The report “Invisible Survivors: Girls in Armed Groups in Democratic Republic of the Congo from 2009 to 2015”, published this week by the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) on the recruitment of girls by armed groups in the country highlights the violence girls are confronted with as well as the difficulty of providing them with adequate assistance.
Statement by Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
“The image of the child soldier as a young boy carrying a gun bigger than himself is so deeply ingrained in our minds that many still forget that girls are also victims of recruitment.
“As the MONUSCO report published this week states clearly, we can no longer look away when girls as young as four, have been –and continue to be- recruited by armed groups in DR Congo. Most testimonies referred to in the report indicate that three girls out of four recruited and used by armed groups are 15 years old or younger. They are used to perform support tasks, including cooking and cleaning. They also receive military training to be sent to the front lines.
“Sexual violence is rampant. Almost half of the girls interviewed by the MONUSCO said they had been raped, victims of sexual violence or “married” to commanders. The report rightly points out that many girls do not come forward with their stories of sexual violence because of stigma.
“The association of girls with armed groups is also reported to be more common than the cases documented illustrate. When children are released from armed groups, girls too often stay behind. It is also more difficult for them to escape, especially when they have young children.
“The stigma girls face as victims of rape, “bush wives”, or mothers of “rebel babies” often makes a return to their family or community almost impossible. Some, the report states, even choose to stay with the armed group, because they see this as their only option.
“We need to break that cycle. We need to create a climate in which girls get justice, not stigma and the threat of more violence.
“Girls who experience sexual violence and other grave violations are likely to suffer from long-term psychological trauma. These survivors have special needs for reparation, reintegration and treatment. Offering them adequate and sustainable assistance is key to build a more stable and peaceful future. It’s important to strengthen multisectorial services through health, social welfare, protection, and justice so that survivors can access services that uphold their rights, wishes, confidentiality and dignity.
“The UN Security Council has provided us tools to address violations committed against all children- boys and girls – in times of conflict. The Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism established pursuant to UN Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) is crucial to help us gather information to allow us to understand the situation on the ground and take meaningful action.
“In its resolutions, the Council also called on parties to conflict to engage with the UN to prepare Action Plans to end and prevent the recruitment and use of boys and girls, as well as sexual violence against children, killing and maiming, abductions and attacks on schools and hospitals.
“In DRC, years of work and advocacy are starting to yield results. The Government has engaged in and is making commendable progress to implement an Action Plan to end the recruitment and use of children and sexual violence against children by its national security forces.
“However, our advocacy and engagement with armed groups remains a challenge.
Accountability is essential. I am encouraged to see the DRC’s commitment to break the cycle of impunity for perpetrators of grave violations against children and hope to see more convictions in the near future.
“Together, we have the power to break the isolation and help girls recruited by armed groups reclaim their childhood and build their future.”
Click here to read the full report