1 The Child Protection Section (CPS) of the Mission in the DRC announced on Tuesday, September 13, 2022 in Bunia, Ituri, that it had facilitated the withdrawal of 235 children from armed groups in this province.
2 These children had been detained in the ranks of the armed groups since January 2021.
3 The announcement was made at a two-day workshop on the validation of the operational plan for the Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration of children.
4 The plan foresees, among other things, the establishment of listening clubs for children, spaces for children’s friends or even transition families that serve as temporary reception centers for demobilized children.
5 The workshop, which brought together various partners working on the protection of children’s rights, state actors, FARDC, PNC and United Nations agencies (UNICEF, UNHCR) and CPS MONUSCO, aimed to involve all these partners in the efforts to hand over the children who are still in the bush so that they can rejoin civilian life and enjoy their right to education.
6 The NGOs for the defense and protection of children’s rights that participated in this workshop urged the government to put more pressure on the leaders of the armed groups favorable to the peace process so that they release the other detained children for their reintegration into civilian life.
7 Reintegrating children into the community “A child’s place is not in an armed group or an army, but in the family or at school,” said Jean Muzama, head of MONUSCO’s child protection section in Bunia.
9 In other cases, we collect them from the military prosecutor’s office to hand them over to UNICEF, which then handles their reunification.
10 [with their families].
11 Our mandate is also to recover children who escape from armed groups by their own means.
12 Once we collect them, we do screenings, interviews and other verifications, to make sure that they really are children… This work involves discussions with armed groups, with all the risks you can imagine,” he explained.
13 Children recovered by CPS/MONUSCO are handed over to UNICEF for care, reunification, and reintegration into the community.
14 According to Jean Muzama, there would still be between 30 and 40% of children within the various armed groups active in Ituri province.
15 A situation that negatively impacts the communities from which these children are recruited.
16 Some are forced to join these militias as part of the “war effort” imposed on their parents by armed groups who make them believe they are taking up arms to defend their communities.
17 Other children simply follow their comrades, for lack of occupation and opportunity for social supervision.
18 Still others are recruited for economic reasons: the lure of profit.
19 “The many cattle raids during militia raids, looting and other extortion carried out by the rebels attract children who find a way to feed themselves,” says an anonymous source.
20 A consolidated plan tailored to the needs of DDR children In almost every village in the Djugu, Irumu, Mambasa, Mahagi and Aru territories, youth and children are forced to join armed groups to increase their numbers.
21 The paradox is that the communities from which these children come become victims of the violence and abuse of their own children used by these same armed groups.
22 The operational plan for the Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration of children (DDR-children) aims to be a tool, better still, a guide adapted to the operational framework of DDR-children that takes into account the capacities and opportunities to respond to the needs of demobilization of children in Ituri.
23 This is an important tool insofar as it allows the actors to work together on two issues, the first related to the community aspect and the second to stabilization.
24 It also makes it possible to identify the actors and their capacities in terms, for example, of trained agents who can facilitate the departure of children from armed groups, but also of opportunities in terms of psychosocial care structures for victims of sexual violence.
26 Finally, this plan is a consensual guide that accurately traces the cartography of all the actors involved in DDR-children, their role and the reference circuit in each territory and in the city for the care and socioeconomic reintegration of children.
27 Namely, the children of the armed groups.
28 MONUSCO, through the Child Protection section, plays an important role in the process of separation and withdrawal of children from armed groups before and during the actual demobilization phase of members of armed groups.
29 It organizes bilateral discussions, sometimes with the commanders of the armed groups to make them aware of the unconditional release of children who are within their groups, sometimes with community leaders for the reception and acceptance of these children.
30 In general, MONUSCO is working to ensure that there are no children within the various armed groups by changing their behavior so that they no longer recruit children into their ranks.
31 Between nightmares and traumas, a ray of hope…
32 Happy to find freedom and an “almost normal” life at the end of this “hell”, these children released from armed groups do not hide the pleasure of having “escaped death”.
34 Among the many “success stories” of these children released from armed groups (in 2008), is that of Eric (first name used for security reasons).
35 He was able to go to school until he got a college degree.
36 Married, father of two children, he is now a staff member of one of the organizations that monitor and support the children of the armed groups in Bunia.
37 He says he is proud to contribute to the recovery of these children who escaped death…
38 However, not everyone will have the same luck.
39 According to testimonies of his supervisors, many have nightmares at night, others show signs of aggression.
40 Still others are victims of urinary incontinence due to trauma.
41 It is also an opportunity to take a look at the remarkable work carried out by these social agents and protection actors who, day after day, in the Transit and Orientation Centers (CTO), work together with these children to re-teach them, sometimes, simple gestures of everyday life.
42 Here, these children spend about three months, before being reunited with their families, of course, after risk assessment in the community with their parents.
43 Thus, these social agents (psychologists and other social workers) carry out preparatory work upstream to assess protection risks in relation to the presence of armed groups against reprisals from the community itself.
44 Then there is the awareness stage for the acceptance of these children by the community before their social reintegration for a peaceful return and to avoid the stigmatization that would be a new factor in their return to the armed groups.