A total of 76 former child soldiers who had been enrolled by armed groups have reunited with their family members in the Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC in the second half of 2013.
The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, said that it had supported the reunification of former child soldiers with their families in both South Kivu and North Kivu.
During the same period, ICRC also visited over 120 former child soldiers who reunited with their families to ensure that they had been well integrated into their communities.
Annick Bouvier, a communication officer for ICRC in DR Congo, said the organisation was holding talks with armed groups to help save the children serving in their ranks.
“In spite of our message, the recruitment of children by the armed groups still remains a phenomenon that we witness in DR Congo,” she said, noting that there is still much work to do.
“The ultimate goal of our efforts is to ensure that the International Humanitarian Law is respected in eastern DR Congo,” she added.
The Red Cross has expressed concern that children remain the most vulnerable group during the armed conflict in DR Congo.
During the war, children are frequently snatched from their families by rebel groups to become soldiers. Millions of civilians have died to date, roughly half of whom are children under five years old.
The UN believes that 15-30% of all newly-recruited combatants in the DRC army are less than 18 years old.
One of the reasons the army and the rebels use child soldiers is that the enemy hesitates to kill children. Therefore, the number of recruits remains high as fewer of them are lost in battle.
In the DRC, child soldiers are forced to commit the most atrocious acts of murder, acts which mentally scar them for life and female child soldiers are frequently used as sexual slaves by the commanders.
Amnesty International reports that, as a 15-year-old soldier, ‘Kalami’ was made to ‘kill a family, to cut up their bodies and eat them’. He goes on to say “my life is lost. I have nothing to live for’.
The DRC has ratified a number of international treaties which protect the rights of children. In 2001, for example, they ratified UN Security Council Resolution 1341, which called for ‘an end to the recruitment of child soldiers to ensure their … demobilisation, return and rehabilitation’.
However, in spite of the expected protection from the law, the children continue to be recruited by armed forces or rebel groups in eastern parts of the country.