Post-war Angola must invest heavily in its children if it wants to consolidate and preserve its new-found peace, a senior UN official said in Luanda.
Under-Secretary-General Olara Otunnu, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflicts, said on Monday that if children were not a central focus during the post-war period, they could become "spoilers of peace" - as has happened elsewhere in the world.
"It is critical to invest in youth ... to give them training ... and to give them hope ... or they could become a sullen, bitter, alienated group who undermine peace and the future," he said. "There are few priorities as important as investing in youth."
More than half of the estimated 4.28 million people displaced by the war in Angola are children and humanitarian agencies estimate that more than 100,000 have been separated from their families. During the last half of 2001 alone, more than 4,000 children were reported without their families in 17 of Angola's 18 provinces.
In addition, the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA) and UNITA rebels have both been accused in the past of recruiting child soldiers. Otunnu said the Lusaka Peace Accord signed in 1994 acknowledged there were about 9,000 children involved in the conflict.
"There is a need to identify quickly who they are within the forces and to reunite them with their communities," he said. Otunnu said he believed that the Angolan government was responsible for this task.
"The primary responsibility for the children of Angola belongs to the government of Angola, which has recognised this responsibility. Others can support these efforts," he said.
It was important, he added, to rehabilitate schools, improve children's access to education and health, and to provide vocational training for youth. "Everything should be done to make youth productive ... they are a major force for reconstruction and healing."
Acknowledging that children were the victims of many atrocities during Angola's 30-year civil war, Otunnu said that "when we speak of war and atrocities against young persons, we should seek the truth of everyone's actions" and hold them accountable.
"In general we take the view that those who committed crimes against children should not get off scot-free ... we do not support blanket amnesty ... so we support a truth seeking process, like there has been in South Africa and elsewhere," he said. Such a process could lead to forgiveness, to some crimes being punished and to greater spiritual healing.
However, he added, Angolans themselves should decide how they want to deal with the issue and the international community, including the United Nations, could provide help.
Angola has been described as one of the worst places for a child to be born. Otunnu said he felt there was a need for an "overarching national institution with political weight" to deal with issues affecting children in post-war Angola.
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Otunnu is expected to visit the provinces of Moxico, Bie and Benguela during his week-long mission to Angola.
"I am here to witness first hand the impact of the 30-year war on children and youth, and what up till now is being done for them. Given the ceasefire [signed on 4 April between FAA and UNITA] and prospects for the first time in 40 years, perhaps, for peace, I am keen to see the plans for children in post-war Angola," he said.
Otunnu is expected to meet government and UNITA officials, as well as civic leaders and relief agencies during his stay.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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