It is an indisputable fact that one of the most vulnerable groups of people during an armed conflict is children. Some are killed or forced to work against their will while others, especially girls are singled out for sexual exploitation and abuse. These cruel acts against children are usually perpetrated by all belligerents in a conflict including regular armies and government forces.
Children are particularly weak and disadvantaged in so many ways and therefore require protection due to the fact that they are the future of every nation.
A nation that fails to safeguard the physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of the future generation is condemning itself to perpetual doom. These reasons make their protection even more crucial and relevant. Within the West African sub region, the issue of child rights and protection is of great concern to ECOWAS and its member states.
In order to ensure the protection of children before, during and after conflict, there is the need to train military forces of all ECOWAS member states and even beyond on this highly significant area. This was what led to the adoption of the Accra Declaration in April 2000 on the issue of children affected by war, by which ECOWAS made a commitment to improve the situation of children affected by war in the sub region.
HISTORY OF THE GAMBIA ARMED FORCES CHILD WELFARE UNIT
One of the ways of ensuring protection of children is the introduction of Child Rights and Protection training for members of the armed forces. Building on previous experiences, ECOWAS and Save the Children initiated partnerships with national armed forces within the region to identify methods of training personnel of the various armed forces on specific areas of child rights and protection before, during and after conflict.
This project aims at securing a place for child rights issues on the regional military agenda by institutionalizing training on child rights and child protection for armed forces of ECOWAS member states.
The Child Welfare Unit of the Gambia Armed Forces was founded in 2007 by the Chief of Defence Staff to look into the affairs of children of deceased members of the Gambia Armed Forces who die while in active duty. The task of the department is to assist these vulnerable children left behind by these gallant members of GAF in ensuring that their educational careers and dreams are reaslised.
The Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) of the Gambia Armed Forces with his vision and care for all serving members of the armed forces introduced a regulation for the operational guidelines of the Gambia Armed Forces Child Welfare Unit (GAFCWU).
DOCUMENTS TO SUBMIT TO BENEFIT FROM THE SCHEME
- Death certificate of the deceased parent.
- Birth certificate(s) of the children orphaned.
- Two (2) x passport size photos of children.
- School bills indicating tuition and all costs for the children.
- This is a lofty idea but can only be made sustained with a reliable and continuous flow of funds. With this temporal measure GAF is able to sponsor these vulnerable children whose educational career could have been jeopardized without good philanthropic gestures from a few noble Samaritans.
SOURCE OF FUNDING
There are no constitutional provisions or Terms and Conditions of Service provisions catering for children of deceased soldiers and officers. As a result of this, the unit has been struggling over the years to meet the demand to sponsor orphans of these members of GAF as there is no official budget allocation for the scheme. As a temporal measure, each serving member of the Gambia Armed Forces has been contributing D10.00 (ten dalasis) monthly from his/her salary to support the initiative. This is a modest contribution and has gone a long way in alleviating the situation some of these children find themselves in. However, with time, the unit has been forced to grapple with a growing demand to sponsor children of deceased soldiers and officers.