Recruitment of child soldiers returns to Congo

Children as young as this are being targeted on their way to school by armed gangs in Eastern Congo and to be used as child soldiers. Photo by Ryan Worms/Caritas 2011

We have pledged £50,000 to help our partner Caritas Goma support families made homeless by fighting in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

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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.

Caritas Goma runs workshops with the military to discourage the use of child soldiers. Photo by Taylor Kakala/Caritas Congo

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

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1 Comment

Filed under Africa, CAFOD

One response to “Recruitment of child soldiers returns to Congo

  1. I recently traveled to Northern Uganda and set up an art therapy service in an orphanage for former child soldiers and young people affected by conflict and trauma.I came back a week ago and I am hoping to return in a few months to carry on with the work. Below is the short movie I made while I was there;

    I would appreciate if you watch the clip and forward the link to friends and colleagues. I’m hoping it’ll help to promote the awareness and the sponsorship of war orphans at the orphanage and with a bit of luck, raise financial funds for further resources.

    I please do not hesitate to contact me directly if you’d like more info about this project or how you can support the orphanage.

    Thank you very much.

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