Child soldiers being demobilized from former rebel groups in an eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are being pressured to conceal their age and civil status so that they can be enrolled in newly integrated army units, the United Nations peacekeeping mission has warned.
The mission, known by the acronym MONUC, and the Congolese military authorities remain concerned by the problem. Some 150 to 230 such children have so far been identified among the 7,000 to 8,000 elements in the new integrated groups, MONUC military spokesman Lt. Col. Didier Rancher told a news conference yesterday in Kinshasa, the capital.
“For MONUC and the whole international community, children should be at school to receive an education in peace and life, and certainly not in arms, war and death,” he said.
MONUC “condemns the pressure on some children to conceal their age, their civil status or to stop them from registering with the Military Structure for Integration (SMI),” he added of the enrolment taking place in North Kivu province.
The issue of children and armed conflict is a major UN concern, and earlier this month the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the French Government co-hosted a conference in Paris at which 59 countries, including the DRC, committed themselves to putting an end to the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts wherever they occur.
MONUC has overseen the DRC’s transition from a six-year civil war that cost 4 million lives in fighting and attendant hunger and disease, widely considered the most lethal conflict in the world since World War II, to gradual stabilization, culminating in the first democratic elections in over four decades last year, the largest and most complex polls the UN has ever helped to organize.