The UN says more than 80 children recruited as soldiers by an armed group in the Democratic Republic of Congo have been rescued in the past few days.
Some of the children are as young as eight years of age.
The UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO) says 82 youngsters, including 13 girls, have been separated from their recruiters by local child protection agencies in the southeastern province of Katanga over the past week.
In a statement issued on Friday, MONUSCO said the children, aged eight to 17, had reportedly been recruited by force over the past six months by the Mai Mai Bakata-Katanga militia, who are active in the restive province.
The DRC's southern province of Katanga is rich in raw materials but the population hardly benefits and calls for independence are growing. Plans for political decentralization could help defuse the situation. (15.04.2013)
Forty of the rescued children "were immediately reunited with their families, while the remaining are receiving interim care pending reunification," the statement said.
MONUSCO estimates that 163 children have been separated from Mai Mai Bakata-Katanga fighters since the beginning of the year.
Mission head Martin Kobler said the UN was "extremely concerned" about ongoing reports of armed groups actively recruiting children in the east of DR Congo.
"Children face unacceptable risks when they are recruited for military purposes," he said, adding that recruiting children, particularly those under 15 years of age, could be a war crime.
Katanga, a province rich in mineral resources, is regularly swept by secessionist violence. Tensions have risen over the past few months, with the Bakata-Katanga protesting at what it sees as an unfair distribution of wealth between the province's poorer north and the richer south, where foreign firms operate.
In March, clashes between army troops and the militia group, including child soldiers, claimed 26 lives in the provincial capital of Lubumbashi.
tj/jm (AFP, dpa)