The Government of Côte d’Ivoire recognize and fully evaluate the impact of conflict on its children and develop measures to better safeguard the country’s children.
The Government of Côte d’Ivoire, with the support of international donors as necessary, reinvest in education and health systems, with a special focus on girls and separated children’s needs.
The Government of Côte d’Ivoire and local officials establish a no-tolerance approach to gender-based violence, particularly against children and youth and conduct public education campaigns for the public and for its work force.
UNICEF increas its efforts to improve birth registration and work with UNOCI and the Prime Minister’s office to issue birth certificates that would permit children to attend school.
UNHCR, under its cluster approach, with the UN country team and local officials undertake need surveys of the urban displaced and assist in providing the appropriate assistance.
All parties increase their cooperation in expediting family reunification and in issuance of needed identity documents.
The UN has provided little help for millions of children at risk due to Côte d’Ivoire’s continuing conflict.
Conflict’s highest toll is often exacted on a country’s most valuable
and vulnerable resource, its children. Recent United Nations Security
Council Resolutions have put Côte d’Ivoire on track for elections
late next year and extended the UN peacekeeping mission, but have
provided little help in improving the every day life for millions of
children and youth at risk due to Côte d’Ivoire’s continuing
The impact of conflict on children can be injury, loss of parents,
separation from loved ones, displacement, exploitation and abuse, an
end to education and healthcare, recruitment into fighting forces, and
sometimes the loss of an effective nationality. The presence of an
ongoing conflict does not absolve state or non-state actors from their
obligations under humanitarian law to protect children. More can and
must be done by the government, the parties to the conflict, and by the
international community to safeguard the development of Côte
d’Ivoire’s best hope for a brighter future.
Côte d’Ivoire’s current struggle began in 2002 when a failed
military coup resulted in division of the country into two territories
separated by a buffer zone or “zone of confidence.” The southern part
of the country is controlled by a transitional government, while the
north is under the Forces Nouvelles. The zone of confidence is
patrolled by the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire
(UNOCI) and the French forces, Licorne, but lacks any effective
policing or justice system.
The country’s president and the leader of the Forces Nouvelles recently
signed an agreement to reunite the country, but earlier agreements have
failed, and the people—particularly children—continue to suffer. The
October 2006 UN Secretary-General’s report on children and armed
conflict in Côte d’Ivoire reported that fighting and violence
cost many lives and left thousands of children orphaned. The resulting
destruction of government offices and widespread civilian displacement
meant many families lost their identity documents and their
livelihoods. Parties to the conflict have linked the peace agreement
requirement to issue identification documents and create new voter
rolls to the disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of armed
groups and the holding of elections.
Estimates of the number of people internally displaced range from
500,000 to over 2 million, though no one really knows just how many
people, adults or children, were forced to flee their homes and how
many families remain separated. The International Committee of the Red
Cross provides tracing services and reunites both refugee and
internally displaced families, but there are many outstanding cases.
Large numbers of children in the country can not prove their
citizenship and thus are cut off from government assistance, education,
and health care. With a declining economy and increasing poverty,
underage children are working in agriculture or cocoa production, in
small trading and even prostitution, doing what they can to survive.
International and non-governmental agencies are working to develop
protection mechanisms, but the needs in Côte d’Ivoire exceed
their current level of ability and funding.
There is only one official camp for the internally displaced, The
Center for Assistance to Temporarily Displaced (CATD) in Guiglo. It
houses over 7,000 persons, mostly ethnic Burkinabe (identifying people
once from Burkina Faso). Parents and children, who fled attacks and
violence, decried the lack of education and skills training in the
overcrowded camp. Camp leaders and the youth group explained their need
for education as well as income generation activities to improve their
living situation, provide clothing, and supplement their diets. One
resourceful woman at CATD started a tailoring apprentice program to
help a group of 20 young women, but leaders remain concerned that most
of the youth and young adults had nothing to do. “We have no hope here
so please resettle us somewhere” said the youth spokesman as he handed
the RI team a copy of his statement to serve as a reminder.
The situation is even more difficult for displaced people who fled to
urban areas, like those now residing in shantytowns in and around
Abidjan. RI interviewed a female-headed household in their small dark
shack. The two adult women said their family of seven had to flee their
home about four years ago, leaving their agricultural and small
businesses behind. Two brothers had been killed. “When the war started,
the fighters didn’t tell the difference in people, but later they
killed children and women too,” one woman said. The family lived in the
bush for two years and later found their way to Abidjan by bus. Rebels
destroyed one woman’s identification document. The other woman had lost
hers and had only a copy which she feared was probably useless.
Initially an uncle had opened his door to the women and their children,
but when the cost of feeding and sheltering them became prohibitive, he
had to ask them to leave and find a room in the less expensive
outskirts of the city. Now they are trying to learn carpet making so
they might be able to find work and support themselves. On the day RI
visited, a 16-year-old boy stood quietly, partially hidden in the
shadows. He only stepped forward to help when the baby or one of the
younger children needed attention. One sister said, “We don’t have
papers for him. The government will not issue a paper to a child not
born in this place. He hasn’t been to school, so we don’t know what we
can do. Without a birth certificate he cannot travel alone or he would
have to pay a lot of money as bribes. We cannot return to Man [their
city of origin].” They said that many other families are in the same
situation. A business woman in nearby Grand Bassam explained that she
had given money and other things to displaced children who wandered
around and were obviously getting poorer and poorer. “They have
nothing.” Then she added, “We just want peace….so all of us can live as
we did before the war.”
War-related displacement and deaths have left a large number of
children orphaned or alone. One center in Bouake in the north hosts 37
children between the ages of 5 and 17 and provides education and foster
care with local families for about another 100 homeless youth. The
director, a former government teacher, said, “These are children who
must reclaim their rights. Some of them are ex-child soldiers. When a
community sees kids in difficult circumstances, they tell us, or bring
them here, or we go there to see. Or we go to a town and some are in
the street. At first other families would take care of the children,
but afterwards people can’t afford to help anymore. Children end up in
the street. There are more girls than boys here. Boys can do hard work,
but the girls are not seen as economically useful, so their lot is even
harder. Some don’t have papers.” This local effort is funded by private
donations and some UN assistance.
The numbers of children associated with fighting forces are small,
probably in the high hundreds to low thousands. Children continue to be
associated with the armed forces and militia groups as well as with the
Forces Nouvelles. UNICEF, Save the Children and other international and
non-governmental agencies are working to end the use of child soldiers
and to provide assistance. A series of programs reunited 500 children
with their families and placed others who cannot rejoin their families
in host families. Youth no longer of school age can attend non-formal
education programs teaching life skills, prevention of HIV-AIDS, as
well as soap making, embroidery, carpentry, and animal breeding. Other
programs provide recreation and literacy training. The agencies work
together to prevent militants from recruiting new or previously engaged
children. At the time of RI’s visit, it was widely reported that in a
recent month over 100 children had come from Liberia to fight.
Côte d’Ivoire’s education system is under severe stress, in large
part due to the number of teachers who fled the conflict and damaged
facilities. The International Rescue Committee has started to
rehabilitate schools, but teachers are reluctant to come back to the
north. Volunteers have kept the system functioning, but barely. Access
to schools has improved due to outreach school registration campaigns
specifically targeting girls’ enrollment, but many barriers remain.
Problems remain with book distribution, the inability to register
without a birth certificate, and the inability of parents to afford
small fees or buy school supplies. Political sensitivities regarding
voter registration have spilled over onto efforts to correct birth
registrations or reissue such documents, particularly for children not
living in the place of their birth.
Good health is becoming a luxury. Once banished diseases are
flourishing again, and there have been outbreaks of cholera and yellow
fever. The Secretary-General reported that between May and July 2005
the UNOCI Human Rights Division recorded approximately 200 cases of
sexual violence against children and women. The violence and the
breakdown of displaced families are perhaps to blame for an increase in
sexual abuse. An earlier UNFPA study found that 31 percent of girls
interviewed admitted having been forced or coerced into non-consensual
There is no question that a protection and human rights emergency
exists in Côte d’Ivoire with severe repercussions on the physical
and mental health of children.
Senior Advocate Maureen Lynch and
consultant Dawn Calabia completed an assessment mission to Cote
d’Ivoire in October 2006.