Children as young as this are being targeted on their way to school by armed gangs in Eastern Congo and to be used as child soldiers. Photo by Ryan Worms/Caritas 2011.

All week they come. The children arrive at the centre tired and breathless. They say they’ve been seized by fighters who want to use them as child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s renewed wars.

“We were captured on the hill overlooking our school,” says one child, who has just arrived at a transit centre for former child soldiers in Masisi run by Caritas Goma in Eastern Congo.

The child says his classmates were taken on their way to school by the Mai-Mai, one of the militias active in the fighting that has returned to Congo. “They forced us to follow them,” he said. “They told us that we had to defend our homeland against the aggressors.”

The ones that come are between 10 and 17 years old. They say that since fighting started again between the government and rebels on 29 April various militias have been ‘recruiting’ children to fight.

Caritas Goma runs workshops with the military to discourage the use of child soldiers. Photo by Taylor Kakala/Caritas Congo

These include homegrown militias such as ‘Congo Libre et Souverain’ (APCLS), the Mai-Mai and the ‘Patriotes Resistants Congolais’ (PARECO) and foreigners like the FDLR (Democratic Liberation Forces of Rwanda).

At the Caritas centre in Masisi, Caritas Goma has registered 37 new cases. It now looks after 96 former child soldiers there now. A Caritas centre in Kanyabayonga, records the arrival of 16 new children, bringing its caseload to 39, and in Nyanzale there are 9 new and 35 in total cases of child soldiers. In Nyakariba centre, two more children have joined the 34 former child soldiers Caritas helps.

The demobilization centres run by Caritas receives the former child soldiers and counsels, feeds and educates them. Caritas also helps them find their families. Thanks to professional help, the children rediscover normal everyday life without war. They are prepared to return to their families or find work.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch says the warlord Jean Bosco Ntaganda has recruited 149 boys and young men between the age of 12 and 20 in North Kivu. At least 48 of those recruited were under 18 years old and of these, 17 were aged 15 or younger.

The International Criminal Court classes the recruitment of children under 15 a war crime.

Clashes erupted after Congolese President Joseph Kabila announced last month he would try to arrest Ntaganda, who is wanted by the ICC for recruiting child soldiers in the past.

Caritas has launched an international emergency appeal to help people forced from their homes by the conflict in North Kivu. The emergency programme will help over 10,000 families with food and other aid.

Source: Caritas Goma

En francais

Nord-Kivu: Caritas Goma enregistre de nouveaux cas d’enfants sortis des groupes armés

ʺNous avons été capturés sur la colline qui surplombe notre écoleʺ, raconte un enfant qui vient d’arriver au Cto de Masisi. Celui-ci a été enrôlé dans les rangs des Maï-Maï alors qu’il se rendait à l’école. ʺEn nous forçant de les suivre, ils nous ont dit que nous allions combattre pour défendre les terres de nos ancêtres contre les agresseursʺ. Depuis une semaine, ils arrivent peu à peu, des enfants âgés de 10 à 17 ans, dans les quatre Cto que gère Caritas Goma. Fatigués et essoufflés, ces enfants accusent les

groupes armés de les avoir recrutés de force depuis le début de nouveaux combats (le 29 avril dernier) qui opposent les rebelles aux Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (Fardc). Ces groupes sont locaux (Maï-Maï, Apcls et Pareco) ou étrangers [les rebelles des Forces démocratiques pour la libération du Rwanda (Fldr)]. (Fldr)].

Au Cto de Masisi, par exemple, Caritas Goma vient d’enregistrer 37 nouveaux cas. Ce qui fait un effectif de 96 ex-enfants associés aux forces et groupes armés. Pendant ce temps, le Cto de Kanyabayonga ajoute 16 nouveaux pour un effectif de 39, celui de Nyanzale 9 nouveaux cas pour un effectif de 35. Quant au Cto de Nyakariba, Caritas Goma n’a noté que 2 nouveaux cas sur les 34 anciens. ʺUn chiffre stagnant à cause de la délocalisation du Cto de Mweso à Nyakaribaʺ, explique Eugène Ndwanyi, responsable du Programme de réinsertion sociale des ex-enfants soldats à Caritas Goma.

Pour rappel, plusieurs rapports font état de recrutement forcé des enfants dans les rangs de différents groupes armés depuis la reprise des hostilités entre ces derniers et l’armée congolaise. L’organisation internationale de défense des droits de l’homme Human Wright Watch, par exemple, accuse le général Bosco Ntaganda d’avoir recruté de force 149 enfants et jeunes gens dans ses rangs entre jeudi 19 avril et vendredi 4 mai dans plusieurs localités du territoire de Masisi. Selon les conclusions de cette Ong, les insurgés sous commandement de l’ancien chef d’Etat-major de l’ex-rébellion du Cndp auraient enrôlé 48 enfants de moins de 18 ans et 17 de moins de 15 ans…