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Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Democratic Republic of the Congo

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2001, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Mainly covers the period June 1998 to April 2001 as well as including some earlier information.

  • Population:
    – total: 50,335,000
    – under-18s: 27,553,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 55,900
  • Compulsory recruitment age: unknown (transitional administration)
  • Voluntary recruitment age: unknown (transitional administration)
  • Voting age for government elections: unknown (transitional administration)
  • Child soldiers: indicated in both government and opposition forces
  • CRC-OP-AC: signed on 8 September 2000; does not support "straight-18" position
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC
  • The UN estimates that 15-30% of all newly recruited combatants in the DRC are children under age eighteen, and a substantial number are under the age of twelve. Both the Congolese Armed Forces and various opposition groups forcibly recruit children. The Rwandan Patriotic Army and the Ugandan People's Defense Force facilitated the recruitment of children by opposition groups in the Eastern DRC, and often oversaw the training of child recruits. Congolese child soldiers known as kadogos or 'little ones', often serve initially as runners, bodyguards, porters or spies and later learn to use arms and serve in combat.


The Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered from a brutal civil war involving the forces of at least eight countries and numerous armed groups. Gross violations of international human rights and humanitarian law have been committed by all parties to the conflict. Laurent Kabila and his Alliance of Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Congo-Zaire, (AFDL) overthrew the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko in 1997 with the help of Rwandan military forces. War broke out in August 1998 when Kabila attempted to expel Rwandan and Ugandan military forces that had helped him to power. Opposition groups supported by Rwandan and Ugandan forces now control over 50 per cent of the territory. Angolan, Namibian and Zimbabwean forces have supported the government. In 1999 these foreign forces signed a cease-fire, but the DRC government and opposition forces were not represented. The armed forces of Burundi also operate in the country against armed Burundi Hutus who use the DRC as a base. By mid-2000, more than 1.3 million Congolese had been displaced by the conflict.558

In January 2001, President Kabila was assassinated by one of his bodyguards, reportedly a child soldier. Kabila has been succeeded by his son Joseph Kabila, who has renewed peace negotiations.559 The disengagement of several countries involved in the conflict is to be monitored by a UN force expected to consist of 3,500 peacekeepers by the end of May 2001.560 UN Security Council Resolution 1341 (2001) called for all armed forces and groups involved in the DRC conflict to bring an effective end to the recruitment and use of children as soldiers and to ensure the speedy demobilisation, return and rehabilitation of such children.561


National Recruitment Legislation and Practice

The Sovereign National Conference initially set 18 as the age for recruitment into military service and participation in hostilities, but the relevant provisions were not included in a transitional constitution subsequently adopted (but now suspended).562 In its report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in August 2000, the government further noted that military criminal code provisions regarding children who take part in hostilities or are recruited into armed forces must be revised in accordance with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice.563

On 9 June 2000, former President Laurent Kabila issued a decree to reduce the Government's use of child soldiers and to curtail forcible conscription of children, but this decree is not believed to have been implemented.564

Child Recruitment and Deployment

The Alliance of Democratic Forces for Liberation (ADFL) under the leadership of Laurent Kabila liberally recruited and used child soldiers during its war against former President Mobutu in 1996-97. It is estimated that more than 10,000 children fought with the ADFL.565 Living conditions in military camps were at times deplorable, in one case resulting in the death of several hundred recruits.566

After 1997, children recruited before the change of regime continued to serve in the government Congolese Armed Forces (FAC), while many others became street children.567 In March 1998 the first training centre was established to target kadogos in a new national service scheme.568 By August the government was urging youths between the ages of 12 and 20 to enlist in response to anti-government insurgency, and soon after some 6,000 youths were sent for military training, many of them street children some reportedly abducted.569 An informal survey of troops in Kinshasa in November 1998 found that one out of fourteen FAC soldiers was under the age of 13.570 FAC continued to forcibly conscript children and in 2001 it was reported that children as young as ten years old have been allowed to enlist despite President Kabila's 9 June 2000 decree.571 There has been no demobilization of child soldiers in the FAC.

The Mai-Mai are a loose association of Congolese local defence forces aligned with government forces. The Mai-Mai, whose name in Swahili means 'water' in reference to the idea that Mai-Mai fighters were protected by magical powers that would turn bullets to liquid, recruited children as young as eight during the 1996-97 uprising. Reports of child recruitment continued into 2001.572


Opposition forces since 1998 consist of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC, estimated strength 18,000) and the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RDC, estimated strength 30,000) which in 1999 split into two factions, the RCD-Goma and the RDC-Liberation Movement (RDC-ML).574 The armed forces of Uganda have supported the RCD-ML and the MLC, and Rwandan forces have supported RCD-Goma.

Child Recruitment and Deployment

The RCD-ML, the RDC-Goma and the MLC have been known to regularly recruit and conscript children. Opposition politicians have claimed that many young recruits join voluntarily, often as orphans seeking protection, food and a place in society. Other sources report that many under18's are recruited forcibly by opposition groups, often with the assistance of Ugandan and Rwandan armed forces.

  • The MLC, RDC-ML and Ugandan forces

The MLC and RCD/ML, supported by the Ugandan People's Defense Force (UPDF), have recruited large numbers children as soldiers. Reports that the UPDF has trained and equipped thousands of young recruits, including many children, continued into 2001.575 During 2000, recruiters for the RCD-ML routinely toured villages in recruitment missions, returning with truckloads of 100 to 200 children and youth aged 13 to 18. UPDF instructors would then provide three to six months of infantry and weapons training at Nyaluke camp, where conditions were so deplorable that many children died before completing the training, due to abuse and lack of health assistance. In particular the UPDF trained hundreds of recruits from the Hema and Lendu ethnic groups at RCD-ML camps in Beni and Bunia. Lendu children, often orphaned by interethnic killing, provide easy targets.576 Throughout 2000 Ugandan forces and RCD groups also abducted many young women from the villages they raided.577

In August 2000 the Ugandan Government transported 693 RCD-ML defectors, including many under the age of 18, to Kampala for military training. In mid-February 2001 the Ugandan Government granted UNICEF full access to the training camp and agreed to release those under the age of 18.578 The 163 children identified, including three girls, are to be rehabilitated and reunified with their families.579

  • The RCD-Goma and Rwandan forces

In March 1999, RCD leader Ernest Wamba dia Wamba stated, "We want to make sure that the age of recruitment doesn't go beyond the accepted age of 18". He promised to speak with opposition military commanders to ensure no children under the age of 18 were recruited or deployed, and that young recruits would be 'eased out' of the military.581 In May 2000 the RDC-Goma announced a decision to create an inter-departmental commission for the demobilisation and social rehabilitation of the Congolese National Army child soldiers.582 However child recruitment continued into 2001, with no indication of under-18's being demobilised.583

The RCD/Goma is supported by Rwandan forces which have not only sent reinforcements including voluntarily and forcibly recruited children, but have also assisted in recruitment drives and military training.584 Child recruits include both Rwandans and citizens of the DRC who are press-ganged or kidnapped by the RDC-Goma and the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA). In 2001 Human Rights Watch reported the RPA and the RDC-Goma's systematic abduction of children and young men from roadsides, markets and their homes in Eastern DRC.585 Children were reportedly often sent unarmed into battle as a diversionary force, resulting in large numbers of casualties. According to the US Department of State many young women were also abducted throughout 2000.586 The UN estimated that at Mushaki, a training camp in Masisi, more than 60% of 3000 newly trained soldiers were under age eighteen.587 The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DRC reported to the Commission on Human Rights that children between the ages of 9 and 13 had been recruited into the RPA and used as human shields, and that about 300 had been recruited in Congolese territory and sent to Kigali for training.588

Despite this evidence the RCD-Goma claimed in December 2000 that its commanders had been instructed not to recruit children and denied that such recruitment was occurring. Instead it was claimed the RCD-Goma had "inherited" child soldiers recruited by the late President Kabila. These previously recruited child soldiers are also known to have been trained by Rwandan forces.590

  • Other foreign support

The exiled Rwandan Interahamwe Hutu militia is also thought to be associated with armed groups in the DRC. In the ranks of the Interahamwe are Kenyan street boys recruited with the assistance of Kenyan agents. Sources say payments of $500 are made for every 150 street boys delivered to armed groups and their agents. The children are typically lured in with offers of money, well-paying jobs and good living conditions in Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. The Interhamwe reportedly began recruiting Kenyan children in February 1999, reaching highest recruitment levels between May and August as Kenyan authorities prepared for the Common Market for East and Southern Africa meeting by arresting Nairobi street children, who became particularly vulnerable to recruitment offers.591


International Standards

The DRC signed the CRC-OP-CAC on 8 September 2000 but does not uphold the "straight-18" principle.

UN bodies

In February 2001 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1341 (2001) calling for all armed forces and groups involved in the DRC conflict to bring an effective end to the recruitment and use of children as soldiers and to ensure the speedy demobilisation, return and rehabilitation of such children.592 The Commission on Human Rights passed a resolution in April 2001 expressing concern at the continued recruitment of child soldiers throughout the DRC, including cross-border recruitment. The CHR called for an immediate end to this practise and welcomed the commitment by the Government of the DRC to co-operate with UN agencies and NGOs to ensure the demobilisation and reintegration of child soldiers.593

558 HRW, World Report 2001, December 2000, p.40.

559 CNN.Com, "In breakthrough, peace talks chief to meet Congo's Kabila,. 10/03/01.

560 CNN.Com, "Deadline tests pledged pullback in Congo", 15/03/01.

561 UN Security Council Resolution 1341 (2001), 22/02/01, para. 10.

562 Initial Report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/3/Add.57, para. 177.

563 Ibid.

564 US Department of State, County Reports on Human Rights Practices 2000: Congo, Democratic Republic, February 2001.

565 Braekman, C., "La Debabcle de l'armee qui suivaient Kabila sont aujourd'hui livres eux-memes: Mulume, enfant-soldat du Congo, condamne a mort", Le Soir, 15/04/98.

566 Report on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the Special Rapporteur Mr. Roberto Garreton, as per UN Commission on Human Rights Resolution 1997/58, UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/65, 30/01/98.

567 Ibid.; HRW Press Release, "HRW condemns recruitment of child soldiers in Congo", 11/08/98.

568 Spitzer, S, "Kabila .assimile' ses militaires", Jeune Afrique, No. 1946, 28 April-4 May 1998.

569 IRIN-CEA, "DRC: Hate radio re-emerges as rebels push toward Bunia", 12/08/98; and IRIN-CEA, Update No. 522, 13/10/98.

570 HRW, DCR Casualties of War: Civilians, Rule of Law and Democratic Freedoms, HRW, New York, 1999.

571 US Department of State, op. cit.

572 Ibid.

573 AFP, "Dieudonne, 16 ans, soldat rebelle et veteran", 8 October 1998.

574 IISS, The Military Balance 2000/2001, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

575 HRW, World Report 2001, p.41.

576 AI, "Child recruitment in the Eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo", April 2001.

577 US Department of State, op. cit.

578 UNICEF applauds agreement with Uganda on child soldiers, 13/02/01.

579 IRIN, "Uganda: Congolese child soldiers identified in Kyankwanzi", 20/02/01.

580 HRW, "Left to the vultures: children and adults forcibly recruited as soldiers in RCD-Goma held areas of North Kivu", March 2001.

581 Reuters, "Congolese rebels plan to demobilise child soldiers", 01/03/99.

582 BBC, "NGOs welcome rebel move on demiblisation of child soldiers", 29/05/00.

583 Ibid.

584 AI, Annual Report 2000: Rwanda, AI, London.

585 HRW, "Left to the vultures: children and adults forcibly recruited as soldiers in RCD-Goma held areas of North Kivu", March 2001.

586 US Department of State, Op Cit.

587 Information provided by Human Rights Watch.

588 E/CN.4/2000/42, para. 106.

589 Reuters, "Child soldiers fight war in Eastern Congo", 9 February 1999.

590 HRW, "Left to the vultures: children and adults forcibly recruited as soldiers in RCD-Goma held areas of North Kivu", March 2001.

591 East African Standard, "Kenyan street boys join war in Congo", 19 March 2000.

592 UN Security Council Resolution 1341 (2001), 22 February 2001, para. 10.

593 Commission on Human Rights, Resolution 2001/19, Situation of human rights in the DRC, UN Doc. E/CN.4/RES/2001/19, 20 April 2001.

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