DRC: Child Soldier Recruitment on the Rise

17/08/2012 – Children as young as 12 are reported to have been recruited by the M23 group of rebel soldiers operating in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Thousands of children are fleeing their homes in a bid to escape child soldier recruitment by mutinous soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s (DRC) North Kivu Province.

Members of the M23 rebellion have invaded towns north of the provincial capital of Goma in northeastern DRC. In the village of Rugari, says the head of one local charity, rebels assaulted the chief, stormed houses and arrested 36 children.

The children were taken from their homes to be trained as combatants, Barthelemy Schilogolo of Paix et Justice told the United Nations (UN) Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN).

The M23 were formerly members of the Congolese national army. Upon the end of the civil war, their rebel group was incorporated into the national forces. The soldiers mutinied in April over the conditions of the 2009 contract that facilitated their integration. The date the contract was signed, March 23rd, is the namesake of the group.

The M23 is current facing off against the government in both the North and South Kivu provinces. The violence has forced the displacement of nearly 500,000 people.  An estimated 57,000 have fled across the border to Rwanda and Uganda. Most of the refugees headed to these countries are children, says the charity World Vision. Many are fleeing forced recruitment by rebel groups.

The M23 are not alone in their recruitment of child soldiers in the eastern part of the country. The UN Stabilization Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) estimates that 150 children have been recruited by various groups since the beginning of the year. Groups operating in the region include th Mayi-Mayi, Forces Démocratiques de Liberation du Rwanda and Lord’s Resistance Army, according to the peacekeeping mission.

However, the M23 commanders in particular are under strain to up their force numbers, says one local source. Rwandan media (the New Times) reports that the size of the rebels’ force was once estimated at 300 but is thought to have grown owing to more army defections.

According to World Vision, almost 200 children have been forced to fight. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has also confirmed that 100 young men aged 24 and younger were recruited by the M23 in recent months.

“Using children and youth in armed conflict will create generations trained in violence, tearing apart the fabric of Congolese society,” said Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of MONUSCO peacekeeping force, Roger Meece in a statement made on August 7th.

“The children and youth who have been recruited by armed groups are at risk of re-recruitment and stigma, should they be sent back to areas still under the control of armed groups. The priority is to get them home and reunited with their families, regardless of their nationality,” he added.

Government officials from Angola, Burundi, Congo, DRC, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda met in the city of Goma yesterday to discuss how to quell the ongoing violence in the eastern DRC. Discussions reportedly include a neutral, operational force with backing from the UN and African Union.