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Caritas staff member talks with former child soldiers at a centre in Massisi. Photo: Taylor Toeka, Caritas Goma

Caritas staff member talks with former child soldiers at a centre in Massisi. Photo: Taylor Toeka, Caritas Goma

By Taylor Toeka,

Although international law has called for an end the recruitment of children into armed forces for over a decade, in the Democratic Republic of Congo the practice is widespread.

Conflict continues to grip Congo, especially in the eastern part with the recent clashes between M23 and the army in North Kivu and over the regional capital Goma. The recruitment and illegal use of children in armed groups remains an alarming reality there.

In Rubaya, 60 km west of Goma, a man speaks into his walkie-talkie. He is part of an armed group that controls this mining region. At his sides are the kadogo fighters, these child soldiers are cherished by the rebel leaders.

“They are naive, obedient and faithful,” said a rebel commander.

Caritas Goma is the local Caritas organisation in North Kivu. Reuniting children separated by conflict is a central part of their work. Since the start of the year to the end of November, Caritas Goma has reunified 771 child soldiers (of which 18 were girls) with their families.

Caritas meets with military and civil leadership to discuss with them the rights of child. Caritas staff members negotiate with military officers to release children to their transit centres, where Caritas will keep them safe and provide counselling so they can return home. The children stay for about three months, after that they get the chance to go back to school or learn a trade.

But with the area teaming with armed groups, former child soldiers are frequently seized again. To stop this viscous cycle, Caritas staff members document serious violations and abuses of children by working with all the communities in the region.