Assistance to children and youth

  Direct Beneficiaries Indirect Beneficiaries
ex-child combatants and/or abductees 1,100 18,000
girls abducted into fighting forces who bore children while in captivity 67
girls made vulnerable to sexual violence by war 320
children orphaned, injured, or otherwise made vulnerable by war 1,900
family members caring for children orphaned by war 400
  3,787 18,000

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1612 on children and armed conflict requires that children be active participants in disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) campaigns, with special protections for girls in particular. Ten TFV projects are providing rehabilitation and support to youth victimised by war, including children associated with armed forces, children who lost their parents to the war, children of SGBV survivors, and other young people made vulnerable by crimes against humanity and war crimes.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, Thomas Lubanga, Germain Katanga, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui, and Bosco Ntaganda all face counts of war crimes for using children under the age of 15 in hostilities since 1 July, 2002. In northern Uganda, Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen are wanted for similar alleged crimes.

The consequences of child soldiering are deep and enduring. In northern Uganda, researchers found symptoms of depression – which can include sluggishness and suicidal thoughts – among 52% of abducted individuals, and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – which can include nightmares and disturbing memories – among 84%.1 These stem from the traumatic experiences that abductees endure in captivity: 39% report being injured, 73% being forced to carry heavy loads, 79% being threatened with death, 62% witnessing a family member killed, 64% witnessing a friend killed, and 40% witnessing a sexual violation.

One youth was forced to kill his brother and witness his sister’s death. He recalled to researchers, “I started dreaming of my brother a week after the incident, and at times I would see him during the day. How I beat him would all resurface.”2

1 Patrick Vinck, Phuong N. Pham, Eric Stover, and Harvey M. Weinstein, 2007. “Exposure to War Crimes and Implications for Peace Building in Northern Uganda.

2 Chris Blattman and Jeannie Annan, 2009. “The Consequences of Child Soldiering.” Findings are from the “Survey of War Affected Youth.”

Exposure to War Crimes Among Abductees in Northern Uganda (%)

One boy receiving support from the TFV’s partners in Gulu District, Uganda, was abducted at the age of nine from his family by the Lord’s Resistance Army. He started as a porter, but ended up on the front lines, where he was forced to kill. He survived battles, fear and starvation for seven years.

A 7 year-old boy born in captivity in Uganda is attacked by “demons” during a project meeting. He is receiving trauma counselling from TFV partner, WACA. Source: WACA

Following his arrest and interrogation in a local army camp, he received some clothes and was sent back to his village. But his problems are far from over. His father died three years before his return. His stepfather rejected him and his three younger brothers and sisters. He wanted to go back to school, but was too old for elementary school and resorted to begging in order to provide for himself and for his siblings. He has recurrent nightmares about death, violence, and torture.

“My dream is that, some day, I can learn how to be a construction worker so I can build a house for my brothers and sisters. Then, who knows, maybe I can even make a living out of that trade.” He is now receiving counselling and vocational training in construction from the TFV’s implementing partner, WACA, in Gulu.

As this particular story highlights, the social and psychological trauma of abduction, war and violence is real, but it only tells part of the story. Researchers have also found that two other consequences of child soldiering can have even worse effects: these are the interruption of education and employment.3

They found that for former child soldiers in Uganda, schooling falls by nearly a year, skilled employment halves, and earnings drop by a third. These have severe consequences: abductees in Uganda are nearly twice as likely to be functionally illiterate than non-abductees. Abductees also tend to be engaged in lower-skilled, less capital-intensive work, which drives down their wages: formerly abducted youth in northern Uganda earn on average 32% less than their non-abducted peers.

Thus, educational and vocational programmes that include psychological support components are the best strategies to help children return to their communities. The TFV is supporting a number of projects that provide these services to children victimised by war. These include former soldiers and/or abductees, children orphaned by war, children whose parents were victimised by sexual violence, children who themselves are vulnerable to sexual violence, and children injured and otherwise made vulnerable by war.

The TFV is reaching about 1,100 children who were conscripted into armed forces, sometimes forced by their own families, in both the DRC and northern Uganda. Most are receiving support for income generating activities. In one project – for girls who bore children while in captivity – the children are participating in an accelerated educational programme that will let them catch-up to the normal school system and rejoin their peers.

The TFV is supporting income generating activities for about 450 children associated with fighting forces in Ituri, DRC.

The choice between educational and vocational support is a difficult one and depends in large part on the age and duration of captivity of former abductees. As one teacher in northern Uganda expressed to researchers, “some youth stayed for a long time in the bush, and when they came back to school, they found themselves older than the others in class. Such students take long to adjust.”4

Youth in both countries who were not abducted and who are not in school often work in small entrepreneurial activities that require a slow accumulation of capital and skills. Young people will often begin with activities like collecting firewood, and build their way up to more capital-intensive activities like bicycle-taxiing. Eventually, such youth are able to establish small businesses that require specific skills, like construction, carpentry or tailoring.

Through five projects in Ituri District, DRC and northern Uganda, TFV implementing partners are providing equipment and training to help children and young adults by-pass this slow process of accumulating capital and skills. In the DRC, all children are registered in the national demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) programme (CONADER), which is estimated to have demobilized and disarmed some 30,000 children and 100,000 adults.

But a number of children from these communities never received reintegration assistance. In some cases, failure to complete the DDR cycle resulted in re-abduction. The TFV is specifically targeting these children, some of whom have been waiting for over a year to receive financial and vocational support to ease their return to civilian life. TFV partners conduct market assessments and work with children to choose an income generating activity. These activities serve two important functions: (1) providing children with an effective and sustainable source of livelihood and (2) providing children new roles within their communities and families.

3 Chris Blattman and Jeannie Annan, 2009. “The Consequences of Child Soldiering.” Findings are from the “Survey of War Affected Youth.”

4 Blattman and Annan, p. 8

Breakdown of Some Income Generating Activities for Ex-Child Combatants (%)

Goats are distributed to youth trained in breeding in the DRC. Source: TFV

But vocational training is not appropriate for all children. Children and youth can also benefit from accelerated education. In Bunia, DRC, for instance, the TFV is supporting COOPI, which runs an established programme for abducted girls who bore children while in captivity. While estimates put the total portion of female combatants in the DRC at 20%, only 3,000 women have received assistance through the DDR programme, and only a tiny fraction of these are girls.

But girls face unique challenges and have special needs. In addition to losing out on education, they face intense stigma and rejection from their families and communities, and bear the additional burden of supporting a child. In a representative survey of Congolese in Ituri and the Kivus, over a third (35%) said they would not accept a victim of sexual violence back into their household if she had a child as a result of the violence.5

With support from the TFV, COOPI is providing 67 girls and their babies with accelerated education and day care. So far, the project’s impact has been substantial.

Through its previous work with girl mothers, COOPI found that in addition to providing accelerated learning, specific activities were needed to help the girls bond with their children and come to understand and accept their new roles as mothers. Therefore, COOPI built a crèche alongside its school with support from the TFV to simultaneously promote the girls’ education and nurture their relationships with their babies.

At first, the girls “were the incarnation of all evil in the neighbourhood, [representing] rape, shame and lost education,” according to COOPI’s project staff. The girls saw their babies as the main source of this stigma.

But very soon, COOPI began to see substantial changes. Several months into the project, the girls were not only spending more time with their babies while at school, but were also carrying them in public while wearing their school uniforms. This very public acknowledgment of their dual roles as both students and mothers was an early, powerful testament to the bond that COOPI was helping each girl establish with her child. The project’s quick and substantial impact has continued to impress both COOPI and TFV staff.

5 Research conducted by the UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center, the International Center for Transitional Justice and Tulane University’s Payson Center for International Development

“The COOPI Crèche” – Bunia, DRC

  • Mother/child bond: At first, the girls would simply leave their babies at the crèche at the beginning of the day, and pick them up at the end. Project staff had trouble knowing which baby belonged to which girl. Now, the girls regularly visit, care for and spend time with their own and the other girls’ children, and everyone knows exactly who belongs to whom.
  • Acceptance of new roles and responsibilities: At first, the girls did not accept being called ‘mothers’. Now, the project staff report that over two-thirds of the girls agree that they are both ‘students’ and ‘mothers’.
  • Pride: At first, all the girls refused to wear their school uniforms and carry their babies at the same time, especially in public. Now, all the girls will carry their babies in public while wearing their uniforms.
  • Improved health: The girls are themselves receiving regular meals, and have begun to care for their babies more regularly, learning from the project staff.
  • Family integration: At first, the girls’ own parents were not involved in the school: neither in the girls’ lives nor in the babies’ lives. Now, the parents will take their daughters’ babies to the doctor when the girls are in school, and visit the school for parents’ meetings. Many will also help the girls pay for extra school supplies when needed.
  • Community integration: At first, the girls did not interact with students in the main school. Now, they regularly play and spend time with the other students.

After nine months of project implementation, 26 of the project’s 67 girls have rejoined the regular school system. The remaining 40 will benefit from continued help from COOPI through the TFV’s extended support into 2010.

Working with victims of gross human rights violations, especially children, requires special attention to ethical and safety concerns. For many former child soldiers, it can be a stigmatising experience to be seen by the community as a special recipient of additional services, especially when the same children were forced to attack their own communities.

Students at the TFV-supported “Peace School” in Ituri District, DRC. Students work together to create stories about the conflicts they have faced and share messages of peace and reconciliation.

To ameliorate this stigma, many projects have integrated a portion of children who are not associated with armed groups, but who are still victims of war. Some lost their parents during a village raid or attack; others lost their homes. And still others are considered vulnerable to sexual violence. UNICEF incorporates the special needs and rights of vulnerable children into all of its programming, recognising that “in conflict situations, involuntary separation from both family and community protection…greatly increases the child's risk of exposure to violence, physical abuse, exploitation and even death.”6

In northern Uganda, the TFV is supporting COOPI, which is providing safe shelter, education, and social activities to vulnerable youth in Oyam district. Oyam is a newly created district next to Gulu and was home to a number of major IDP camps, where youth were especially vulnerable, including to both forced prostitution and rape. COOPI is running several centres where these youth can receive protection and education. In addition, COOPI is conducting a sensitization and information campaign to educate community members and leaders about the prevalence of sexual violence and the rights of victims.

Exposure to war crimes has consequences for social healing as well. Researchers from UC Berkeley found that among victims of war in northern Ugandan, those with symptoms of PTSD were 31% more likely to favour violent means as a way to achieve peace, while those with symptoms of depression were about 23% less likely to favour non-violent means.7

To help establish a culture of peace in war-torn communities, the TFV is supporting the “Peace School” for about 1,600 children in Ituri District and North Kivu. The “Peace School” is a mobile, two-day camp run by university students trained in conflict resolution that helps children and young adults collectively address their trauma, construct messages of peace and healing, and share them with their wider communities.

The camp begins with a film and discussion, and continues with story telling, analysis, critical thinking, drawing, writing, and drama. Through collective, creative expression, children voice their trauma, and learn from each other about how to resolve conflict non-violently. At the end of the two days, children put together a play to sum up all that they have discussed and learned, and invite their families and community members to attend.


7 Patrick Vinck, Phuong N. Pham, Eric Stover, and Harvey M. Weinstein, 2007. “Exposure to War Crimes and Implications for Peace Building in Northern Uganda.

Children from the “Peace School” in Ituri, DRC Share Messages of Trauma & Hope Source: TFV Partner
"God forgive me because my heart was preparing revenge against my executioner. Help me! How can I forgive? If I do not, I'll end up committing a crime in the future."
“I have long sought to avenge the man who raped me. I suffered because, unlike him, I did not have a weapon to kill him. The child I bore made me sick. I did not want to keep it. If I had not come here, perhaps I would have done worse than my attacker.”
“I fled with my big brother after we lost our parents in the war. But I soon grew tired and could not walk. He wanted to throw me into a river and save his own life, but a man saved us. I love my brother and I do not want him to be ashamed of what happened.”

In 2010, the “Peace School” will scale-up its activities with continued support from the TFV to integrate its lessons of peace and reconciliation into the regular school system so that the wider community may benefit from its messages.

In Gulu District, Uganda, the Anglican Diocese of Uganda (DNU) is also supporting children made vulnerable by conflict. It combines “Healing of Memory” seminars (for both adults and children) with education grants to help victims regain both psychological well-being and productive roles within their communities.

Participants from throughout northern Uganda work with Father Michael Lapsley in the “Healing of Memories” seminar.

The DNU’s goal is to bring comprehensive healing and reconciliation to victims and their families to help end cycles of violence and poverty. One participant, Samuel, has been benefiting from both of DNU’s project components. A student from Amuru district, he told the project staff that he had dreamt of becoming a doctor in primary school. Instead, he was injured by a landmine planted in his compound during the war, and forced in and out of hospital for two years to undergo six different surgeries. “After the mine accident, I thought I had lost it all,” he recalled.

Samuel has been participating in the DNU’s “Healing of Memories” seminar, which is run by Father Michael Lapsley, an internationally renowned reconciliation expert from South Africa. The seminar brings together victims from throughout northern Uganda to collectively express their trauma and share messages of healing and hope. Samuel has also benefited from a grant from the DNU to re-enrol in school, where he is making up the years that he missed. “I was full of hatred and self pity,” he told project staff. “But I found so many people like me in the [Healing of Memories] seminar. I learned that I can still achieve my dreams. I am encouraged to live life to the full[est].”

In Bukavu, South Kivu, the TFV’s partner ALT is providing support to the children of women who have been raped: 784 children attending about 90 different schools throughout South Kivu in total. This compliments ALT’s other project activities, described in more detail in our spotlight page on sexual violence.

Providing victims’ children with school grants has two key advantages for the project’s overall success: (1) school is one of the most effective and efficient means to help children avoid feelings of stigmatization, which improves their family life and supports their parents’ own rehabilitation and reintegration; and (2) with ALT’s micro-credit programme, survivors of rape have an additional source of income and, as such, are not as reliant on their children for bringing in money as they once were. ALT’s education grants allow survivors and their children to take advantage of this new-found freedom. In ALT’s own words: “So that mothers are not forced to deplete the content of the micro-financing just to ensure schooling of their children, the project provides for a special allowance for these purposes.”

784 children of victims of SGBV are receiving grants to attend school while their parents develop small income generating activities through the TFV’s partner, Action for Living Together. Source: ALT