At 12 years of age, having lost both parents, Trésor* joined the FRPI (Front for Patriotic Resistance in Ituri), an active armed group in the north-east of the DRC. Very sad, he talks to me about his memories of a life as a child soldier and what he has become today. The moving story of Trésor, 17 years old, resembles that of hundreds of former child soldiers.
Hope for a better life
“I lost both of my parents when I was still very young and I have no idea what caused their deaths. After my second year in primary school, my paternal uncle – who had become my only guardian – could no longer take care of me for want of lack of money to enrol me in the third year.
In the hope of finding a new life, but also because of my lack of maturity resulting from the influence of friends, I decided it would be a good idea to enrol in the FRPI that seemed to be an excellent refuge. To my great surprise, I met many children of my own age. Boys and girls. At the beginning everything seemed to be working out.”
Survival: an everyday struggle
“To eat, we had to look for food in native people’s fields or steal in neighbouring villages. Although it was a way to survive it sickened me harming my own brothers and sisters.
In the FRPI army, I already had a rank of sergeant major, then lieutenant and finally captain. My secretary had studied up to the fourth year of humanities. It is thanks to him that the writing of my reports for my superiors was possible.”
A life marked by terror
“Despite all that, I never stopped thinking about my life and my future. Here, there is no future. Without doubt we had weapons, but in my humble opinion any weapon bearer faces insecurity especially when it comes to a rebel group. We lived with terror mindful that death accompanied us. I was frightened. Although I had the idea of running away, I couldn’t, for risk of being killed by the regular army or by my own; it was terrifying!
One of my worst memories of the army is of the injury I sustained in my right thigh during a bloody fight with the FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo). Fortunately, thanks to medical attention, I am still able to stand on my two feet. Another time, I was narrowly saved during a helicopter raid.”
A centre for relearning how to live
“In 2015, thanks to negotiations conducted by UNICEF and MONUSCO for the liberation of children connected with the ranks of the FRPI, three injured children and I were taken into care by a centre for protection and reintegration. It was in the AJEDEC centre, funded by UNICEF that I started to believe once again in a normal life.
I stayed in this centre for 6 months where I received professional training in carpentry so as to allow me to manage in my new life.”
My biggest dream
“I am now a carpenter thanks to the AJEDEC centre. One day I hope to have my own workshop; it is my biggest dream. Also, my ambition is to train several other children who wish to become carpenters.
My stay in this centre gives me hope for a better life. From having a weapon I now have a wood plane. I know now that a child’s place is in the heart of the community and not in the army. I have not had the chance to study but I will do my utmost to get my children into school. Being a carpenter will enable me to be a responsible father.
All I want is for all children within the ranks of the FRPI to be freed. I find that I am calm now with my wood plane whereas I wasn’t at the time when I had a weapon. I live in peace.”
Behind the scenes of Trésor’s demobilisation and reintegration
The Youth Association for Community Development (AJEDEC), a non-profit organisation, was founded in 2002 with the aim of involving young people in national reconstruction and community development. AJEDEC is supervising several young people previously associated with armed groups in southern Irumu with support from UNICEF and MONUSCO.
In July 2016, as coordinator of the Young Reporters in Ituri, we participated in a round table in Gety, south Irumu. During these exchanges, the community leaders, the FARDC, the police and the ANR proposed various potential solutions to combat the recruitment of children into the FRPI.
Awareness-raising activities were run by the child participation and protection organisations and various programmes and advocacy sessions with the authorities with the aim of separating all children associated with armed groups. Between January and December 2016, 257 children (160 boys and 97 girls) were demobilised from the FRPI, according to Madame Francine Shindani, Protection Administrator, UNICEF Bunia. It is still thought that only boys can be enrolled but we forget that girls are also recruited for sexual purposes.
UNICEF has supported AJEDEC as part of the programme for demobilisation and reintegration of children into the community. Today, they learn new trades. Trésor, who shared his story with us, has become a carpenter; others learn cutting and sewing, mechanics, etc.
Personally, I believe that if the FRPI accepts demobilisation and puts an end to the atrocities perpetrated for years, serious violations of children’s rights in armed conflict, in particular recruitment and use of children in armed groups and forces, will belong to history.
Let us save the young people of today, to build a better future for everyone!
Child soldier in DRC : more info
Photos: UNICEF DRC 2015 Ramazani
Translated from French by Daphne Wood
David a rejoint le Club d'Ecoute pour Enfants en 2012. Deux ans après, il en est devenu le porte-parole puis en 2015, le coordonnateur. La même année, David est devenu Enfant Reporter. Il présente également diverses émissions sur les droits de l'Enfant. "Parler des droits de l'Enfant via les médias, c'est ma préférence". David étudie le droit à Bunia et rêve de travailler à la défense des droits des plus vulnérables.
David joined the Children's Listening Club in 2012. Two years later, David became the spokesperson and in 2015 the coordinator. That same year, David became a child reporter. Since 2014, David has hosted various programmes on child rights. "I want to use the media to talk about child rights”. David studies law in Bunia and dreams of working to protect the rights of the most vulnerable. He says he will always work for children.
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