DR Congo

In its management of the security crisis, the government must not lose sight of the rights of children

NGOs urge the Congolese government to strengthen the prevention of child recruitment

Kinshasa, London, 19 September 2012 – While the security, political and diplomatic crisis in the east of the country is deepening, the undersigned organisations remind the Congolese government of its duty to prevent the involvement of children in armed conflict. Under international law, the recruitment or use of children by armed forces or armed groups is unlawful and may constitute a war crime; and it is the primary responsibility of governments to safeguard the rights of children in their territory and to ensure their protection against military exploitation.

Since the emergence of the 'M23' armed group in April 2012, there have been numerous and credible reports of, as well as testimonies denouncing, the recruitment and use of children. In May 2012, Human Rights Watch revealed that at least 48 children had been forcibly recruited by the M23. But the recruitment of children is also increasing among other armed groups – whether foreign or Congolese – in North Kivu, South Kivu, Province Orientale and Katanga.

Since April, the security situation throughout the east of the country has considerably deteriorated, particularly in North Kivu, where the M23 operates, owing to fighting between this group and the armed forces of the DRC (FARDC). However, the redeployment of the FARDC to contain the M23 gave free rein to many self-defense militias and armed groups which recruit and use children; in these areas, there has been an increase in violations perpetrated against civilians, including child recruitment, which the government is unable to curb.

Last August, MONUSCO expressed deep concern about 150 documented incidents of child recruitment by the M23, Mai Mai groups, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) and the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) since the beginning of 2012; it noted that the actual numbers may be much higher.

The undersigned organisations express grave concern about the danger posed by the current security vacuum in some areas of eastern Congo. Children are not only directly exposed to the real risk of recruitment and re-recruitment; their vulnerability is also aggravated by the reduced activity of child protection organisations that are affected by the security situation.

It is in this context that the government announced last August an operation to recruit young Congolese aged 18 to 25 years to "rejuvenate" the FARDC. By the end of the month, about a hundred young people had already volunteered for enrollment. The undersigned are concerned that recruitment procedures in the DRC may not be sufficiently regulated to prevent the voluntary enlistment of minors.

In its efforts to combat the M23 and other armed groups responsible for abuses against civilians, the Congolese government should allocate the necessary time and resources to ensure the rigorous identification of recruits and comply with Congolese legislation on the minimum age of recruitment. In addition, the government should refrain from providing any military or political support to armed groups and militia suspected of recruiting and using child soldiers.

In February 2012, the Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) expressed its concern and issued its recommendations to the Congolese government on the implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. This Protocol, ratified by the DRC in 2001, prohibits armed groups from recruiting – whether forcibly or voluntarily – any person under the age of 18 and using them in hostilities. With this statement, we urge the government to implement the recommendations of the Committee without delay, focusing in particular on its duty to:

  • Take all necessary measures to ensure that no child is recruited by armed groups;

  • Ensure that the release, rehabilitation and reintegration of children associated with armed forces and armed groups become a priority;

  • Ensure that no military, financial or logistical support is provided to local militias suspected of recruiting or using children;

  • Establish frameworks for cooperation and cross-border exchange to repatriate children released from armed forces and armed groups to their country of origin;

  • Standardise army recruitment procedures and train officers to systematically and effectively verify the age of all new recruits so that no minor is recruited;

  • Disseminate guidelines on age verification and give instruction to recruiters not to recruit a person whose age is in doubt.

Signatories Action des chrétiens pour l'abolition de la torture (ACAT), Goma/North-Kivu; Appui aux femmes démunies et enfants marginalisés (AFEDEM), Goma/North-Kivu; Association de jeunes pour le développement intégré-Kalundu (AJEDI-Ka), Uvira/South-Kivu; Bureau pour le volontariat au service de l'enfance et de la santé (BVES), Bukavu/South-Kivu; Caritas-Développement Goma/North-Kivu; Child Soldiers International, London; Coalition des ONG des droits de l'enfant (CODE), Kinshasa; Enfants pour l'avenir et le développement (EAD), Beni/North-Kivu; Fondation Monseigneur Emmanuel Kataliko (FOMEKA), Uvira/South-Kivu; The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), Rome; Promotion de la femme et de l'enfant autochtone (PEFA)

For further information contact James Stapleton, Communications Coordinator Jesuit Refugee Service (International Office) Tel: +39 06 69868 468; +39 346234 3841; Email: international.communications@jrs.net; www.jrs.net

Danilo Giannese Regional Advocacy and Communications Officer, Jesuit Refugee Service Great Lakes Tel: +257 78991302; Email: grandslacs.advocacy@jrs.net