We have pledged £50,000 to help our partner Caritas Goma support families made homeless by fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
by Caritas Goma
All week they come. The children arrive at the centre tired and breathless. They say they’ve been seized by fighters who want to use them as child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s renewed wars.
“We were captured on the hill overlooking our school,” says one child, who has just arrived at a transit centre for former child soldiers in Masisi run by Caritas Goma in Eastern Congo.
The child says his classmates were taken on their way to school by the Mai-Mai, one of the militias active in the fighting that has returned to Congo. “They forced us to follow them,” he said. “They told us that we had to defend our homeland against the aggressors.”
The ones that come are between 10 and 17 years old. They say that since fighting started again between the government and rebels on 29 April various militias have been ‘recruiting’ children to fight.
These include homegrown militias such as ‘Congo Libre et Souverain’ (APCLS), the Mai-Mai and the ‘Patriotes Resistants Congolais’ (PARECO) and foreigners like the FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda).
At the Caritas centre in Masisi, Caritas Goma has registered 37 new cases. It now looks after 96 former child soldiers there now. A Caritas centre in Kanyabayonga, records the arrival of 16 new children, bringing its caseload to 39, and in Nyanzale there are 9 new and 35 in total cases of child soldiers. In Nyakariba centre, two more children have joined the 34 former child soldiers Caritas helps.
The demobilization centres run by Caritas receives the former child soldiers and counsels, feeds and educates them. Caritas also helps them find their families. Thanks to professional help, the children rediscover normal everyday life without war. They are prepared to return to their families or find work.
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch says the warlord Jean Bosco Ntaganda has recruited 149 boys and young men between the age of 12 and 20 in North Kivu. At least 48 of those recruited were under 18 years old and of these, 17 were aged 15 or younger.
The International Criminal Court classes the recruitment of children under 15 a war crime.
Clashes erupted after Congolese President Joseph Kabila announced last month he would try to arrest Ntaganda, who is wanted by the ICC for recruiting child soldiers in the past.
Caritas has launched an international emergency appeal to help people forced from their homes by the conflict in North Kivu. The emergency programme will help over 10,000 families with food and other aid.
This article first appeared on the Caritas Internationalis blog