UN envoy calls for halt to recruitment of child soldiers in DR of Congo

UN envoy calls for halt to recruitment of child soldiers in DR of Congo

At the conclusion of a 10-day visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), a United Nations envoy has called for the protection and rehabilitation of war-affected children to become a top priority in the country.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday in New York, Olara A. Otunnu, the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, urged political and military leaders to bring a complete stop to all recruitment and use of child soldiers. "There is an urgent need for a plan of action to address the grave situation of war-affected children in the Congo," he said. "Their protection and rehabilitation must become a national and political priority."

The envoy visited the provincial cities of Goma, Bukavu, Bunia, Kisangani and Kananga. In Kinshasa, he met with President Joseph Kabila, several Government ministers, as well as leaders of the principal political parties and members of the diplomatic community. In Goma, he met with the leadership of Rassemblement Congolais pour la Démocratie (RCD), while in Bunia, he met with the leadership of the Front de Libération du Congo (FLC). He also met with groups of war-affected children and their parents, and civil society organizations. During all his talks, the envoy was told of extensive use of children as soldiers.

"The place of children is in schools, with their families and with their communities, not in the battlefields," he stressed during his meetings. "The massive recruitment and use of children as child soldiers have become a plague that is steadily destroying the fabric and future of this country and this zone of Africa."

In that context, Mr. Otunnu proposed a five-point programme of action that was accepted by all political and military leaders: a complete stop to all recruitment and participation in armed groups and forces of young persons below the age of 18; establishment of a mechanism to monitor and report on the application of the above commitment; organization of a major public awareness campaign to sensitize the military, civil society and local communities; joint visits to military camps and barracks; and the establishment of necessary structures for demobilization, rehabilitation, reception and reintegration of child soldiers.

At the end of the envoy's visit, the DRC Government announced that it had just ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child banning the participation in war of young persons under the age of 18, thus becoming the fifth country to ratify the protocol.