Congo: Children displaced by violence recruited as soldiers

23 November 2012

REUTERS

The city fell to Congolese Revolution Army rebels on Tuesday

The city fell to Congolese Revolution Army rebels on Tuesday

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.

World 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 criminal law.

"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 occurred."

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 November.

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."

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