Kill or be killed: testimonial of a former child-soldier

After having experienced the worst, Emmanuel learns to rebuild thanks to the support of UNICEF

Bibiane Mouangue Dikobo (translated from French by Matthew Khalkhali)
Emmanuel rase la tête d'un client
13 November 2020

« My boss asked me to kill them, which I did otherwise it was him who was going to kill me », recounts Emmanuel who befriended the leader of a rebel group when he was only 13 years old. His new friend regularly came to chat and spend time with him and Emmanuel, convinced to have found a friend, did him little favors and ran errands for him. 

But things quickly took another twist when the rebel leader forced Emmanuel to follow him into the bush. « He told me that if I did not follow him, he was going to kill me », recalls Emmanuel. That day, a new life started for Emmanuel. « They taught me how to handle weapons », recounts the young boy who regularly plundered villages. Emmanuel only spent three months in the bush, but the memories that he has will stay with him for life. 

« One day, we kidnapped two men, but their families did not pay the ransom. My boss asked me to kill them, which I did otherwise he would have killed me »

When he heard awareness messages on the radio, Emmanuel decided to quit the armed group and flee. Thanks to the information transmitted by the NGO UPDECO, a partner organization of UNICEF, Emmanuel headed for a drop-in center where former children associated with armed forces and armed groups were taken care of. 

When he arrived at the center, Emmanuel immediately understood that he made the right decision. He received psychological support and was entrusted to a host family waiting to be reunited with his family. After a few weeks, all the necessary conditions for his return were finally met and Emmanuel was able to find his own. When he arrived at his home, his brothers and sisters were afraid of him, like the others in his community. Thanks to the advice and support of psychosocial teams supported by UNICEF, Emmanuel regained his place as a child. 

In order to project himself back into the future and rebuild himself, Emmanuel followed vocational training and opened a men’s hair salon. UNICEF paid for the first six months of rent and purchased all the necessary equipment. « Thanks to the income of the salon, I pay for my school supplies », says Emmanuel proudly who is in the fifth year of pedagogy.

« I dream of going to university and becoming a teacher »

Each year, a significant number of children are recruited into armed groups across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) « There are other children in the bush who do not dare come back because they are afraid of being rejected », confides Emmanuel who had the same fears. « They need help to return to live with their families », concludes Emmanuel. 

Thanks to the funding from the Swedish Development Cooperation (SIDA) and the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERD), UNICEF provided psychosocial support and care to thousands of children formerly associated with armed forces and armed groups in 2020.