|© UNICEF/HQ05-0431/ LeMoyne|
|An eight-year-old boy - and former child soldier - sits in the dormitory of UNICEF’s CTO (Centre de Transit et Orientation) for children being demobilised from armed factions, in the eastern town of Goma in North Kivu Province.|
NEW YORK, 21 March 2005 – More than 2,300 children - including 454 girls - who had been abducted by armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo have passed through UNICEF’s demobilisation and community reintegration (DCR) sites since the process was launched in September 2004.
Most recently, over a two week period in Goma, North Kivu, over 300 children were released by armed forces and the special transit centres there are now over-crowded.
“The number we’ve received at the moment in Goma, we’ve never reached that level before,” says UNICEF’s Head of Protection in Eastern Congo, Njanja Fassu. “ We have 330 children in two centres. Those centres have been used to managing 50 – 75 children and it’s obvious they’re over-stretched at the moment.”
In the Ituri region, where an estimated 4,000 children are still in the hands of the militia, UNICEF is finishing work on a new ‘children’s space’ at the DCR site in Aru. Once it opens on 28 March, it’s thought around 200 children will benefit from the services once they’re released by their commanders. However, recruitment of child soldiers by all military factions continues.
|A 14-year-old girl - and former child soldier - stands in the doorway of a hospital in the eastern town of Goma in North Kivu Province. Children being demobilised from armed factions in the region are sent to the hospital for a check-up.|
The DCR sites offer medical and psycho-social care for the children who may have been forced to fight and kill, or have suffered sexual violence since being recruited or abducted by the militia. They also help to reunite children with their families and return to live within their own communities.
“When the children arrive, “ says Fassu, “it’s really different from one child to the other. In some cases you see they’re very affected physically by the time they’ve spent in armed groups; they have signs of morbidity and require urgent medical assistance. In other cases, “ he continues, “they look like any other child but are suffering, or have suffered, from serious psychological trauma. Other times, they act as if they are happy with the life they are leading in armed groups, but as soon as they have access to a counsellor and discuss the process, they are all willing to come out of armed groups.”
The situation in DR Congo is recognised as one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. An estimated five million people have died there since fighting began in 1998. At least 88,000 people, two-thirds of whom are women and children, have been forced to flee their homes and are now living in camps. UNICEF is also concerned about the protection of women and children who are being subjected to sexual violence, as rape is a widely-used weapon of war, terrorizing the population and increasing the prevalence of HIV.
UNICEF is closely collaborating with its partners in the humanitarian response in all the camps and last week delivered a further 3,000 blankets, 3,000 soap bars, and 3,000 mosquito nets for distribution to vulnerable women and children living in the camps.