Thousands of children continue to be used as child soldiers

Child soldiers in DRC

Children should be safe in their homes and at schools (Photo: UNICEF DRC Pavot)

As the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) faces an increasing number of conflicts, children are increasingly becoming victims of violence, and of violations of their rights. UNICEF is particularly preoccupied by the significant number of children who are used as combatants, transports, spies, chefs, or sexual slaves within armed groups and militias, at the centre and to the east of the country. On the occasion of the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers, UNICEF calls on all armed groups and militias to put an end to the use of children in these conflicts.

There is no precise data on the number of children being used as soldiers in the DRC. UNICEF and its partners estimate that, in the Kasaï region alone, between 5,000 and 10,000 children have been associated with the militias. “Children who have left the militias, and whom we have taken into our care, tell us about the horrors of the violence and the war,” highlights Dr Tajudeen Oyewale, the UNICEF Representative a.i. in the DRC. “These children have been witness to killings. Many among them have themselves been obliged to kill. Their childhood was stolen from them.”

The use of children is not limited to the Kasaï region. UNICEF estimates that, in the Tanganyika and South-Kivu provinces, where violence has raged for several months, more than 3,000 children have been used in the militias to date. The phenomenon of child soldier use also remains very widespread in the North-Kivu and Ituri provinces, where armed groups are increasing in number.

UNICEF recalls that all forms of use of children in armed conflict are illegal. The prohibition of the use of child soldiers prescribed by the Constitution of the DRC stems from treaties ratified by the country, notably the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and the Rome Statute. The latter stipulates that the use of children under the age of 15 is a war crime, and can be subject to prosecution before the International Criminal Court.

“Children should be safe in their homes and at schools, not forced to fight on the battlefield. Children used by militias and armed groups are victims and must be treated as such,” Dr Oyewale adds. UNICEF calls on the security forces of the DRC not to detain child soldiers, and to immediately send all arrested child soldiers to child protection services that are competent to care for them.

UNICEF has taken action over some years with its partners to prevent child recruitment, to get children out of militias and armed groups, and to reintegrate them in their communities. In 2017, UNICEF facilitated the release of and care for more than 3,000 children from armed groups in the east of the country, and around 1,000 children in the Kasaï region.

However, funds are needed to care for all the children who have left armed groups and militias. UNICEF needs 11.5 million USD in 2018 to care for children who have left armed groups and militias, and to reintegrate them in the community. Without this, among other things, around 5,000 children will not be able to be cared for, and two orientation and transit centres will have to close their doors.

For more information:

The issue of child soldiers in DRC

Translated from French by Darren Ou Yong

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Yves Willemot

Yves Willemot est le chef de l’Équipe InfoCom de l’UNICEF RDC. Plus que tout, ce qui est important pour lui c'est d'être "tous ensemble pour les enfants".

Yves Willemot is Head of the UNICEF DRC InfoCom Team. More than anything, he believes that the most important is to "be together for the children".

Author

Yves Willemot est le chef de l’Équipe InfoCom de l’UNICEF RDC. Plus que tout, ce qui est important pour lui c'est d'être "tous ensemble pour les enfants".

Yves Willemot is Head of the UNICEF DRC InfoCom Team. More than anything, he believes that the most important is to "be together for the children".

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