The Democratic Republic of Congo’s national army recently became child-free after being removed from the U.N.’s “list of shame” of armed forces recruiting and using child soldiers. This list details all of the parties in armed conflicts that have “committed serious violations of international humanitarian law against children”.
However, even with their history of abuse and child recruitment, the Congolese army, also known as the FARDC, made considerable progress by releasing 8,546 children from their ranks between 2009 and 2015. The mission was conducted with the help of MONUSCO, the U.N. peacekeeping unit in the country.
Since its creation in 2003, Congo’s national army has experienced a long period of violence and conflicts with multiple Congolese militias. Those conflicts were the scene of several human rights abuses such as sexual abuse, child recruitment and deaths, perpetrated mostly by the FARDC armed forces.
Even though child recruitment has been decreasing, sexual violence against children is still at the top of the list of violations committed by the FARDC. It affects mainly girls, who represent 40 percent of Congo’s child soldiers, according to a MONUSCO report. While some of those girls are forced to join, many of them enlist voluntarily, since being in the army gives them better opportunities than living in neighborhoods prone to poverty and a lack of educational resources.
MONUSCO also revealed that documenting the percentage of girls in armed groups has always been a challenge, as the number of girls is often underreported. Out of the 8,546 freed child soldiers registered by MONUSCO, only 7 percent of girls were documented, which is a radical difference from the 40 percent figure estimated by hundreds of witnesses.
Being delisted by the U.N. is, however, a major win for the Congolese armed forces, whose efforts in stopping child recruitment have led to a positive change towards respecting human rights. Training armed groups on child protection issues and creating standard operating procedures have both helped to free child soldiers and eradicate the practice of child recruitment. Eliminating sexual violence within armies is the U.N.’s next mission to better the lives of thousands of soldiers.
– Sarah Soutoul