From war to reconstruction

Though a child of their age would typically hold a pencil or a ball in their hands, Jeannot and Fabrice were confronted with another reality.

Marie Bibiane Mouangue Dikobo (translated from French by Darren Ou Yong)
Jeannot a combattu aux côtés d'un groupe armé durant trois ans
24 February 2020

“They were recruiting children my age in my village,” recalls Jeannot, thinking of the day that marked the beginning of a long ordeal. Out of fear of being forced to join an armed group raging in the North Kivu province, the young boy of only 15 years of age fled to hide in the forest.

Without any supplies and far from his family, Jeannot did not manage to hold on for long: faced with hunger and fear, he resigned to taking up arms. For three years, Jeannot fought alongside the armed group. When the young adolescent refused to obey the orders that were given to him, he was beaten. “I dreamed of leaving and finding a better life,” reveals Jeannot. One day, the adolescent managed to escape with dozens of other young boys.

Quickly taken into the care of a partner organisation of UNICEF, Jeannot and the others benefited from medical examinations and psychosocial support within a reintegration program implemented by UNICEF. Subsequently, at the age of 18, Jeannot decided to pursue training as a hairdresser, and UNICEF assisted him with renting a work space and with purchasing the necessary equipment.

“The day I opened my hair salon marked a new start in my life,” Jeannot recounts.

With the money earned thanks to his hair salon, Jeannot wants to start raising livestock and building a house in the hope of being able to raise a family there. “I have already bought six sheets of metal,” concludes Jeannot, definitively heading towards the future.

Fabrice, 15 ans, s’est engagé dans un groupe armé après le décès de son père

Fabrice, too, was enlisted when he was just 15 years old, an age when young people normally compete against each other in football or with cards. After the death of his father, he enlisted in an armed group that was rampaging in the North Kivu province, in order to contribute to the financial needs of his family.

When most people hear about child soldiers, they think of a child holding a weapon. In reality, all the children do not directly partake in combat. For example, Fabrice had the task of alerting members of the group in case of danger or raids in their camp.

After two years, Fabrice decided to flee because he was being tortured in the camp and risking his life on a daily basis. A partner organisation of UNICEF provided psychosocial support to Fabrice, often gripped by memories of the abuses he was subject to in the camp. The organisation also helped the young boy find his family. Now at the age of 17, Fabrice lives with his older sister and his younger brother.

Today, Fabrice studies electricity within a reintegration programme supported by UNICEF. This programme, based on professional training, aims to give these children the means to provide for their needs. “I want to bring light to the world,” says Fabrice, not wanting to let his past hold him back from the future.

For those children thinking of joining an armed group in hopes of finding a future or a sense of family, Fabrice says, “There is no peace in the forest. Peace is when one lives with one’s family.”

A significant number of children are used in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) as fighters, porters, spies, cooks, or sexual slaves within armed groups and militias. UNICEF works to prevent child recruitment, to get children out of militias and armed groups, and to reintegrate these children into their communities. In 2019, UNICEF provided psychosocial support and care to 3,073 children previously associated with armed groups and forces throughout the DRC.