Armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have attacked a school in a bid to recruit child soldiers.
Save the Children knows of two recent incidents in which schoolchildren have been targeted. The children’s charity says the attacks are part of an explosion in child recruitment over the past few weeks.
On 26 October an armed group attacked a secondary school in Shasha, seven kilometres outside Sake. Twelve children escaped but one was killed.
In another incident near Masisi on 10 October, seven children and three teachers were abducted after an armed group waited for them outside the school. They were held for two days before managing to escape.
Recruitment of children has taken place in Singa in Rutshuru, and children in Masisi have been forced to carry weapons and ammunition. Save the Children is caring for several children who have escaped from armed groups.
“There has been an explosion in the number of children being recruited since the latest violence began and the attacks on schoolchildren are a disturbing development,” said Ishbel Matheson, Save the Children spokesperson in eastern DRC. “One child told me that they are scared to go back to school for fear of being attacked. For these children, getting an education is their only hope for the future. If they can’t go to school they lose that hope.”
The conflict in the DRC has a terrible history of targeting children. Boys are forced to fight and girls are taken as ‘wives’ by soldiers. Before the most recent upsurge in violence an estimated 3,000 children were being held by armed groups. That number is now expected to soar.
Save the Children has been working in the DRC since 1994 and is running one of the world’s largest programmes to reintegrate child soldiers into their communities. In the last year the charity has helped 2,200 children out of armed groups and reunited most of them with their families. Many of these children will now be at risk of being re-recruited into the fighting.
“For these children it is a recurring nightmare,” said Ishbel Matheson. “Children who are forced into armed conflict suffer terrible physical and emotional damage. They are traumatised by being separated from their families and may witness executions, beatings and torture. Many young girls now have babies.
“We have been working with these children to reunite them with their families or find them foster families to live with. But in the current upsurge in violence many of these children will be re-taken by armed groups.”
Save the Children is calling for all groups to end the recruitment of children in line with January’s Goma Peace Agreement. The charity is also acting to identify unaccompanied children in Eastern DRC and reunite them with their families. So far 250 unaccompanied children have been found since the recent fighting began.