World, Africa

DR Congo militias free nearly 50 child soldiers

Children encouraged to join militias by fathers, says expert

James Tasamba   | 11.04.2020
DR Congo militias free nearly 50 child soldiers

KIGALI, Rwanda

At least 48 child soldiers have been freed separately by militias in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) this week, local media reported Friday.

At least 15 children age between 11 and 17 were released Monday by a group of Mai-Mai militiamen in North Kivu’s Beni territory, Actualite.CD reported.

The militia, led by self-proclaimed Colonel Uhuru, is active in the western part of the city of Oicha, where Congolese forces launched an offensive against Uganda’s Allied Democratic Forces rebels.

It was the leader of the militia who decided to release the children, according to reports that quoted the UN mission, MONUSCO, and army sources.

The child soldiers were received by the Congolese forces and are being cared for by a local NGO, said Concrete Action for the Protection of the Child.

On Tuesday, a separate group of 33 child soldiers freed by another militia group reached Beni and Lubero areas, according to media reports.

The children will be hosted temporarily by a local NGO until a ban on movement due to COVID-19 is lifted so they can reunite with their families.

Local authorities say militias have been losing ground to government forces and have lost interest in having children in their ranks.

According to Eugene Kabange, a Goma-based security analyst, since early 2003 armed groups fighting in the DRC's northeastern Ituri region and the various ethnic militias have recruited child soldiers.

“Some children were being encouraged to join militias by their fathers under the guise of tribal obligation. Those who are not in school also became easy targets for recruitment by militia groups,” Kabange told Anadolu Agency.

He said it is hard to know the actual number of children held by the various groups due to dense forests.

Recent recruitments of children by militia groups took place in 2016 during a conflict to topple the Kinshasa government under Joseph Kabila, according to Kabange.

The conflict eased in 2017.

Children have been turning themselves in to authorities and laying down equipment, including rifles, machetes, hunting knife, and “good-luck” charms because of fatigue, Kabange added.

When children surrender, they are reportedly facilitated by the UN children's fund UNICEF to return to school.

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