Recruitment of child soldiers in DRC likely to increase as violence mounts, warns World Vision

from World Vision
Published on 20 Nov 2012

• Two hundred thousand children at risk in Goma alone
• Reports of groups arming children and youth
• World Vision staff are evacuated out of Goma at signs of worsening violence
• International leadership urgently needed to save children from the effects of violence

20 November, Gisenye – Hundreds of thousands of children caught up in erupting violence in eastern DRC are at risk of being forcibly recruited into armed groups, said World Vision.

World Vision estimates that there are 200,000 children under the age of 18 in Goma and believes they are all at risk. UNICEF has estimated as many as 600 are now separated from their families and at risk of serious abuse.

Spontaneous camps for displaced families have been forming around Goma as communities flee to safety. Through its partners, World Vision is receiving reports of that in the confusion, children are getting separated from parents – and the implications of this are devastating.

“We know from the recent practices of the groups involved in this latest fighting that unaccompanied children in this part of DRC are in immediate and real danger of forcible recruitment into armed groups,” said World Vision’s Dominic Keyzer from the border town of Gisenye.

“Children have nowhere to turn, we can’t get to them, and we are hearing reports of groups arming people around Goma. Local partners have seen armed people passing guns and ammunition to civilians this morning, including children aged16-18. A former child soldier we have worked with in the past told us today: ‘I have seen some of my friends receiving weapons and going to fight – they are being told to go and fight the rebels and take their guns’.

“Peace, and the protection of children, has to be today’s number one priority for all parties. For these children, who are already at the bottom of the ladder in terms of mortality, education, and resilience, this latest crisis means even more unimaginable violence and trauma.”

World Vision is urgently calling on leaders around the world, but especially the Government of DRC and regional leaders, to ensure all parties to the conflict are respecting their obligations under international humanitarian law, and international criminal law. Reactivating the African Union-UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region would be an important step to manage this situation.

All actors to the conflict should immediately halt the use of children in hostilities, and prevent the targeting of children in violence. World Vision calls on the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to immediately engage with all actors to ensure this crisis is averted.

Adding to the severity of the situation, said Keyzer, is the ongoing violence is making it nearly impossible for humanitarian organisations to intervene. The fighting has forced World Vision to suspend major, life-saving programmes in some areas of eastern DRC.

“The effects of this are just heartbreaking – many children in eastern DRC have grown up with violence and uncertainty for the last 20 years, and although they have built up good coping mechanisms, constant displacement exposes them to further risks, and undermines any positive developments that have occurred,” said Keyzer.

Please contact Sarah Wilson to organise interviews with Dominic Keyzer in Gisenye. Details below Sarah Wilson | Senior Emergencies Specialist | World Vision UK | Mobile: 07557 567 753 | Direct Line: 01908 244446 | Skype: wv_swilson | E-mail: [ Mailing: World Vision 11 Belgrave Road, London SW1V 1RB ]