Impact at a Glance
Disarmament, Demobilization & Reintegration – DDR
Community Members Sensitized
National Stakeholders &
33 Youth Associations
Trained on Prevention of Child Recruitment into Armed Groups
Supported with Cash-based Interventions to Set up Small Businesses
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has suffered decades of inter-ethnic and militia group violence precipitating deaths, widespread displacements, destruction of livelihoods and infrastructure. The violence, particularly in the Eastern provinces has seen use of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) as a weapon of war. Coupled with recruitment of children into militia groups and the mining industry that has fueled instability, social economic decline and human right abuses have sadly become the norm in Eastern DRC.
Eastern DRC is said to have more than 130 active armed groups particularly in North Kivu, South Kivu, and Ituri provinces that have been responsible for violence, deaths, and general community instability. Although there is no precise data on the number child soldiers in the 130 active armed groups, the UN documented 6,168 children (549 girls, 5,619 boys) recruited by 49 different armed groups or militia in DRC. A few interventions have been made to bring peace and development in the Eastern DRC and key among them is the DDR activities.
Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) of both adults and child soldiers associated with armed forces and groups is a process that support laying down of weapons and transitioning to civilian life, often times through rehabilitation. According to the UN Peace Keeping, DDR “lays the groundwork for safeguarding and sustaining the communities to which these individuals return, while building capacity for long-term peace, security and development.” DDR goes a long way in stabilizing communities through peace building interventions as no development can take root during instability. Therefore, DDR is at the core of community stability, consolidation of peace and rebuilding and development.
Child Soldier Phenomenon
Children are recruited, often time forcibly, as combatants, messengers, informants, spies, domestic or sexual slaves by militia group leaders. Although many children are forcibly recruited and used by armed forces or groups, others are pushed into joining armed groups or forces due to socio-economic factors such as extreme poverty or a lack of access to education. Children who have never had access to education, those who drop out of school, or those from poor families oftentimes become susceptible to recruitment into armed group, voluntarily or otherwise.
According to US Government Child Soldiers Prevention Act, (CSPA) that seeks to eradicate the phenomenon globally, in their June 2021 CSPA Country Profile states that “DRC has taken steps to address the issue of child soldier use and recruitment, including by signing a U.N. Action Plan in 2012 and establishing a Joint Technical Working Group (JTWG) – composed of government ministries, non-governmental organizations, and international organizations – to oversee its implementation. The DRC has removed child soldiers from the FARDC and transferred a number of them into the care of humanitarian organizations, organized awareness campaigns and age verification workshops, begun screening FARDC recruits to prevent children from joining, and increased investigations and prosecutions for child soldier recruitment.”
It is worth noting that exposure to armed conflict has devastating and long-lasting psychological effects on children and RET has been instrumental in providing psychosocial support during DDR interventions that target adolescent soldiers. Besides psychosocial support, the demobilized child soldiers are rehabilitated and accorded support to resume education or learn trades for ease of reintegration in the community and resilience building and self-reliance. The demobilization of adolescents starts with gathering information on presence of armed groups in a location and whether they have children in their rank and file. The next step involves identifying a local organization operating in the locality RET intends to demobilize from. The identified local organization is contracted to reach out to the armed group leaders or representatives and request a meeting in order to sensitize them on the consequences of recruiting children and request that they allow the children to be children. Once an armed group has accepted to release the children and youth within their group, RET seeks the serves of the FARDC and UEPNDDR who verifies if the released adolescents were members of the armed group and once verified, they are brought to RETs CTO (Center of Transit and Orientation) for rehabilitation.
Since 2012, RET has participated in DDR processes targeting adolescent soldiers in South Kivu (2012-2014) in conflict zones such as Fizi and Kalehe; North Kivu (2015-2020), Walikale, Rutshuru, and Masisi with programs meant to reintegrate former adolescent combatants back into their communities, while preventing future recruitment. The programs have gained recognition by the local Government through the Executive Unit of the National Program of Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (UEPN-DDR), and the national army. To date, RET has implemented 17 successful Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration programs.
RET DDR intervention begins with prevention and sensitization of communities as well as reaching out to armed group leaders through grassroots partners who are community members and well respected by the community. Using the Convention on the Rights of the Child tool and the Child Protection Act 2009, RET has been able to sensitize communities and militia group leaders resulting in the release of children in reached armed groups. RET´s staff are highly experienced in child protection matters, particularly in DDR. Moreover, RET´s staff continually receive training from MONUSCO and EUPNDDR on matters concerning DDR and child protection. They thereafter conduct training for stakeholders in the communities of intervention on issues related to DDR and child protection. Before demobilization takes place, RET starts by informing community members of the intention to seek the release of youth soldiers from armed groups and request their support. RET works closely with the community and has earned respect on account participatory approaches used in engaging the community in project implementation. The rehabilitation at the CTO enables youth to overcome trauma, attain a trade skill, or attend classes which enable them to go back to school or start a small businesses. Meeting the needs of youth or at least filling in the gap that led them to join armed group enables RET to achieve successful reintegration and retention.
Then what follows is the disarmament of child soldiers by FARDC and UEPNDDR, the governmental body responsible for DDR processes. After this step, RET starts the rehabilitation of these ex-combatants in the CTO over a period of three months. During the rehabilitation process the demobilized youth are provided psychosocial and medical support to address the traumas faced while in the armed groups. During the rehabilitation it has been observed that children released from armed groups often display post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. Youth show more emotional and behavioral problems often feeling the need to be perfect and experience headaches, nightmares, worries, stomach aches and suicidal thoughts. The diagnostic criteria for this disorder would be emotional and physiological attachment disorder, reaction and persistent changes in attributions and expectations. To provide the requisite support, RET has a strong team of experienced psychologists, medical, admin, program, social workers, and finance staff ensuring impact and successful outcomes.
Upon completion of the rehabilitation youth are integrated back into their community with a certificate indicating they are no longer associated with armed groups as well as with exit kits to enable them to start a small business. The exit kits are given to youth according to the training they received at the CTO. Youth that decide to return to school receive education materials such as school bags, exercise books, pens, uniforms, and shoes to enable them start their school year. RET also pays their school fees for one year. Youth that have acquired skills in certain trades, such as baking, barber or salon skills receive start-up kits which aid their starting of small business enterprises. For bakery, their kit is composed by wheat flour, sugar, vegetable oil, yeast, casserole, basin, etc. For haircut, the kit is composed by one haircut machine, generator, fuel, mirror, battery, etc for boys and napkins, hair dryer, latex gloves, dye caps, disinfectant wipes, hair clips, brushes and combs for girls to enable them start their IGA back home.
RET’s approach also involves preventing the recruitment of children and youth into armed groups by targeting key stakeholders and community members with specific training and awareness raising activities such as trainings, group discussion, radio, and signing of commitment letters. A sustainable reintegration of the rehabilitated youth is anchored on follow up support in education and trade training of the vulnerable youth within the community. The community also participates in Peace Projects and is also reached through radio broadcasts with peace messages.
RET’s DDR approaches are meant to holistically bring a lasting change in communities affected by child-soldier recruitment. These include:
- Prevention strategies, such as awareness raising amongst non-state armed groups, district, and provincial authorities, and at more grassroots community level. Moreover, RET builds the capacities of local Youth Associations to engage more children and adolescents in positive community activities, as a protection mechanism against recruitment.
- Demobilization of ex-combatants is done in full collaboration with national and local partners (including UEPN-DDR and MONUSCO), with whom RET has collaborated since 2012. MONUSCO has been instrumental in providing training to staff and partners on DDR issues as well as providing escorts during reintegration missions. Once the authorities recognize the youth as demobilized ex-soldiers, they are integrated into RET’s 3-months comprehensive program of ‘reorientation’ in Centres of Transit and Orientation. RET works with COTHPAIX, a local theatre youth association, for the trauma-healing process, alongside fully qualified professional medical and psychological staff. The Centre for Transition (CTO) also provides relevant learning opportunities, providing young people with relevant skills to successfully integrate into their communities. The programs include basic literacy/numeracy; catch-up education for those returning to school, simple trades skills for income-generation.
- A comprehensive and fully supported reinsertion program ensures that ex-combatants are received back into their communities, in school or engage in safe income-generation activities, and engage with Youth Associations.
- Training of parents to form local cooperatives, village savings and loan schemes, and other sustainable business practices complete the circle, as poverty and unemployment are fundamental causes of the continuation of armed activity in the Kivu’s.
RET has directly supported more than 44,000 participants in the Democratic Republic of Congo, including the demobilization and rehabilitation of 1,177 ex-combatants, and indirectly benefited more than 440,000 beneficiaries throughout 17 projects focused on Protection, Education, Peace Stability and Transition (Disarmament, Demobilization & Reintegration programs DDR) and Economic Growth & Development (Vocational Training).
RET has over the years applied a Human Rights based approach in the DDR programs and have also adopted a community-based strategy of involving key stakeholders in the entire DDR process. Stakeholders include relevant government bodies, local authorities, local leaders, religious leaders; school authorities as well as parents and youth associations-who are involved in the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the projects.
- 1,177 combatants rehabilitated, and less than 1% of reinserted ex-combatants re-join armed groups. (Those who re-joined did so under duress and to save their lives)
- Over 90% of ex-combatants reinserted into schools continue to attend school after one year of support.
- 540 stakeholders and 33 Youth associations have been trained on international and national legislation regarding child and adolescent rights, emphasizing the illegality of using “under 18 children” in armed groups.
- Over 85% of trained key stakeholders, including leaders of armed groups, sign letters of commitment to refrain from recruiting or support the prevention of the recruitment of those below 18 in armed groups.
- Over 60 Peace Projects are implemented in collaboration with Youth Associations to positively engage youth and promote peace over violence.
- 32 armed groups have signed letters of disengagement on the recruitment of children in North Kivu.
- More than 40,000 community members have been sensitized to date on peace-building at the community level, providing alternative pathways for vulnerable young people and creating income-generating structures for stability.
- More than 516 parents received cash support to build sustainable livelihoods by setting up small businesses.
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