DR Congo: child soldiers leave armed groups following Geneva Call’s awareness-raising efforts
More than 40 children have recently left armed non-State actors operating in North Kivu in the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Most of them come from three armed non-State actors that Geneva Call has been engaging on the ban of child soldiers for more than a year.
After their release, the children sought protection from a Congolese organization specializing in the protection and demobilization of children. MONUSCO, the United Nations force in DRC, has since evacuated those kids who wished to participate in the government’s demobilization programme to Goma. Over the next three months they will follow a professional course to prepare for their reintegration into society.
« I joined the group voluntarily, but it’s tough to live in the jungle and I suffered a lot. Now I would like to become a moto-taxi driver » said one of the children to Geneva Call’s partner organization. « Our commanders heard Geneva Call’s messages and helped us to leave » said another former child soldier.
« The recruitment of child soldiers – forced or on a voluntarily basis – is very common in North Kivu where dozens of armed actors operate. These releases are a positive sign and we hope that other actors will follow. » declared Marie Lequin Coutin Geneva Call’s acting Head of Africa region. According to the United Nations monitoring mechanism, the number of child soldiers recruited by armed non-State actors has decreased over the last few years.
The achievement of a two-year process with the APCLS
In November 2016, the APLCS made a public undertaking to totally ban the use of child soldiers by signing the Deed of Commitment protecting children in armed conflict in the Alabama Room with Geneva Call and the Canton and Republic of Geneva.
This commitment comes after two years of continuous dialogue with the APCLS on the issue of child soldiers and child protection. Earlier in 2016, the APCLS had modified its code of conduct to raise the minimum age of recruitment to 18. Geneva Call also conducted several trainings sessions in APCLS-controlled areas to explain to combatants and officers what such an undertaking would mean in practice and what measures should be taken to implement the Deed of Commitment.
While in Geneva, the APCLS participated in a meeting organized by Geneva Call on the protection of education in armed conflict. Together with 21 other armed movements from eleven war torn countries, they benefited from the advice of international organizations such as UNICEF and the positive efforts of other armed movements on the topic of child protection. “This conference has enhanced our capacities and reinforced our determination to protect children in armed conflict” said a leader of the APCLS after the meeting.
A small but important step
Geneva Call is in dialogue on the same topics with other armed groups in the region, in particular the Nduma Defense of Congo – Rénové (NDC-R) for which it conducted several training sessions, as well as the Forces Démocratiques pour la Libération du Rwanda (FDLR) and the Forces de Défense Congolaises (FDC).
“We hope that this small step will pave the way to a North Kivu free of child soldiers. Children are the future of DRC and this future has to be protected. Geneva Call will continue its work with armed groups not only on the ban of child recruitment but also on the law of war and the protection of civilians in general” declared Marie Coutin Lequin.