By: Dan Krupinsky
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo – Numerous armed groups in North Kivu in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are still using over 2,000 children as soldiers, while the United Nations Children’s Fund continues its efforts to remove them from the battlefields and return them to their homes.
UNICEF’s demobilization and reintegration program had about 1,700 child soldiers between January and July. After that period, UNICEF condemned the disturbing increase of child victims that they have seen and have been reported for the duration of the conflict in North Kivu, which broke out in May of 2012 between Congolese armed forced and M23 rebels.
The use of child soldiers is prevalent in various regions across the entire nation. The UN mission in Africa recently announced the rescue of numerous child soldiers from the Mayi Mayi Bakata Katanga armed group in the southeastern Katanga province.
While some of the children were as old as 17, others were as young as 8. The 82 children were all reportedly recruited within the past 6 months.
Forty of the rescued children were reunited with their families immediately. The rest are currently receiving interim care while attempts to get them back with their families are made.
“We are extremely concerned by continued reports of active recruitment by Mayi Mayi Bakata Katanga and other armed groups in eastern DRC,” said United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) chief Martin Kobler in a statement. “Children face unacceptable risks when they are recruited for military purposes. The recruitment of children, particularly those under 15 years of age, could constitute a war crime and those responsible must be held to account.”
According to the statement from MONUSCO, 163 children, including 22 girls, have been rescued from Mavi Mavi Bakata Katanga alone, since the beginning of the year. The rescues have been a combination of MONUSCO and child protection workers.
A MONUSCO peacekeeping force of nearly 20,000 troops is currently deployed in the DRC.
In late October of 2012, the government of the DRC and the United Nations signed an Action Plan, officially committing to end the recruitment and use of children by Congolese armed forced and security services.
The eastern part of the country, rich in minerals, has long been a site of violence and political and ethnic conflict. According to the United Nations, there are about 2.6 million internally displaced people and 6.4 million people overall in need of food an emergency aid.
For further information, please see:
All Africa – Congo-Kinshasa: DR Congo Armed Groups Increase Child Recruitment – 29 August 2013
Al-Jazeera – 82 child soldiers rescued in DR Congo: UN – 17 August 2013
CNN – 82 child soldiers saved in Democratic Republic of Congo – 17 August 2013
Child Soldiers International – Democratic Republic of Congo