The aim of child reintegration is to offer children a specifically designed and participatory support programme that gives them the support, knowledge and skills to thrive in the future, as individuals and as members of society. For this reason, child reintegration should extend over a minimum period of two to three years and longer if possible. It also requires appropriate funding early on to build capacity in the communities of return. During all phases of planning and implementation, activities should be driven by the best interests of the child and children should be empowered to participate in decisions affecting their lives.

Programmes for child rehabilitation and reintegration should take into account differences in age, sex and individual resilience; the capacity of children to make informed decisions; an individual’s experiences within the armed force or group; and the circumstances that led them to become associated in the first place. Programmes also need to be tailored to local educational and economic opportunities.

To avoid stigmatization, reduce risks of reprisals and promote greater equity in the delivery of assistance, reintegration programmes for children adopt an inclusive approach whereby support is provided to children who have left armed forces or armed groups through formal and informal processes,as well as to other vulnerable conflict affected children identified at the community level as needing protection (e.g. girl mothers, orphans). Inclusive and community-based approaches are key to the success of child reintegration programmes.

Child-Specific Terminology

Child Soldier: The Cape Town Principles and Best Practices (1997) defines a ‘child soldier’ as: “Any person under 18 years of age who is part of any kind of regular or irregular armed force or armed group in any capacity, including, but not limited to: cooks, porters, messengers and anyone accompanying such groups, other than purely as family members. The definition 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.”

Children Associated with Armed Forces and Groups (CAAFAG): The term ‘children associated with armed forces and groups’ is now used to avoid the perception that the only children of concern are combatant boys. This term also suggests that children eligible for release and reintegration programmes are:

a) those who remain with armed forces and groups

b) those who fled armed forces and groups (often deserters from the armed forces/groups, and therefore requiring support and protection)

c) those who were abducted

d) those who were forcibly married; and

e) those in detention.