Jakarta - One issue seems to have been forgotten amid the cautious optimism that greeted the start of the disarmament process this week: The fate of child soldiers in Aceh. According to The Jakarta Post, the Indonesian military (TNI) and the police in Aceh as well as the military wing of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) are still making use of child soldiers since the Aug 15 peace agreement has yet to be fully implemented.
The fate of child soldiers in Aceh was highlighted during a recent workshop in Medan on the involvement of child soldiers in armed conflict.
Although the disarmament of GAM has started and Indonesian security forces are starting to pull out from Aceh, the whole process is expected to end only in December.
In the meantime, child soldiers who have already laid down their arms have taken on new roles, such as messengers, spies and cooks for adult soldiers still stationed in remote jungle areas of the province.
The local military and police, which have been supported by armed civilian militias, have also recruited children to play non-combatant roles as couriers so that they can keep a close eye on GAM movements.
According to the Post, the Indonesian government has also jailed child soldiers, instead of returning them to their communities. The children have been treated like adult rebels and charged with treason against the state.
Of more than 1,400 GAM prisoners who have been given amnesty by the government, several dozen were children below 18. These child soldiers face a bleak future since the Aug 15 peace treaty does not address problems relating to the reintegration of children and women into their social communities.
The Post said: "According to the peace treaty, the government will make efforts to help reintegrate ex-rebels into their communities and allocate some farm land and money for them, but it remains unclear how the social reintegration and rehabilitation will be conducted on the ground. And it presumably will not grant farmland or money to children."
It warned that if the child soldiers were not rehabilitated and reintegrated in a proper manner, they would remain bitter and traumatised by the war and this could prompt them to take up arms again.
"The government should enhance cooperation with NGOs, Islamic boarding schools and religious organisations to provide a comprehensive education package, including psychological counselling and peace education for ex-child soldiers, to ensure a smooth transition back to their peaceful communities," the newspaper said.
* The issue of soldiers in Aceh (The Jakarta Post, Sept 13)