In March, a campaign dubbed KONY2012 put a spotlight on the longtime practice of armed groups recruiting child soldiers in central and east Africa. With the recent upsurge of violence in the region, aid groups say the issue once again threatens to turn into major problem in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
At least 200 children aged 12 to 18 were recruited by armed groups in North Kivu over the past months, said Dominic Keyzer, advocacy manager of World Vision’s eastern region office in Congo. The figure, he told Devex, is based on reports from international and local nongovernmental organizations working in the state.
This is still far from the extent child soldiers were recruited during the so-called Second Congo War between 1998 and 2003, Keyzer noted. More than 30,000 children at the time were believed to have been used as active combatants. But aid groups still find the reports a cause for concern. Children are “easy” targets for recruitment by armed groups looking to reinforce their numbers, Keyzer explained.
The security situation in North Kivu and the rest of the eastern region of Congo has been rapidly deteriorating over the past two months due to activities by M23, a rebel group composed of Congolese army defectors who support International Criminal Court double-indictee Bosco Ntaganda. The violence there has forced more than 700,000 people from their houses, Keyzer said, and grounded development programs to a halt, as Devex reported.
To prevent the problem of child soldier recruitment from ballooning, Keyzer stressed the urgent need to facilitate access to heavily affected areas and to fund child protection programs led by humanitarian NGOs under the United Nations’ protection cluster. These regions are currently extremely dangerous for NGO workers to enter, Keyzer noted.
Longer-term, a political solution to the conflict is needed, and Keyzer urged advocates to raise awareness about the issue of child soldiers among policymakers in donor countries capable of putting political pressure on the Congolese government and other involved parties. Donors should up support of reintegration services, including counseling, education, health care and legal assistance.
Beyond that, though, Keyzer highlighted what he described as systematic violence against children outside of the conflict zones. Children across Congo, he said, experience domestic violence, violence in the streets and in institutions, among other abuses. The attention attracted by the conflict and recruitment of child soldiers, Keyzer said, hopefully trickles down to these types of violence “in normal civilian life.”
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