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Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Nearly 3,000 former child soldiers returned to civilian life

© UNICEF DR Congo/2005/Page
A former child soldier in Ituri District, DR Congo, receives his initial reintegration kit which includes clothing, bedding and soap. Civilian clothing is an important part of the reintegration process.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, 4 April 2005 – UNICEF has confirmed that over 2,900 former child soldiers in Ituri District, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, have been returned to civilian life since September 2004.

“While the number of children who have left the armed forces and various armed groups has increased in Ituri, we are deeply concerned about the low numbers of girls who have been released,” said UNICEF Child Protection Officer Trish Hiddleston. To date, the Disarmament and Community Reintegration (DCR) sites, which assist children in returning to civilian life, have registered and assisted a total of 2,353 boys, but only 561 girls.

Girls and boys are not only used for combat but also for carrying arms, cooking, cleaning and other tasks. Often children are subject to psychological abuse and sexual violence that increases their vulnerability to HIV/AIDS and pregnancy. Children are scarred mentally and physically by these experiences and find themselves stigmatized when they attempt to return to their old lives.

Despite the progress made in returning close to 3,000 children to civilian life, UNICEF estimates that in Ituri District alone approximately 3,000 children still remain in the hands of military groups – at least as many as have been returned to civilian life to date.

© UNICEF DR Congo/2005/Page
A former child soldier in Ituri District, DR Congo, registering at the UNICEF-supported Disarmament and Community Reintegration centre in Bunia, to begin the process of returning to civilian life.

Support provided for former child soldiers

UNICEF has appealed to all armed groups to immediately release all children. Recruitment of children is a violation of Congolese and international law.

UNICEF has seven DCR sites in Ituri, which is still suffering from conflict despite the official end of the country’s civil war. Each child who passes through a DCR site is registered and then referred to a transit care facility. UNICEF and its partners attempt to find the child’s family and ensure their protection while that process takes place. Long-term follow up is also provided to help ensure that children adjust successfully.

Former child soldiers are also provided with a basic kit of supplies, including includes bedding, soap and civilian clothing. Many children arrive at the DCR sites with nothing to wear except their military uniforms. Changing into everyday clothes is an important first step for children in the long process of returning them to normal life.



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