THE spectre of a new army of child-soldiers being raised in
Africa is looming, the charity World Vision has warned.
An uprising in April in the east of the Democratic Republic of
Congo (DRC) has resulted in fierce battles between government
forces and a new rebel group known as M23, which the United Nations
says is backed by neighbouring Rwanda.
Up to 320,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, the UN
says, and now reports are circulating that groups are arming some
of the 200,000 children said to be at risk around the regional
centre of Goma, which fell to the rebels on Tuesday.
Vision, which this week evacuated its staff from the area,
reported that camps of displaced families have been forming around
Goma, and children are being separated from parents in the
confusion. UNICEF estimated that as many as 600 are now alone and
at risk of serious abuse.
"We know from the recent practices of those involved in this
latest fighting that unaccompanied children are in immediate and
real danger of forcible recruitment into armed groups," said
Dominic Keyzer, World Vision's advocacy manager in the Rwandan town
of Gisenye, which shares the border with Goma.
"Children have nowhere to turn; we can't get to them; and we are
hearing reports of groups arming people around Goma." One former
child-soldier had told them that his friends were being given
weapons and told to fight the rebels.
"Peace and the protection of children has to be today's
number-one priority for all parties," he said. "For these children,
who are already at the bottom of the ladder in terms of mortality,
education, and resilience, this latest crisis means even more
unimaginable violence and trauma."
World Vision urged all sides in the conflict to halt the use of
children in hostilities, and prevent their being targeted in
violence. It wants the UN Special Representative for Children and
Armed Conflict to begin talks with opposing groups, and has called
on regional and world leaders to ensure that the warring factions
respect their obligations under international humanitarian and
"The effects of this are just heart-breaking," Mr Keyser said.
"Many children in eastern DRC have grown up with violence and
uncertainty for the past 20 years, and although they have built up
good coping mechanisms, constant displacement exposes them to
further risks, and undermines any positive developments that have
Meanwhile, the Primate of the Anglican Church of the Province of
of Congo, the Most Revd Henri Isingoma Kahwa, joined a call by the
Congo Church Association for a week of prayer for peace from 26
The call was backed by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal
Church in the United States, Dr Katharine Jefferts Schori, who
visited Eastern Congo in July 2011. "Pray for an end to the
conflict, an end to violence and the atrocities, that the needs of
the suffering may be supplied, and that peace may prevail," she
said on Monday. "Our fellow Anglicans in the Democratic Republic of
Congo continue to experience violence and displacement."