Wednesday April 14, 2004
became child soldiers in the ethnic conflict in the northeastern
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) face rejection when they come home, a
UN official warns.
"The boys won't have too many problems, but the girls,
who are no longer virgins, who even have children, are not
marriageable," Christine Peduto, a UN expert on child rotection here,
adding: "And their parents won't get a dowry. Their families won't
Nor will the fighters who got them pregnant. "Very few
have managed to form relationships," Peduto said.
About 6,000 former child soldiers are awaiting UN help to
rejoin civilian life in the troubled Ituri region, where two rival tribes,
the Hemas and the Lendus, continued to fight each other even after wider
national peace pacts were signed for the DRC in 2002.
Some 4,700 UN soldiers are deployed in several towns in the
area, where the fighting has drawn in soldiers from a UN peacekeeping
mission and where a Kenyan military observer was shot dead in February.
Some village communities must bear part of the blame for
the children's fate. Children as young as 10 have been "donated"
to the militia groups to act as guards, porters and sometimes fighters,
according to the United Nations.
The children now have to be separated from the adults in
order to break the chain of command, and then be reintegrated into
Held since December in regroupment centres, the former
child soldiers and about 9,000 adult militiamen have received no aid while
they wait for a promised UN-supervised reintegration procedure to begin.
"They are beginning to get restless, and of course
survive by extortion activities in nearby communities," an official
of the UN mission in the DRC (MONUC) said.
Some are still at large, surviving in the bush.
A locally elected "interim coordinator" said the
number of former fighters awaiting disarmament would likely rise to some
50,000, though MONUC disputes the figure.
Colonel Laurent Banal, an UN official in DRC, told AFP:
"The military situation is frozen on the national level, there is no
integrated army yet."
This means former militiamen who wish to build a future
within the military face an uncertain future and that those fed up with
fighting are still waiting to be reintegrated into society.
The next stage will be to set up so-called transit sites
for former militia members where each individual's future path can be
decided in detail, he said. The apparent inertia has exacerbated the deep
mistrust between the Hemas and the Lendus.
"But the international community can't do
everything," Banal said. "We are waiting for the transitional
authorities in Kinshasa to get involved."
Reintegration has to take place in several stages. The
first, which involves building awareness within the armed groups and
communities, has already begun, Banal said.
A 10-year-old nicknamed "Mortar 60" is among the
lucky former child soldiers. He is already back in school, having home to
take care of his father, who has since died, and is now with his mother.
(c) 1999- The Children and Armed Conflict Unit