Inside the jungles of the Democratic Republic of Congo: ending the use of child soldiers
In Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, numerous children under 18 are recruited by armed groups. Geneva Call is negotiating with 4 of them to put an end to this practice. In July 2016, Geneva Call’s delegation conducted a field visit to discuss this issue with the Alliance of Patriots for a Free and Sovereign Congo (APCLS), a group active in the region of Masisi.
The area where the armed group is located is difficult to access and few humanitarian organizations are active there.
Many hours of travel by 4×4, motorcycle and foot are necessary to get to the meeting point with the group.
We finally reach the village near which we are going to meet the leaders of the armed group APCLS.
The discussion begins with the leaders of the armed group regarding the respect of children in the conflict, notably the prohibition of recruiting children under 18.
Thanks to Geneva Call commitment, the group has already amended its code of conduct to include a ban on the recruitment of children.
The purpose of this visit is to clarify the limits of this ban and to discuss its application on a day-to-day basis. Indeed, the leaders inform us that children come voluntarily to join them, which is confirmed to us by other organizations.
We leave after several hours of discussion. We will continue to follow this group so that it doesn’t recruit children anymore and to ensure the respect of its commitment.
The dialogue was constructive and several measures were identified to strengthen the enforcement of this ban, including awareness-raising sessions for combatants.
On the way back, we pass by a camp of people displaced by the conflict. The living conditions there are very tough. Organizations support projects for the development or reintegration of former child soldiers into civilian life.
In this camp, we meet a teenager who was demobilized by an armed group. He was able to reintegrate into civilian life and has become a hairdresser. Like him dozens of children have left armed groups or have not joined them thanks to the work of Geneva Call.
We hope that one day our work will no longer be necessary and that taking up the arms will no longer be an option for a child.
In the meanwhile, Geneva Call continues its work with 3 other armed groups in the region to protect children from the effects of war.