By Ndiaga Seck
On the third day of their visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Security Council Working Group on children and armed conflict, led by Ambassador Sylvie Lucas from Luxemburg, visited a transit centre operated by CAJED, a UNICEF partner. The centre provides support to children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups in Goma, in the Eastern part of the DRC.
At the CAJED centre, the working group met with children to better understand their experience as child soldiers. Raphael (name changed), told the diplomats he was 14 years old when his life changed overnight. As a schoolboy in Bukavu, he decided to go with a friend to his home in the Walikale territory. He was kidnapped when armed men burst into the village.
“They made us carry their luggage into the forest, and told us that now we were soldiers and that we could not go back home,” the child explained. “When my friend tried to escape, they shot him in the head. He died. ”
Over the years, tens of thousands of children have been recruited by armed groups operating in the eastern DRC. Since it began partnering with UNICEF in 2004, the CAJED centre has provided reintegration services to over 7,700 children, including 212 girls. The majority of them were able to go back to their families afterwards.
When the CAJED centre is warned that children have escaped or have been demobilized, a team of specialists welcome them in one of the 15 verification centres set up by UNICEF near the demobilization sites. Children are identified, their age determined to ensure that they are children and that they were indeed associated with an armed group. Then, they are welcomed in the centre, where specialized staff takes care of them and help them regain a sense of normalcy.
Raphael stayed with the armed group until April 2014 when he managed to escape. He is now in the centre with 54 other children. Boys and girls, like Raphael, continue to suffer the consequences of violence they witnessed or were forced to commit. Most are slowly recovering from trauma.
“Some children don’t play or even mingle with others. Social workers speak to them, listen to them actively to better understand their sufferings” said Gilbert Munda, coordinator of CAJED. “These children are also followed through psycho-social activities to help them overcome their despair.”
While in eastern DRC, the UN Security Council working group also met other children living with host families. PAMI, an organization working in partnership with UNICEF since 2006, supports the implementation of the national plan on demobilization, disarmament and reintegration, by providing a pool of foster families. PAMI also works with CAJED as members of a Consortium to support the children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups below 12 years old and ease their family reunification.
On the fourth day of their DRC trip, the delegation visited Kyeshero Hospital, where UNICEF partners with Hope In Action to improve emergency response in areas most affected by conflict-related sexual violence. Through this partnership, UNICEF has become Kyeshero’s primary provider of medical supplies to address the life-threatening consequences of sexual violence.
Hope in Action and Kyeshero hospital have provided assistance to more than 2,500 survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, a quarter of them children.
Ambassador Lucas also met with FARDC General Lombe in Goma. The General Lombe reiterated his Government’s commitment and provided details about the work made by the country’s national forces to end and prevent child recruitment, as well as to prosecute perpetrators of rape in their ranks.
Ambassador Lucas insisted on the necessity for the FARDC to step up efforts to fight impunity, and to ban the recruitment of children during the army’s upcoming recruitment campaign. She also symbolically gave General Lombe a Children Not Soldiers pin to back up the campaign launched last year by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, and UNICEF.
Ambassador Lucas asked the General to “ensure all children released receive sustainable reintegration, including through the budgeting of adequate resources by the Government of
Orginial article published by UNICEF on DECEMBER 4, 2014 by NDIAGA SECK
Ndiaga Seck is a UNICEF Communications Specialist in Eastern DRC. He specializes in human and social studies, education and journalism. For the past eight years, he has worked with IRIN, OCHA, in West Africa. His leitmotiv: “A World fit for children is within reach. Let’s grab it!”