Demobilizing Congo's Child Soldiers for Good

30/12/2009 - For the last 10 years, children living in the DRC have suffered rape, recruitment into armed militias, and constant fear of death. Today, international groups are working to free child soldiers and other innocents from the scourge of war once and for all.

Today, amid reports that 12 now-demobilized child soldiers had crossed the Rwandan border into the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) to fight, encouraged—or at the very least, unchecked—by their parents, the chairman of one demobilization camp in Mutobo, DRC, called on parents to prevent their children’s involvement in violent conflict.

With the help of the current UN peacekeeping mission to the DRC (MONUC, for short, as the mission is in French: Mission de l'Organisation des Nations Unies en République démocratique du Congo), chairman Jean Sayinzoga runs the Rwanda Demobilization and Reintegration Commission. The Commission works to facilitate the return to society of many ex-child-combatants, training them in management and literacy in an effort to reintegrate them into civilian life.

2009 has seen a record number of combatants returned from the eastern DRC, where a war in being waged between the Congolese army (and allies) and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (reportedly composed of ex-Rwandan army soldiers and Interhamwe members, who took part in the 1994 Rwandan Genocide). A total of 1 500 former combatants of this war have been repatriated, demobilized, and reintegrated this past year. 

The DRC has long been mired in conflict. Civil unrest beginning in 1997 soon escalated into a war that included seven other African nations: Rwanda, Uganda, Angola, Chad, Namibia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. The war is estimated to have killed nearly 5 and half million people, making it the most deadly conflict in over half a century—since the Second World War. Though peace agreements were signed in 2003, civil and international clashes continue in different parts of the country.

For instance, Bloomberg reports that 270 people have been killed in prolonged tribal violence in northern DRC. Moreover, MONUC and local Congolese human rights workers have received death threats of late.

Many women and girls have faced sexual violence at the hands of rebel factions operating in the eastern DRC. Official estimates have the number of cases of sexual assault at 7 500. Children born of rape are very seldom accepted into the families of their mothers, or even the community at large. Many young innocents are abandoned by their mothers (who face rejection and humiliation from their husbands and community as well). These children have little choice but to join the ranks of the maibobo—homeless children left to subsist on the streets by means of petty theft and beggary.

8 000 children continue in servitude as child soldiers, workers, or sex slaves to rebel factions operating in the DRC. Yet, since 1999, over 30 00 children have been demobilized. That’s 30 000 children who have had their childhoods returned to them and whole vistas of opportunity opened to them.