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Africa – Armies and rebels

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 Africa has the largest number of child soldiers, around 120,000. They are being used in armed conflicts in the Central African Republic, Chad, the DRC, Somalia, and Sudan. In the DRC, thousands of children are fighting. Different groups of rebels are particularly active in North and South Kivu recruiting children. Eyewitnesses confirmed the presence of child soldiers in the ranks of the rebels. Robert Thayer, a member of an NGO working in North Kivu said, “For anyone who travels along the muddy and rugged roads of the eastern province of North Kivu, seeing teenage boys clasping rifles or some other firearm is commonplace. Children are frequently the victims of forced recruitment in the ranks of one of the many armed groups in Congo.” According to Human Rights Watch, the M23 rebels continue to force children to join them. In October of last year, the national government and the UN agreed on an action plan to protect children against forced recruitment and other human rights violations at the hands of armed groups or the military.
In August, the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) rescued 82 children – some as young as eight – from an armed group. MONUSCO said that the children, including 13 girls, had been forcibly recruited in the past six months by the Mai Mai Bakata Katanga militia. “We are extremely concerned by continued reports of active recruitment by Mai Mai Bakata Katanga and other armed groups in eastern DRC,” said the MONUSCO head Martin Kobler. “Children face unacceptable risks when they are recruited for military purposes. The recruitment of children, particularly those under 15 years of age, could constitute a war crime and those responsible must be held to account.” MONUSCO added that since the beginning of the year 163 children, including 22 girls, have been rescued from the militia.
In Chad, the regular army and several armed groups have continued to recruit and utilize teenagers, particularly in the eastern part of the country. The government tried to minimize the situation, saying that it was not its official policy, but on several occasions local authorities acknowledged the presence of minors in the ranks of the army. The Mouvement pour la Justice et l’Egalité (MJE), a guerrilla movement, recruited and utilized Sudanese children living in refugee camps. Many boys have been recruited and utilized by the self-defence forces of the villages, established at local level in order to counter the armed groups of the opposition. dos23In Uganda, the rebels of the LRA tore thousands of teenagers from their families, in order to bring them to the forest or to the training camps in Sudan. The number of children abducted by the LRA in the last 20 years is estimated at around 25,000. Joseph Kony, the LRA commander-in-chef, continues a systematic and brutal recruitment campaign: he arrives in a village, loots it, and razes it to the ground and then kidnaps the boys and girls. At present, LRA rebels are operating in Sudan, in the Central African Republic, and in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. On 24 May 2010, Barack Obama signed the LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, a law that would charge the American president – with the consent of the governments of the region – to stop LRA crimes and to reconstruct civil society in Northern Uganda. Until today, however, no steps have been taken in that direction. Last August, the Uganda Army rescued 30 children from a training camp on Buvuma Island on Lake Victoria. They were undergoing military training by Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a Ugandan rebel group based in east DRC. The Army said, “We are holding two people who were behind the recruitment of children.” The children have been handed over to their parents in Mayuge district, 160km from Kampala.
dos22In Sudan, minors have been utilized by the Sudanese regular army, by the notorious Janjaweed militias, who support Khartoum’s government, and in the Southern part of the country by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA). UN experts say that at least 15 rebel groups are recruiting minors.
In Somalia, all armed groups have utilized numerous child soldiers. According to the UN, the recruitment was “widespread and systematic.” The guerrillas of the Izbul Islam movement allegedly have at least 500 minors, those of Al-Shabaab are said to have recruited 600 – some only 9 years of age. In March 2009, the government of Mogadishu supposedly trained around 1,500 under age soldiers. According to the UN, in Somalia there were cases of child recruitment by the pirates that operate off the shores of the Indian Ocean. According to UNICEF, in Central Africa, since the conflict resumed in December 2012, more than 2,000 children, both boys and girls, have been associated with armed groups and self-defence organisations. The practice continued after the fall of Bangui on 23 March 2013. The UNICEF representative in Bangui said, “We have called on the new leadership in CAR [Séléka] to ensure that all children associated with armed groups are to be released immediately and protected from further violations [of law]. UNICEF is committed to working with them to ensure that there is an immediate halt to new recruitments and support a process of identification, verification, and reintegration of the children.” According to Amy Martin, who heads OCHA’s Bangui branch, “The presence of child soldiers is evident amongst the ranks of Séléka.” (M.S.)

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