UEPN-DDR decided to launch the campaign in the month dedicated to the African Child, with the objective of releasing all children active in armed forces and groups in South Kivu, in order to reintegrating them into civilian life.
The project, supported by UNICEF, MONUC, the World Bank and the African Development Bank, aims at sensitising the FARDC and the various armed groups who recruit minors in their ranks.
The conference, which was launched South Kivu Governor Mr Louis Leonce, saw the participation of various speakers, among whom was director of the UEPN-DDR and the national coordinator of the Amani programme, as well as representatives of armed groups in South Kivu.
In his opening speech, the director of the UEPN-DDR exposed the gravity of the situation concerning the recruitment of children in eastern DRC, and particularly in South Kivu.
He underlined how the problem does not touch only the direct victims, but all the community.
“Recruitment in the armed groups dehumanizes children, and these children must leave the militia immediately.
He asked the South Kivu provincial authorities to collaborate, and concluded by asking all the armed groups to adhere without hesitation or condition to the Amani peace programme. The complexity of the problem was later exposed by UNICEF and MONUC.
According to reports from child welfare organisations, despite enormous steps taken by the national DDR programme towards the reintegration of the child soldiers into civilian life there are 7,000 girls and boys in eastern DRC used as soldiers and sex slaves, including approximately 1,500 in South Kivu. Reports confirm that the recruitment continues.
Territories more prone to the enrollment of child soldiers include Shabunda, Mwenga, Fizi, Kalehe and Walungu. The coordinator of the Coalition to put an end to the use of children as soldiers recalled that the recruitment of minors by armed groups is contrary to the international standards ratified by the DR Congo.
Spokesperson for the South Kivu armed groups Mr. Joseph Assanda Mwenebatu said: “we reaffirm our firm engagement to release all children associated with armed groups who were signatories to the Goma Act of Engagement.”
“We believe that with the Amani programme we can put an end to armed groups, and then we will not speak anymore of children associated with armed forces and groups, because only the FARDC will remain.”
The South Kivu children’s parliament denounced the slowness of the DDR process, and hoped that the promises of one and all would be fulfilled. A testimony of four ex-child soldiers was made, where after several years as combatants, the children were reintegrated into civilian life and school, thanks to the national DDR programme and collaboration with various partners.
Exhibitions relating to disarmament, demobilization and social rehabilitation of the child soldiers were also shown.
South Kivu Governor Leonce accentuated the importance of putting an end to the recruitment of child soldiers in South Kivu, and said the phenomenon “is an inexcusable act made by irresponsible adults against children.”
“The DRC took a clear option against war, in favour of democracy. We must reinforce the DDR structures and support the various legal structures in order to fight the practice of the recruitment of children by armed forces in South Kivu. We demand of the DDR process to keep moving forward, in order to put an end to this absurd anti-republican behavior.”