TESTIMONY – François*, 17, has just returned from the war zones in Kasai. He was one of the 500 registered cases of children used as combatants in the ongoing fighting which started in Dibaya, one of the Province’s territories.
From poverty to arms
Kasai is one of the poorest provinces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). It is in this sad context that François tells his story.
“I wasn’t forced to join the rebel group, it was my own choice. It was the misery and the suffering in my village that made me to do it. Everything was hard: getting educated, obtaining food, etc. I hated it.”
“A man came to talk to us about the group and told us it would make our life better. We must fight to liberate our country. We were sure we would win.”
François soon realized he was fighting for the wrong reason.
“What made me really sad was losing loved ones. There was too much bloodshed and this depressed me. It was the loss of life everywhere that made me stop and return to society. I lost my big brother. I vowed to stop fighting and live in peace.”
A centre to help the children rehabilitate
The “Bureau National Catholique pour l’Enfance” (BNCE), a partner of UNICEF, is in charge of rehabilitating the demobilized children in Kasai.
The terrible events experienced by Francois, like hundreds of others involved in this conflict are not without consequences, as underscored by Pierre Tshilenge, the psychologist at the Centre.
“The children saw the horrors of war, they saw things and lived in situations that no child that age should have to live through. For example, seeing someone’s decapitated head, stabbing someone to death, are horrible things! They did these things, but only under the effects of drugs.”
“We have to make them see that, as children, they are not responsible for this war. They have to learn to live their childhood. What is helpful for us is that the children are willing to work with us. This allows us to establish a relationship of trust.”
François’ case is not an isolated one. The BNCE receives new cases every day. UNICEF is there to ensure the children are re-integrated into their families and schools.
François is sorry that he became involved in this conflict. “I ask people, like parents, to help me continue to live, to put the past behind, and let me be with my parents again.”
A conflict with many consequences for children
In the turmoil and chaos which ensued from the various battles, many children found themselves scattered throughout the different zones. The Chief of UNICEF Kananga field office, Dr. Patrick Matala highlights the major challenges in the Province.
“52% of children in the Province suffer from chronic malnutrition and 74.9% of families live below the poverty line. Moreover, the N Moda study indicated that 95% of children under 15 are deprived of at least one of their top rights (health, education, water, sanitation, information). This is very concerning. UNICEF had to face a major challenge: when the crisis erupted, we had to switch to emergency mode, just when we were in the process of developing projects in the Province.”
“Between 4,000 and 6,000 children are alone in the zone, they were separated from their parents when they had to flee the atrocities and fighting between militia groups and the regular army. These children have no identification. UNICEF is working hard to help the children and to obtain their identification, to bring them together and re-integrate them.”
It is important to make the international community aware of what is happening in the Greater Kasai.
More info about children used as combatants in Kasai
It is estimated that 5.7 million children require emergency assistance in 2017. In addition to chronic emergencies in the east of the country, new conflicts have erupted in the Kasai and Tanganyika provinces. UNICEF co-chairs the Country Task-force for the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on Grave Violations against Children in Situations of Armed Conflict (MRM) together with MONUSCO and contributes to the protection of children’s rights in conflicts. UNICEF supports the government to end grave violations and is co-leading humanitarian coordination via the Child Protection Working Group. UNICEF is strengthening prevention by training protection actors and supporting contingency planning. Child Protection Emergency response also includes the provision of psychosocial support; medical care, family reunification, family and community reintegration of children released from armed groups and/or unaccompanied/separated children; and multisectoral assistance to survivors of sexual violence.
 Deuxième enquête démographique et de santé (2013)
Translated from French by Marguerite McMillan
Depuis 2009, Douglas, cinéaste, a participé à de plusieurs projets mis en place par l’UNICEF et a formé de nombreux Enfants-Reporters. Au delà de la passion, l’image est pour lui un moyen efficace de dire au-delà des mots!
Since 2009, Douglas, filmmaker, has participated in several UNICEF projects and has trained many Child-Reporters . Beyond his passion, he finds that the image is the perfect way to say what words cannot!
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