UNICEF opens rehabilitation centres for child soldiers in Sri Lanka

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“This is a big day for the children who have been amongst the people at most risk during the conflict,” Ted Chaiban, UNICEF representative in Sri Lanka, said at the kick-off ceremony.The 49 children – 27 girls and 22 boys – in the cement block dormitories in the war-scarred north-eastern town of Kilnochchi were among an estimated 50,000 children affected by the war in which 64,000 people died. Two more centres were scheduled to open in Batticaloa and Trincomalee in the coming months, in the joint programme that the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE asked UNICEF to devise as part of the peace process.”But there are still cases of recruitment and it has to be understood that if the reintegration of child soldiers is to be successful, then new recruitment of children has to stop,” Mr. Chaiban said.Referring to the multimillion dollar Action Plan approved by the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE in August 2003, he added: “With the implementation of the Action Plan, we need to see an end to child soldiers in Sri Lanka.”The children will be allowed to stay for a maximum of three months, during which time staff from UNICEF and the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization will assess their needs.”This is the place where we can start to remove the soldiers and try to restore their childhood. But the real rehabilitation can only take place in the context of a family and a real home,” said Dr. Sadig Rasheed, UNICEF’s regional director for South Asia, who came in for the opening.Once the children return home, social workers from the non-governmental organization (NGO) Save the Children will work with the Government in ensuring that the youngsters catch up on missed schooling and have access to psychosocial and health care. The children and their families will also be given vocational training by the UN International Labour Organization (ILO) and microcredit loans by the UN Development Programme (UNDP).

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