, only refer to a child who is carrying or has carried arms. Thus, for the purpose of this research, a ‘child soldier’ is defined as any person under the age of 18 who is associated with the fighting forces in any capacity.

As far back as the beginning of history, children have been used to serve as aides, armor bearers, squires and charioteers during the First and Second World Wars. Worth noting for example is that during WW 1, the first child soldier to die: Private James Martin had enlisted at Melbourne in 1915 at the age of 14 years. On the other hand, Albert Cohen of Memphis, Tennessee, reputed to be the youngest American soldier to participate in combat in World War 1, joined the army at the age of thirteen and died at the age of fourteen. It is also observed that during World War 11, Hitler deployed young boys who were ill-trained but had received quasi military training as part of a political programme to maintain the Nazi rule in power. These youths who were lightly armed were mostly sent out in small ambush squads and the allied forces killed many of them.[6]  The youngest known soldier of World War I was MomčiloGavrić, from the Kingdom of Serbia, who joined his unit at the age of seven.[7]  Between 250,000 and 420,000 boys under 17 were involved in the American Civil War. Given the large number of young men in the American Civil War, one author stated, “It might have been called The Boys’ War.[8]

In Africa, far back as the early 1800, Southern African warrior, Shakaka Senzangakhona, better known as Shaka Zulu, had young men serving in the Zulu military.[9]This was about the same period in time, when European powers tried extending their empires by assuming control over African nations.  Sometimes, ethnically diverse nations were grouped under the same European colonies.  The end of imperialism always resulted in violent revolutions and coups, which led to decades of civil and political unrest, poverty, famine and violent cultural clashes.  Due to these mishaps and disasters, populations tend to flee, and the military slowly loses its support from these masses. Thus to fill in the gaps, some fill their ranks with children as young as the age of eight.  Some are kidnapped and serve in combat as well as other auxiliary purposes such as cooking and transportation. Some, however, voluntarily join armed conflict because this seems to be their best chance of survival, given they have been separated from their families. Some may adhere to some ideology and want to fight for the cause. Others feel they have no choice and may want to remain soldiers.

Suffice to say that while child soldiering is as old as warfare and has been going on for centuries across most civilizations, the nature of warfare and political violence has changed over the past decades. Children are mainly recruited because they are ignorant, more obedient, manageable and more easily manipulated than adults. Some children who are unaccompanied, orphaned or living in harsh family conditions see participation in armed conflicts as a solution to their problems. Forced recruitment is always a carefully planned process and the recruiters typically target places where children are most vulnerable and gathered in large numbers: schools, churches, refugee camps and orphanages.  To subdue them, these recruiters rape, beat, torture and even kill members of their families, should they encounter any resistance from these children or their families.

Since the end of the Cold War, it is estimated that Africa has had the largest number of conflicts and has seen the highest military conscription of children in war.[10]Recently, the incidences of child soldiers appear more in Central and North Africa[11] with the probability that this number will have increased by now. In 2016, the United Nations in its statistics[12]reported that child soldiers were being used by armed groups in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan and Somalia and by state armed forces in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan.In Liberia, during the reign of Charles Taylor in the early 1990s,[13]one of the most feared and brutal child soldiers, commanding a large swayof Monrovia was a 17year old Joshua Blahyl, known by his nom de guerre, “General Butt Naked” who led the “Butt Naked Brigade.” Today, Cameroon has joined the list of African countries with child soldiers, most of whom, are used by armed groups. This is particularly evident in the ongoing armed conflict in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon.

With the return of relative “peace” in the war-torn North West and South West regions, the challenge now is how to effectively reintegrate and rehabilitate (RR) former child soldiers as part of the overall peacebuilding process in the country through its rehabilitation and reintegration centers. The United Nations introduced the concept of DDR for the first time in 1990.[14]  Recently, DDR focuses on a wider range of issues, taking into consideration a country’s development, peace  and reconstruction[15].

Disarmament, rehabilitation and reintegration (DDR)programsfor former combatants are not recent phenomena. Since after World War I and World War II, DDR programmes have taken place in many countries. From the early 1980s, however, DDR began to develop into a specialist field, especially with the conclusion of armed conflicts in Zimbabwe, Ethiopia/Eritrea, Uganda and Namibia. [16]The main purpose of DDR is to support ex-combatants and fighters in their transition to civilian status, by disarming fighters and fighting units and helping them to reintegrate socially and economically into society, thus facilitating their active participation in peace processes.

Over the past three decades, DDR programmes have had mixed results. Some have been innovative and remarkably successful, as was the case in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Uganda. Others, due to their ineffectiveness, made it impossible for ex-combatants to secure employment or make the necessary social and psychological adjustments, to make the successful transition to civilian life. For example, in Uganda, when the then rebel National Resistance Army (NRA) led by President Museveni captured power after five years of guerrilla warfare in 1986, government attempted to demobilize, reintegrate and rehabilitate thousands of child soldiers from the army with limited success. Child soldiers were simply sent back to schools and were subsequently re-absorbed into the army upon completion or dropping out of schools[17]. Due to these, they have become stigmatized and marginalized in their societies, living in pathetic conditions. [18]

Since the 1980s, the World Bank was the principal force behind most DDR processes in Africa. Other international agencies like the United Nations, came in the early 1990s, and were involved in DDR processes. During this decade, a lot of financial resources and intellectual capital was invested in African DDR processes; for example, the Multi-Donor Trust Fund devoted US$ 31.5million, for the successful disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of some 72,500 combatants in the Sierra Leone DDR process of 1997-2002.[19]

Today, DDR is classified in three generations: the first,  often referred to as “traditional DDR” which occurred in the 1990s, focuses on the disarmament and demobilization of signatories to a peace agreement and has strong operational and military components. The military personnel receive benefits and are often given the opportunity to either join a new security force or to return to normal civilian life. They are provided business grants, vocational training and modest income generating opportunities. [20]The second generation, whose phase began by the mid-2000s, takes into account the community as a whole, and how armed violence impacts a community. The communities contribute in the reintegration programmes, thus building trust and reconciliation, thereby creating a conducive environment for favorable reintegration.[21]

Most times, reintegration of ex-combatants occurs during ongoing conflicts, where non-state armed groups continue to advocate and use violence despite the ongoing reintegration process.[22]  This adds a threat to the DDR implementation process because, violent extremists start targeting members of international organizations or civilians.[23] Third generation DDR dwells on promoting dialogue, education and economic opportunities, while restoring social bonds between communities and ex-combatants. It also provides more sustainable economic, political and social substitutes to conflict.  It goes far beyond the ideology of poverty being the prime stimulus for youth engagement in extremist groups. [24]


The participation of children in conflict comes with enormous implications and consequences on their physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing, as they have either witnessed or been perpetrators of death, killings and sexual violence. The intention here is not to try to justify the child soldiering phenomenon, but to demonstrate that the practice has long been part of human society which in recent times has gone out of control and poses a serious threat to international peace and security and development of nations.

The ongoing crisis plaguing the English Speaking regions of Cameroon which started since October 2016 has degenerated from protests around sectoral demands to a political crisis. [25] The roots of the country’s problems date as far back as the era of colonial legacy and the failure of the centralized model. The violence witnessed during the past three years has aggravated the crisis and led to extensive media coverage.  Radical groups have emerged, using intimidation, threats and violence on the masses to gain support for the movement. 

The government and the secessionist militants have both instilled fear into the population by their frequent acts of vandalism, barbarism, violence and weapons. Gross human rights violations and untold suffering caused by both the secessionists and military alike has forced many to flee, while others were either forcefully or willfully recruited.

Cameroon’s National Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission,[26]has created three Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) centers: in the North, North West and South West regions of the country. They were established to help rehabilitate civilians who joined militia in the ongoing Boko Haram insurgencies in the Northern parts of Cameroon and the ongoing crisis in the North West and South West regions of the country respectively.

The main problem addressed by this paper is to examine how these concepts of rehabilitation and reintegration have impacted the right to development of child soldiers in the region.  An improperly rehabilitated child soldier will poorly reintegrate with society, and will not be able to either participate or partake in development. This research is premised on the theorem that the promotion of RR of former child soldiers by providing psychosocial support may contribute to conditions of peace, stability and thus development in Cameroon. DDR should therefore guarantee safety, stability and room for developmental growth.

Worthy of note is that when DDR fails, it changes the dynamics of conflict because the principles of DDRR that caused ex-combatants to drop their arms will no longer appeal to them; therefore their re-engagement into conflict will become even deepened. That failed RR processes have the capacity to generate or produce spillovers that may be counter-productive to silencing the guns. A contemporary case in view is the recent gruesome mutation and killing of a female victim in Muyuka, a town in the South West Region of Cameroon, by a group tagged as the DDR Crew, who are a group of partially rehabilitated combatants. They fled the Buea DDR Centre because they felt the government did not keep to their own part of the disarmament package.[27]

1.3. Research Questions

This research seeks to answer the following questions:

1.3.1. Main Research Question

To what extent has the rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers in the South West region of Cameroon impacted the right to development?

1.3.2. Specific Research Questions

  • What constitutes the concepts and nature of child soldiers in armed conflict, rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers?
  • What are the legal and institutional frameworks regulating the use of children in armed conflicts and their rehabilitation and reintegration?
  • How effective are the legal and institutional frameworks in rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers and the impact on the right to development?
  • What policy recommendations are needed to guarantee an effective rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers in Cameroon?

1.4. OBJECTIVES of the study

1.4.1 Main objective

The goal of this work is to examine the effectiveness of the rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers during armed conflicts and how it impacts the right to development with the DDR Buea as case study.

1.4.2 Specific objectives

The specific objectives of this research work include:

  • To analyse the concepts of child soldiers, armed conflict, rehabilitation and reintegration and the right to development.
  • To examine the legal and institutional frameworks for the protection against the use of children in armed conflict, as well as those governing rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers.
  • To analyse the effectiveness of the rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers in the DDRR center in Buea and its impact on the right to development.
  • To make policy recommendations needed to guarantee an effective rehabilitation and reintegration of child soldiers in Cameroon, thus guaranteeing their right to development.

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