Sara M. from Minusio (CH) – student from the secondary school in Massagno
Even the students from the Canton of Ticino support the International Red Hands Campaign against the use of Child Soldiers
On the occasion of the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, which is celebrated every year on 12th February, young people from Ticino contribute to the Red Hands campaign by sending their “hands” to the Federal Councilor Ignazio Cassis supporting the appeal to politicians of finally abolishing the use of minors in armed conflicts.
440,445 red hands have been collected since the beginning of the international campaign “Red Hands”. They arrive from all parts of the world, hands of children who are already learning their right to peacefully disagree and be part of a global and interconnected world.
Also the young people of Ticino want to contribute to this great target, sending a message to a fellow citizen of theirs, councilor Cassis, who has recently become head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). Taking over after Burkhalter on 1st November 2017, Cassis arrives in that moment when it is most important to renew Switzerland’s commitment to fight against the use of child soldiers, who expressed his strategy in Burkhalter’s mandate with the “Action Plan for the protection of children used by regular forces or armed groups during the 2014-2016 conflict “.
Huge numbers still continue to exist: an estimate of 250,000 children are involved in conflicts around the world. They are used as fighters, messengers, spies, porters, cooks, and girls, in particular, are forced to provide sexual services, depriving them of their rights and childhood.
Between 2002 and today, over a billion children in 42 countries are affected by violent conflicts. However, the impact of armed conflicts on children is difficult to estimate due to the lack of reliable and up-to-date information.
“Elodie was kidnapped from her village when she was only 10 years old and spent 6 years with armed groups. When she arrived in Obo, in the south-east of the Central African Republic, she was assigned to participate a program of COOPI regarding the recovery of former child soldiers. Unfortunately we didn’t know if she had been released or had managed to escape. At the time of her discovery she did not speak “.
A dramatic testimony direct from the field: “The case of Elodie was particularly difficult because only after some time in our center she was able to say a few words. Fortunately one of our operators recognized that she spoke in Lingala, a Bantu language spoken in the Democratic Republic of the Congo …
While Elodie was accompanied by one of our psychologists during her journey of recovery, we started to search for her family in Congo. The DRC is a vast country and Lingala is spoken in many regions … Luckily, a Congolese refugee in Obo could help us: he believed to recognize the ritual signs on Elodie’s face and advised us to look in the area of the village Banda (north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo).
So we began to spread Elodie’s description among the villagers. Thanks to word of mouth, Elodie’s father found out that her daughter had been found and after all the necessary checks, Elodie returned home safely. Six years had passed … “, says Pelagie Gonzobo-Damlah, COOPI’s psycho-social assistant.
The COOPI project benefits 6,189 children. The project does not only intend to protect the rights of children but it also aims to contribute to communities’ capacity for resilience to cope with violence.
The COOPI and COOPI Suisse Foundation have been working for years on projects regarding the protection of minors in conflict areas, preventing the enrollment of minors, as well as the rehabilitation and reintegration of former child soldiers, especially in the Central African Republic, in Nigeria and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
COOPI Suisse Press Office :