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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 May 2007, 17:02 GMT 18:02 UK
Chad demobilises child soldiers
By Stephanie Hancock
BBC News, N'Djamena

Child soldier
The authorities say children forge birth certificates
Chad's government has signed a deal with the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) to begin demobilising child soldiers from its national army.

The agreement is a U-turn for the government, which as always denied that it has had under-age fighters.

In a recent Unicef investigation more than 300 child soldiers were discovered in one town alone.

Chad's minister for external relations, Djidda Moussa Outman, says the army has never purposely recruited children.

Widespread

"A few days ago, in the town of Mongo, we began to demobilise 200 to 300 children from the Chadian army," Mr Outman said.

To draw these children out of their current lives requires their own engagement
Unicef's Steve Adkisson

A good proportion of the children were reportedly between eight and 11 years old.

"This is already a strong sign of our goodwill. The government has never knowingly signed up children into the Chadian army. It's young people who forge their birth certificates," the minister said.

"If they come to sign up we cannot know they are lying. What happens in Europe is not the same in Africa. But we are now taking concrete actions to remove them quickly from the national army."

He gave an assurance that the government is trying to educate people that youths should not be recruited.

Unicef's Steve Adkisson says the recruitment of child fighters is widespread in Chad - the true number is not known.

"The effort today is to conduct a census across the Chadian territory, with the co-operation of the government - looking at rebel forces, children recruited by Sudanese rebels and other groups," he said.

Convincing the children to disarm is a complicated process too.

"To draw these children out of their current lives requires their own engagement, requires the engagement of NGOs who have the capacity and experience to work with these children," Mr Adkisson said.

Areas were also needed where the children could go before returning to their communities, some of which are still in conflict zones, he says.

Clearly, the issue of Chad's child soldiers is not something that will be solved overnight.

But now the government's admitted that it does have a problem, there is hope that many hundreds of children can finally return home to safety.


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