In a major milestone, the armed forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) have been removed from the United Nations list of state armed forces which recruit and maintain child soldiers. The U.N. Secretary General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, released on 5 October, 2017, highlights trends regarding the impact of conflict on children and provides information on violations committed in 2016. This year, 56 state forces and armed groups across 14 countries were identified. Prior to this year, only Chad had successfully fulfilled requirements to be delisted from the U.N. report.
The decision was welcomed by Jeanine Mabunda, the DRC’s Personal Representative on Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment. “This achievement was made possible by the determined and combined efforts carefully orchestrated across various government organizations, civil society, domestic and international partners and, of course, the United Nations,” said Mabunda.
Listed as a child recruiting member state since 1998, the DRC has enacted several legislative and regulatory measures to address the issue, to include the 2012 signature of an Action Plan adopted under the framework of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1612 (2005) and 1882 (2009). At its signing, then-Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, called the agreement “ambitious”. The DRC’s successful implementation of this action plan facilitated its delisting of the FARDC from the U.N.’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict.
In a formal letter the current Special Representative of the U.N. Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, congratulated the DRC government for their “engagement, mobilization and continuous efforts in implementing the action plan and for having taken all necessary measures in combatting the recruitment and use of children by the FARDC.” She also acknowledged the personal engagement of President Kabila and the Office of the Personal Representative on Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment for progress achieved thus far.
The 5 October report recognizes several initiatives taken by the DRC, including the establishment of a joint technical working group, the validation of standard operating procedures for age verification, establishing screening procedures for new recruits, the implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration, and the provision of multi-sectoral assistance to victims of child recruitment and sexual violence. “I am encouraged that, for the second year in a row, no new case of child recruitment and use by FARDC was documented,” states U.N. Secretary General Guterres within the report.
Isaac Ekulusu, Program Manager for Child Protection at the NGO Les Aiglons, has worked alongside the United Nations, the government of the DRC, and other NGOs to support the protection of children. “The FARDC's delisting for the recruitment and use of child soldiers is the culmination of a long process that demonstrates the commitment of the Congolese government. It is also a testament to the successful collaboration between the DRC’s government and military with international organizations and NGOs,” said Ekulusu.
Between 2003 and 2016, 53,548 children, including 9,485 girls, were withdrawn from the FARDC and various armed groups through the national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) program. Intensive reintegration programs have helped some of these former child soldiers to find new opportunity.
In 2016, the Office of the Personal Representative on Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment led a reintegration program for 1,500 children in North Kivu, in collaboration with the National Institute for Professional Preparation (INPP), the Japanese government, and other private sector partners, to provide vocational training opportunities for former child soldiers and other vulnerable members of the community. Such community-based support reintegrates former child soldiers into local communities, while helping to address the stigma they often face. These efforts also help to prevent the re-recruitment of children.
“Going forward, we are determined to maintain these important gains. Now, we look forward to continuing our collaboration with the U.N. and other partners on the ground to implement an Action Plan to address sexual violence with the goal of instituting tangible, sustainable change so that we may also be delisted from the U.N. Secretary General’s Report on Conflict Related Sexual Violence. After a long legacy of conflict, the DRC is making gains,” said Mabunda.
In 2014, President Joseph Kabila appointed Jeanine Mabunda to serve as Personal Representative in Charge of the Fight against Sexual Violence and Child Recruitment. Over the past two years, her office has worked to fight impunity, resource civilian and military justice systems, provide critical services to victims, empower women and girls, and mobilize society to stop sexual violence in the DRC. Jeune Afrique magazine has named her one of the 50 most influential African women. In May 2016 she was presented with the Better World Award in Monaco for her ongoing humanitarian work.