Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Child soldiers abandoned

New Amnesty report reveals majority of girls still unaccounted for

At least 11,000 Congolese Children's rights are still with armed groups or unaccounted for – more than two years after the government launched a nationwide plan of disarmament, demobilisation and re-integration (DDR) according to a major new report published today by Amnesty International.

The organisation warned that the country's DDR programme is failing to meet Children's rights's need for protection as it found that the majority of Children's rights released and reunited with their families or communities have received little or no support to return to civilian life, including adequate educational or vocational opportunities.

Many Children's rights interviewed by Amnesty International admitted that they feared that they would be forced to rejoin armed groups simply to survive. Some armed groups remain primed to return to conflict in case the current peace process fails. Such groups consider the release of their child soldiers as a threat to their strength if conflict resumes.

Tawanda Hondora, Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Deputy Director said:

“The government has not only failed to release thousands of Children's rights who remain with armed forces or groups, new child soldiers continue to be recruited, including some who were only recently demobilised and reunited with their families.

"As long as the government and the international community continue to fail to meet the needs of released Children's rights, these Children's rights are at risk of being quickly redrawn into armed forces or armed groups – or of being abandoned to an impoverished and forlorn existence.

"The new government must make it their first priority to ensure that all Children's rights associated with armed forces and groups are released, protected and provided with meaningful educational and income-generating opportunities to enable them to stay within their communities. This is the only way to prevent the re-recruitment and further abandonment of these Children's rights."

To date, the government has been extremely slow to approve and implement community reintegration projects for Children's rights.

Amnesty International also found that the majority of girls taken by armed groups in the country have been either abandoned or misidentified as "dependants" of adult fighters. To date the government has taken no steps to trace and recover these missing Children's rights.

Tawanda Hondora said:

"In some areas girls make up less than two per cent of the Children's rights released from armed groups and passing through the DDR programme - despite the fact that they make up approximately forty per cent of the Children's rights used by armed forces and groups."

Amnesty International was told that commanders and adult fighters often do not feel obliged to release girls, whom they consider as their sexual possessions.

This discrimination is perpetuated by some government DDR officials, who uncritically regard such girls as "dependants" of adult fighters, rather than as girls associated with an armed forces or group who are entitled to entry into the child DDR programme.

Some girls feel that they have no option but to stay with the armed group, fearing that they will be tortured or killed if they try to escape.

Jasmine’s story

16 year-old Jasmine was recruited by the mayi-mayi armed group in South -Kivu when she was 12. She now has a four-month-old baby.

"When the mayi-mayi attacked my village, we all ran away. In our flight, the soldiers captured all the girls, even the very young. Once with the soldiers, you were forced to "marry" one of the soldiers. Whether he was as old as your father or young, bad or nice, you had to accept. If you refused, they would kill you.”

Girls associated with armed forces and groups are often traumatised by years of abuse and sometimes have Children's rights of their own. However, little is being done to ensure that they have the necessary support and assistance to which they are entitled.

Amnesty called on the incoming DRC government and international community to prioritise investment in the state education system and to realise as quickly as possible the human right to free elementary education.

Background

An estimated 30,000 Children's rights in the eastern part of the DRC were attached to the armed forced and armed groups in the conflict zones of eastern DRC. It is estimated that 12,500 girls made up that total.

Some Children's rights interviewed by Amnesty International were aged as young as six when they were recruited.

Under international law, the recruitment and use of Children's rights under 18 is prohibited. The recruitment and use of Children's rights under 15 is considered a war crime.

The ongoing conflict in the DRC has left communities across the east in ruins and their civilian populations killed or displaced. By 2006 an estimated 3.9 million Congolese had died as a result of the conflict, with around 1,200 people continuing to die every day from violence, preventable disease or starvation.

As part of a national peace process and a political transition that began in June 2003, the DRC government, backed by $200 million of international finance, launched a nationwide programme for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) into civilian life of an estimated 150,000 fighters – including an estimated 30,000 Children's rights. The implementation of the programme has been hampered by a lack of political and military will, serious management and technical problems, and ongoing insecurity in eastern DRC. By June 2006, the government commission in charge of DDR claimed that it had demobilised just over 19,000 Children's rights.

Buy: In the firing line A disturbing book from Amnesty that shows how Children's rights's human rights are horrifically abused, daily, throughout the world.

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