He learned to kill when he was 16. Sometime ago, Colonel Laurent Nkunda’s rebels kidnapped him in the jungle in order to teach him to shoot. This happened in 2006. However, he managed to escape, to find a shelter in a recovery center and eventually to come back home. He broke his soldier uniform to return into a plain boy.
Last August, the war broke out again and rebels found him once again. He escaped again a week ago. Today, he’s 18 and lives detained in the center, his identity made anonymous to prevent him to be enrolled in hell once again. Former warrior children have to remain anonymous in Gome, main city of North Kiwu region, since they could refall in the militias’ hands, who consider them precious as gold and diamonds illegally traded to finance war devastating the East Congo.
“Late summer, Caritas in Masisi, in the area controlled by Nkunda, was attacked by rebels. We knew they were looking for warrior children” says Giulia Pigliucci involved in the International Volunteering Service for Development (VIS). Children were rescued from kidnappings since Monuc, the UN peace mission, took action immediately. “Since war broke out once again, a great number of warrior children is needed” admits Léopold, officer in charge of minors protection division at Monuc. According to the last Amnesty international report, published last October, 11.000 warrior children fight in Congo. Before summer time, they were only 3000, according to Human Rights Watch statistics. All the information gathered on the ground by NGOs based in North Kiwu indicate that from last August, about 160 children were deported in the 4 main CNDP training camps (Congrès National pour la Defense du Peuple).
These centers are generally built in schools walls: once studying is over, they open their Kalashnikov magazine. This was the case of an entire class: 30 students aged between 12 and 17 turned into soldiers in Bitonga, 35 km away from Goma. “In September, when school restarts, militians enter classes to recruit children” says Joseph Paluku Mungosy, Secretary of NGOs Coalition in North Kiwu, “many schools were closed to prevent children exposure. Near all training camps, there are Monuc bases, that remain hopeless” accuses Mungosy, “they look after children only when they escape alone and takes no action to save them from militians. “In the last displaced group, there were more than 30 warrior children” says a responsible for the reception center.
However, escaping is not enough for baby soldiers who want to return to a normal life. “In order to ensure their reintegration in society, children need an official demobilization certificate” explains Trudon Tshibangu, social worker at Don Bosco center in Ngangi, who saved hundreds of former warrior children and street children over the last years. Those who are not officially demobilized risk being arrested, tortured and treated as enemy spies by policemen. Warrior children are recruited not only by CNDP, but also by other armed groups, above all many Mai Mai militias who own 1300 children. Even the government army has recruited many children in its hierarchy. Last June, they were 20.Thus, the ban of recruiting minors imposed to all fighting parties has disappeared since the peace agreement signed last January was broken. However, not all children are recruited with violence.
Orphans, children separated from their parents and poor children often decide voluntarily to enroll in the armies. This is the only way for them to survive. This is the case of A., 16, Rwandese, Hutu ethnicity. His mother was killed during the clashes in Rwanda in 1994, his father was confined and charged with genocide. However, he’s among the luckiest one: he’s not been sent in a transit center run by UNICEF, but temporarily adopted by a family, looking after him until he can be sent back home.
“This way children, early reunified with their parents, are prevented to be found by rebels” explains Gaspard, activist at Save the Children, the NGO coordinating family reunification programs. However, war doesn’t involve men only. Among the innocents turned into war machines there are many ladies such as S., who was traumatized twice because she was forced to kill and raped by rebels of her age…