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Once were warriors

Once were warriors Lionel Healing/AFP
05 Sep
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is piloting a programme to help rehabilitate former child soldiers of Congolese armed forces

In a pioneering step by the DRC government, $25,000 has been allocated to the National Institute of Professional Training, which will be used to train 75 former child soldiers over the course of two months. The idea is to reintegrate the youth with society through vocational training in mechanics, livestock rearing, carpentry and agriculture: skills which will enable them to sustain a livelihood.

The Presidential Advisor on sexualised violence and child recruitment, Jeanine Mabunda, said that this is likely to be a ‘first-wave measure’ and should be repeated in other territories and provinces in order to tackle the trauma of 20 years of child recruitment. The decision comes shortly after Martin Kobler, the head of the United Nations Mission in Congo (MONUSCO) questioned the commitment of the DRC government to reintegrate child soldiers into society.

‘The government of the DRC,’ said Kobler in a statement to the UN Security Council in March last year, ‘needs to take rapidly concrete steps to ensure implementation of the national program for disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration.’

During the first and second Congolese civil wars, all sides recruited or conscripted soldiers under the age of 18. When the war came to a military stalemate in 2003, demobilising and rehabilitating child soldiers was talked about, but not implemented. By 2011, it is thought that there were as many as 30,000 children still serving in armed groups. 

It wasn’t until October 2012 that the UN and the DRC government officially committed to ending the conscription of children to the Congolese army and security forces. Nonetheless, rebel groups in the Eastern Congo means the risk of recruitment for many children in the area remains high. In 2013, MONUSCO reported 1,000 children enlisted to rebel groups during the course of that year. 

This article was published in the September 2015 edition of Geographical Magazine

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