Three years ago, 18-year-old Alphonsine* completed a UNICEF supported program which permitted her to reunify with her family and reintegrate into the community. Her story is only one amongst hundreds of tales of children whose childhood has been stolen and abused by armed groups in eastern DRC, but who has, with the support of UNICEF, been able to move on.
The promise of a better life
Alphonsine was only 12 years old when she was forced to join a local militia group in Nyamilima village in DRC’s North Kivu Province. “We were told to fight for our freedom. They said fighting is the only way to get rid of the enemy and have a better life” she recalls.
For the young girl, this grandstanding discourse came at a bad time. In early 2012, Alphonsine was the youngest daughter of a family of seven. She lost her father following a military clash between a rebel group and the regular army. This tragic event resulted in her abandoning her schooling, as there was nobody to support her. Her mother’s farming income was hardly enough to meet the basic needs of the family, let alone pay school fees.
Alphonsine felt that she was left with no option but to join the APCLS militia group, which promised a better life in the bush. “We were given military uniforms and guns and I was chosen to be the chief escort of the militia commander” she says.
Alphonsine was enrolled along with four other young girls aged 12 to 15 years. Despite their young age, the girls had to participate in all sorts of operations including active fighting, pillaging of food from civilian farms, manning illegal barriers and check points to harass people and steal goods and sometimes even serving as sex slaves for rebel fighters.
Back to normal life
This went on for two years until the day Alphonsine realized the promise for a better life in the bush was an unrealistic dream. “I started feeling very home-sick especially when I thought about my mother. One day, I tried to escape but I was caught and severely beaten,” she explains.
In 2014, following sensitization activities carried out by UNICEF and its partners within the communities, the armed group released Alphonsine and other children. “It was a relief when I heard the good news about my leaving the militia group to go back home. Life was very hard in the bush. We were exposed to bad weather and hunger” she says.
Before their reunification with their family members, boys were referred to a Transit and Orientation Center (CTO) while girls were placed in safe and protective foster families in Goma. After two weeks in a foster family, Alphonsine was reunified with her family members in Goma and continues to receive psychosocial support in a UNICEF-supported day care centre. In Majengo (Goma) where she lives now with her elder brother, Alphonsine works as a shop keeper for a business woman. Her main dream is to run her own business in the near future.
Rehabilitate children affected by armed conflicts
In DRC, UNICEF has been implementing programs to provide assistance to children formerly associated with armed forces and groups (CAAFAG) since 1997. UNICEF’s response focuses on identifying children used in armed groups/government forces; providing temporary support, care and protection for demobilized ex-CAAFAG through transit centers or placement in foster families; and supporting the reunification of children with their families wherever possible.
Thanks to Sweden (SIDA), the USA (USAID), Canada (CIDA), Japan (JICA), the Netherlands, Belgium as well as UNICEF France, Amade Mondiale, UNICEF Germany and CERF, UNICEF and its partners have been able to provide, education, vocational training /self-employment or income generating activities based on the specific needs of children formerly associated with armed groups and forces. Between 2013 and 2017, UNICEF and its partners have provided psychosocial support to 17,700 children formerly associated with armed groups and forces in eastern DRC.
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Djaounsede Madjiangar est un Spécialiste de la Communication de l'UNICEF pour la RDC, basé à Goma. Il est convaincu que pour une vie harmonieuse dans la société, chaque enfant doit être élevé dans un esprit de paix, de dignité, de tolérance, de liberté, d’égalité, et de solidarité.
Djaounsede Madjiangarstrong is a UNICEF Communication Specialist for Eastern DRC, based in Goma. He believes that for a harmonious life in a society, every child should be raised in peace, dignity, tolerance, equality and solidarity.
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