|An eight-year-old boy and former child soldier sits in the dormitory of UNICEF’s demobilization and community reintegration centre in the town of Goma, North Kivu Province, DR Congo.|
By Kun Li
KPANDROMA, Ituri District, DR Congo, 30 March 2005 - At a UNICEF-supported demobilization and community reintegration centre in Kpandroma, Congolese children, some as young as eight, are putting on a play to re-enact the ordeal they endured as pawns of armed groups.
“I had to follow the commander to the front lines to carry bullets. When we got there, I saw the commander shooting people,” said 14-year-old former child soldier Etienne (not his real name).
The 11 boys in the play have only recently arrived at the centre. Since September 2004, more than 2,300 children – including 454 girls – have been received at the UNICEF-supported reintegration centres. The centres offer medical and psychosocial care for the children, who were simply kidnapped from their homes by armed militia. Many were forced to fight and kill, while others endured sexual violence during captivity.
Especially difficult for abducted girls
In the Ituri district alone, 4,000 children are believed to still be in the hands of the militia. Abducted girls are often forced to act as wives for army commanders. Many become pregnant with their abductors' children. For them, it is especially hard to return to their normal lives.
“The life of the military is not good,” said Marie (not her real name), now living in the Kpandroma reintegration centre.
“The girls are really traumatized,” said UNICEF’s Sylvain Nzaba. “You can see they have a bad feeling towards boys and men.”
One of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, the 7-year civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) has killed more than 3 million people since 1998, leaving 3 million children without education. An estimated 30,000 children are associated with armed groups.
In the last few months, more than 800 children have been demobilized at this centre, receiving much needed care and support to help them reclaim their lost childhood.
30 March 2005:
UNICEF’s Sarah Crowe reports from a demobilization and community reintegration centre in Kpandroma, DR Congo, where former child soldiers receive medical and psychosocial care.