Supporting a Project to Rescue Child Soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Project location: CONGO, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC, Lubero, Beni, Irumu
Project start date: June 2012 - Project end date: May 2013
Project number: 2012-053
Beneficiary: Peace Direct

The Democratic Republic of Congo is almost as large as Eastern Europe and the third biggest country in Africa. The four Eastern provinces - South Kivu, North Kivu, Ituri, and Maniema - and the countries they border (Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi) have been the scene of multiple conflicts at local, national and regional levels for at least a decade.
East DR Congo's enormous mineral wealth has largely failed to transfer better living conditions to the local population; whilst corruption, state weakness and the sheer size of the territory all present opportunities for various armed groups, both state and non-state, to engage in human rights abuses against civilians and plunder of natural resources. Since the outbreak of violence in DR Congo, at least 4 million people are estimated to have been killed and 2.5 million forced to flee their homes. East DR Congo also hosts the largest and most expensive UN peacekeeping mission in history, MONUC (United Nations Mission DR Congo).
The war in the DR Congo is officially over, but militia and tribal groups continue to engage in violence. Militia groups are frequently use children as soldiers, forcibly taking them from their communities. Others join voluntarily, due to poverty or being orphaned during the war.
Over the last 4 years Peace Direct has supported local peacebuilding organisation, The Centre Résolution Conflits (CRC), to negotiate with militia, who operate deep in the jungle, for the release of child soldiers. Their approach has proved hugely successful as they have managed to rescue 1,300 children, some as young as 7, over the last 5 years from the militia and reunite them with their families and reintegrate them into their communities. They also support them to enrol in full time education and pay their fees for the first year or train them in skills such as farming, hairdressing, cooking or animal husbandry and then support them in setting up their own micro enterprise in that field. Peace Direct work in DRC caught the attention of Channel 4 Documentary makers 'Unreported World' who made a film about the process.
The Centre Résolution Conflits (CRC) has worked with militia for a number of years and through its district level Task Forces have been able to build contacts with most of the key militia groups. Despite successfully rescuing 1,300 child soldiers from the militia and reintegrating them into the community large numbers still remain in the bush. Peace Direct and CRC are committed to continuing this work until no children remain in the militia, this is an achievable target in the medium term.

The CRC intends to reintegrate 100 child soldiers in the districts of Lubero, Beni and Irumu by November 2012. This will involve wider sensitisation work targeted at the families and communities of the children, including the provision of psycho-social support such as mediation between children and their families.

The work will be spearheaded by the six Task Forces created by the CRC across districts in North Kivu and Ituru. The activities of the project will consist of:

1. Contacting the commanders of armed militia groups so as to discuss possible release of child soldiers in their ranks and to identify these children. This is perilous work for our partner which involves one man going alone deep into the jungle to meet a representative of the militia, people who can often behave unpredictably.
2. Children released are placed in foster families for one month during which the children are traced to their home communities and families. Foster families will be paid $20 per child per month
3. Following release, reunification with the children's families and communities, this can be a time consuming exercise as some of the children were taken from their homes when they're as young and 7 and may have been with the militia for a number of years. Therefore, the memories of where they're from can be very hazy and vague.
4. Transitional support, which will vary and could include psychological support for children, the placing in temporary foster homes, or intervention to resolve conflicts with family and community and prevent or deal with rejection of the children
5. Socio-economic integration support which will include providing $70 per child which equates to a year's fees for the children to enter into education and vocational training or as a start-up fund for income-generating activity. Their families will also be given livelihood support also where necessary.

As part of the programme, all child soldiers once removed from the militia will be issued with a mandatory reintegration kit. This will consist of a set of clothes, toiletries, a cup, blanket and satchel, and for girls, packets of sanitary napkins and baby supplies.
The work of the programme will be supported by a public information campaign based around the use of radio broadcasts. These will be used to build awareness of the programme among the wider public, and help persuade militia to free children under their control and child soldiers' communities of origin to accept the children back.
Work will be carried out in co-operation with a wide variety of agencies, which will include INGOs such as UNICEF and MONUSCO, NGOs such as Save the Children, and institutions including the police, army, community leaders and government. None of these organisations have done any work of this nature with child soldiers, and indeed Save the Children recently closed its programme on child soldiers after UNICEF was unable to fund it. This illustrates the unique nature of CRC's project, one which may have great value to government and non-governmental organisations.

The anticipated outcomes of this project, which received a grant from the Nando Peretti Foundation, will be; 100 children rescued from the militia and reunited and reintegrated with their families. This will also mean that the militias that disrupt life in DR Congo so regularly and are often the drivers of conflict will be reduced in number. A further outcome will be that 100 children will now have the education or training and support to embark on a life away from conflict. A more prosperous and peaceful future where they control their own destinies. The radio broadcasts will also mean that a wider audience in DR Congo will learn about the plight of child soldiers.

Peace Direct believes that in every conflict there are local people building peace, and that there can be no lasting resolution of conflict until they are fully engaged. They have the knowledge and the contacts to influence those using violence, and they have the moral authority of people who have made personal sacrifices to work for peace.
Peace Direct finds the most effective local organisations and provide the funding and the promotion of their work that turns their potential into reality. Peace Direct launched in 2004 and won Best New Charity in the Charity Times Awards in 2005. Since then we have channelled £1.65m direct to local peacebuilders in 17 different countries. We currently fund organisations in DRC, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Nepal, UK, Sri Lanka, Kashmir and Pakistan. Peace Direct also promotes their work, and that of 500 other locally led peacebuilding initiatives through its website Insight on Conflict , as well as meetings with people in power here and in their own countries and coverage in the media.
Peace Direct partners value its support so highly that the organization recently came top in an independent audit of 25 European and US international NGOs carried out by Keystone Accountability. Its partners valued the quality of relationships, and the fact that Peace Direct introduces them to other funders so that they can move to a position of independence. This quality of support would not be possible without a contribution from project funding towards the cost of our international programmes and fundraising staff. Hence 20% of all programme grants goes to cover these costs.

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