Kasai: children used in armed conflicts return to civilian life

child soldiers in Kasai

A difficult return to civil life for children used in armed conflicts in Kasai

Since the end of 2016, a conflict that initially erupted in Kasaï-Central Province has been raging in Kasai-Oritental, in opposition to the security forces of the Kamuina Nsapu militia.  This crisis has a devastating effect on children. They have been wounded, killed, denied access to basic services and recruited into the militias.

By the end of October 2017, UNICEF and its partners had provided psycho-social support and ongoing care to 826 former child soldiers in five transit and orientation centres (CTOs). In Mbuji Mayi, Kasai Oriental Province, one such centre has just welcomed 57 boys who will be reintegrated into civilian life.

Narcisse, one of the supervisors at the National Catholic Office for Childhood (BNCE), tells us that the first boys arrived at the centre on 10th November 2017. The centre is now home to 57 children, aged 13 to 18, in seven dormitories. After they arrive at the centre, they are supervised by a team of nurses, psychologists and managers.

One of the seven dormitories

As soon as they arrive, children are encouraged to participate in a multitude of group activities. They are also taught about personal hygiene, stress management and how to maintain peaceful relationships. The goal is for children to stay in the centre for no longer than a month, so that they can reintegrate into their family or foster family as quickly as possible.

A few days after arriving at the centre, 14 boys said they wanted to return to their families. Narcisse tells us this is not always easy, “these boys have participated in looting and killings, what they did in the militia can hinder their reintegration into society, and in fact many families refuse to take back their children”.

Narcisse, a supervisor at the National Catholic Office for Childhood

On the other hand, some boys are afraid to go back to their families. They fear repercussions even though they hadn’t wished to enlist in the first place. Many joined the militias out of fear or were forced to do so, rather than wanting to enlist. To find a resolution, important remediation work needs to be undertaken between the family and the child.

Papa Prince, an instructor at the centre, speaks with pride about the development of the 57 boys at the centre. “They have opened up little by little and they are feeling confident. The children are no longer shy and everyone speaks up during meetings now! The first few days were not easy because the boys were afraid. There was a rumour circulating in the bush that the centre was not good for them, that it was actually a way to get them to enlist in the army”.

The boys keep telling their supervisors, ”if you don’t take good care of us, we could end up back in the militias”. Papa Prince knows that if the boys have nothing to do, they risk being recruited into the militias again during the next wave of violence. Job training and education are essential to keeping these children in civilian life. What future can these children aspire to, if there is nothing for them to do and they remain idle? War could then once again be their only way to survive.

The work of UNICEF and its partners

The use of children by militias operating in Kasai and its dramatic consequences for the physical and psychological well-being and education of these children, is of grave concern. Children are being used to transport equipment, to cook or fight. They are often the first to be injured or killed.

UNICEF and its partners are supporting children who have been released from the militias and detention centres by providing them with emergency medical care and psychosocial support as well as family search and reunification services. Transit and Orientation Centres (CTOs) have been set up to help children overcome their traumatic experiences and prepare them to continue their education.

More info about children used in armed conflicts in Kasai:

Thanks to Sweden (SIDA), the USA (USAID), Canada (CIDA), Japan (JICA), the NetherlandsBelgium as well as UNICEF FranceAmade MondialeUNICEF Germany and CERF for their support to programmes assisting children released from armed groups, forces and militias.

Translated from French by Illen Rowe

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Typhaine Daems

Typhaine Daems est Volontaire des Nations Unies, chargée de communication digitale à l’UNICEF RDC. Elle est s'occupe tout particulièrement de la gestion des réseaux sociaux et du blog.

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