UNICEF helps reintegrate former child soldiers into local communities in DR Congo
By Ndiaga Seck
DUNGU, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 11 February 2011 – This year has brought joy to the family of a woman named Charlotte here in eastern DR Congo. Raul, her 14-year old nephew, has returned home after a long ordeal.
In September 2008, Raul had been kidnapped by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), an armed group ravaging DR Congo's Province Orientale. "The day I heard that Raul was kidnapped, I was filled with sadness and fear. I cried all night," recalls Charlotte.
At that time, Raul was a student in primary school. Today he is nearly an adult. Still, the boy is lucky. When he arrived on 31 December 2010 in Dungu village, his family welcomed him back with open arms. This is not always the case; many families reject their returning children out of shame or repulsion.
Charlotte knows that her nephew has changed. "He has always been intelligent, but now he is thinking too much about the past," she says.
Lives changed forever
At night, Raul finds it hard to sleep because of the killings he has seen and the atrocities he was obliged to commit. "I didn't dare to refuse, because a friend of mine who refused to kill was shot himself," says Raul. "If I don't pray before going to bed, I dream of the LRA coming to kill me or to kidnap me again."
Raul is one of many children who have seen the terror of armed conflict changing their lives forever. Since the LRA attacks started in 2008, the humanitarian and security situation in the Dungu Territory has become very volatile.
From 2008 to 2010, UNICEF and its non-governmental partner COOPI provided assistance to 1,570 children formerly associated with armed forces or groups, including 585 girls and 764 boys associated with the LRA. Thirty-three non-Congolese children were repatriated – including 18 from Sudan, 12 from the Central African Republic and 3 from Uganda. After their demobilization, children like Raul receive medical and psycho-social care to help them cope with trauma.
Local families host children
|© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Seck|
|Raul stayed for more than a year with the Lord's Resistance Army, an armed rebel group in Province Orentale, eastern DR Congo.|
To protect children during their return to a normal life, they are hosted in UNICEF-assisted families.
"We use the community to host these children. Apart from the security issue, their integration is easier when they are, from the beginning, accommodated in local families," explains Andrea Burelli, UNICEF's Head of Office in Dungu.
To help the demobilized children start a new life, UNICEF also provide demobilization kits with shoes, hygiene articles and civilian clothes. "I thank UNICEF for the care that my nephew received. I know that he is intelligent and can have a bright future," Charlotte says with a smile. As for Raul, he would like to go back to school and live the normal life of a child.