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 first 6 months of the project has been a crucial period of negotiation between Peace Direct's partner, Centre Resolution Conflits (CRC) and one of the most notorious and powerful armed groups in North Kivu, the FJPC. CRC has been in contact with the FJPC for over 2 years and it was an expectation that these negotiations would bear fruit that stimulated the original proposal. FJPC are now known to have several hundred child soldiers and under a combination of local and international pressure, these children are being released. The challenge is that these children are often released informally so a secondary activity of this initial phase has been to trace the children back to certain villages.

Contextual analysis

The security situation in Northern Kivu and Ituri remains extremely fragile and continues to be affected by human rights abuses, while thousands of displaced people are still unable to return to their communities of origin. In particular the continued threat through various militant groups (such as the FJPC and M23) creates fear and uncertainty, and particularly complicates efforts to free and reintegrate child soldiers.

Despite the end of FARDC's (DRC's national army) armed control of the area, much land is still under the occupation of the FJPC militia. Since June 2012, and in response to demands for increased accountability and integration of the FJPC, countless dialogue attempts between the government, FARDC and civil society organisations finally resulted in three cantonment sites (Kagaba, Gety, and Aveba) for about 800 FJPC militiamen.

The population views this process as positive for their successful return and for the consolidation of peace in the region and more than 2000 families in 20 localities could now return to their communities.

However, reservations have been expressed as to the government's compliance with the militias' specific requirements. These are, amongst others, their deployment back to the region from which they originate, and a demand of amnesty for the atrocities committed by them. The discovery of oil in FJPC areas also strengthens the incentives to not demobilise and there are now splits within the FJPC of those who want to disarm and those who do not.

The situation for child soldiers is further complicated. On the one hand, the FJPC are keen to not be accused of using child soldiers and so are encouraging their release but on the other hand the FJPC do not want to be seen to release them as this would confirm that they used child soldiers in the first place. The result is informal release of child soldiers making it more difficult to trace and support them. This is further compounded by the erosion of trust in UN agencies following a recent capture of the North Kivu capital by a rebel group called the M23. The loss of confidence in UN agencies mean that child soldiers are not arriving at UN offices as they may once have done for assistance. This leaves more of the work to local civil society, such as CRC.

Activities planned for the first 3 months

CRC had the following activities planned:
1. Awareness-raising focused on the communities, opinion leaders and leaders of the armed groups in the villages, and the child soldiers still not demobilised, disarmed, or reintegrated back into their community
2. Identification of children eligible for the DDR programme
3. Recording of the children in the administrative system and documentation of CRC
4. Family mediation meetings for reconciliation between parents and children
5. Psychosocial support to the child beneficiaries of the project

Actual activities

1. Awareness-raising Sensitivity for the community, its leaders, the leaders of all armed groups involved, and of stakeholders
The following strategies were used:
Collaboration with local organisations for the protection of children, such as the Ituri-based ONG AJEDEC, health facilities, schools, local churches and RECOPE, a Research Community for the Protection of Children (initiated with the support of UNICEF). These collaborations are essential for the protection of children who arrive either after fleeing an armed group or after they have voluntarily left a group to return to their families.
Raising awareness among leaders, parents and militant groups to identify child soldiers has been an important aspect of the work. As part of the project activities, parents were mobilised to actively support disarmament, demobilisation and socio-economic reintegration.

A main obstacle within the awareness-raising component was the difficulty to openly communicate with militant groups about the issue of child soldiers. In particular, mentioning the presence of child soldiers in their group and/or the area they control was problematic, also since there have been accusations and convictions by the International Criminal Court on such matters in the past.

1. Identification of children eligible for the DDR programme

The process of identifying child soldiers was based on past experience and lessons learned from past projects on child soldier reintegration and child protection. Typically, the communities know who the child soldiers are and careful confidence building supported by investigative work by CRC staff, has enabled the identification of child soldiers. Therefore, CRC's local task forces go from family to family as a more reliable method for the identification of child soldiers.

Identification visits were organised in the following villages most at risk:
1. Rujoko 6. Kinyo mubaya
2. Kazana 7. Soke
3. Ngasu odje 8. Kaguma
4. Musana 9. Aike
5. Mukiro 10. Biro

3. Recording of the children in the administrative system and documentation

As a lesson from previous projects, CRC has developed and uses very simple and therefore easily understandable registration forms to record detailed information on all children going through the programme, including their parents' identities.

4. Family mediation meetings for reconciliation between parents and children

The child soldiers typically fit into three categories - those that are already living with their families, those that live with extended family and those surviving on their own. Often the latter group still engage in criminal activities and all groups are susceptible to stigmatism and physical and mental abuse. The suffering many of the children have experienced can also lead to psychological issues.

Therefore, much of the initial work that CRC engages in is to raise awareness and sensitise communities to the plight of child soldiers. The anger aimed at ex-combatants of all ages in DRC is higher than is typically seen elsewhere in the world, and it is important that this time consuming work is precedes any reintegration efforts.

To date, CRC has worked with the 10 communities identified to speak with the community leaders and members about accepting back and supporting child soldiers. This work is also supported by a larger radio programme run by CRC which broadcasts every week.

This is followed up by more one-to-one sessions with individual families where support options are identified. These options may be psycho-social support, livelihood support for the families and/or assistance to ensure the children can attend school.

By the end of October and after a month of awareness raising 28 child soldiers have been identified. Since then, an additional 35 were identified and will be supported between now and the start of 2013. As sexual violence is a common occurrence amongst the female child soldiers, CRC has selected 17 girls who have been assaulted and will benefit from socio-economic reintegration activities.

5. Psychosocial support to the child beneficiaries of the project

CRC has recently embarked on a new strategy of creating a network of counsellors at the community level, trained in trauma healing techniques, including a new strategy of coaching victims. Coaching involves CRC members spending time to listen to stories of victims and organising them into support groups. Formation of the support groups has begun and will continue in the latter half of the project.

Next steps

Due to these sensitivities and issues, the frequency of freed and reintegrated children is naturally lower towards the beginning and higher towards the end of a project cycle. A rise in the number of children identified, freed, and integrated per month can be expected for the upcoming months - the outstanding success of CRC's past projects which led to the rescue of 1,300 children from militias demonstrates the effectiveness of this approach.

• 35 more children have been identified in the communities in FJPC areas and will be supported in December 2012.
• CRC will continue to work with its networks of Task Forces to identify a further 41 child soldiers
• Where necessary, CRC will place these children with foster families until they can be reunited with their families
• The children will be reunited with their families and provided with assistance, either support of livelihoods to the family of the children or through support for the children to return to school
• The children and their families will organised into support groups and mentored by CRC counsellors.


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