"For too long, the politics of conflict have taken precedence over the welfare of children in the eastern provinces, with the result that the future of the next generation of Congolese children is being jeopardized" said Dr Forbes Adam.
The Coalition's new briefing details surges in recruitment of under-18s by Mai Mai that coincide with escalations in hostilities, failed peace deals, flawed army integration processes and renewed outbreaks of violence. Chronic insecurity means that armed violence, or the threat of it, is ever present in the lives of children in eastern Congo. In the words of one former child soldier interviewed by the Coalition: "If the attacks start again, we'd have to join to defend ourselves. Otherwise we'll die or be exterminated."
Insecurity is seen to justify the existence of local militias but the vulnerability of children is also entrenched in socio-economic conditions. The lives of many children in the conflict-affected areas are additionally blighted by poverty, lack of access to education and few economic opportunities. While forced recruitment by Mai Mai is not uncommon, for some children, joining with a Mai Mai group is seen as a way out of poverty or just another job.
"Programs that focus only on releasing and returning these children to their communities miss the point" said Dr Forbes Adam. "Reducing vulnerability of boys and girls to Mai Mai exploitation means fundamentally changing children's life chances and providing them with a genuine alternative to joining militias."