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Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Burundi

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 2001
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2001 - Burundi, 2001, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
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: 6,565,000
    – under-18s: 3,502,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active:40,000
    – paramilitary: 6,500
  • Compulsory recruitment age: 16
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 16
  • Voting age (government elections): 18
  • Child soldiers: indicated – up to 14,000 in government and opposition armed forces
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: ACRWC; CRC; GC/API+II.
  • Up to 14,000 children have taken part in the civil war in Burundi. Since the August 2000 peace agreement, which explicitly protects children, fighting between government and opposition forces has continued and both sides have reportedly recruited children as young as 12, often from refugee and regroupment camps. There are also unconfirmed reports of the recruitment of young Kenyan youths and of young children being sent to fight in the Democratic Republic of Congo.293


Since 1993, there has been a civil war in Burundi between the Tutsi-dominated security forces and allied armed groups, and Hutu-dominated armed opposition groups. In August 2000, the government and other groups signed a peace agreement mediated by Nelson Mandela which explicitly mentions child protection. However, several parties signed with reservations, and the two main armed opposition groups, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD) with the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) and the Front de Liberation Nationale (FNL), declined to join the peace process. The latest peace summit ended in February 2001 without progress.294 On 24 February 2001 the FNL launched the biggest offensive in Burundi's seven-year old civil war.295 Burundi Hutu armed groups, especially the FDD, have also supported Hutu forces in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2000, both Burundian armed forces and armed groups increased their involvement in the Congolese war.


National Recruitment Legislation

Article 50 of the constitution states that it is a call of duty for every citizen to participate in the defence of the country.296 The age of compulsory recruitment is between 16 and 25, however the government of Burundi has stated that in practice no one under 18 is recruited. The minimum age for voluntary enlistment is similarly 16, with a maximum age of 25 on the date of enlistment. The government has attempted no qualification regarding the actual practice of accepting volunteers who are under 18. On the contrary it reported in 1998 that in recent years the armed forces had been rapidly increasing in size and 'getting younger'.297

In 1996 Burundi established compulsory civic service for all young persons who have completed secondary school, usually at the age of 18 (Decree No. 1/005, 1 December 1996). According to the UN Special Rapporteur, while this civic service "has appreciably reduced the hold of extremist groups over young people and is a positive step", it in fact bears more of a military than a civilian stamp.298 In early 1999 the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, obtained agreement from the Burundian government to raise the minimum recruitment age from 16 to 18 in legislation.299 One month later the Burundian representative at the African Conference to Stop the Use of Children as Soldiers claimed that the government had always respected an 18 year age limit for recruitment into its armed forces, although prior to 1996 it was true that some children under 18 had joined military forces. The government then pledged to respect and observe all international norms and standards.300 However, by September 2000 the government of Burundi still had not taken legislative measures to raise the minimum recruitment age.301

Child Recruitment and Deployment

It is widely agreed that children under 18 have been recruited in substantial numbers by government allied forces since the start of the civil war. Estimates of the number of children recruited by the armed forces vary considerably, from a low of 2,000 to a high of 14,000.302 According to a 1998 DCI-Burundi report the regular armed forces included between 800 and 1,000 children between the ages of 14 and 17.303

In its report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child the Government acknowledged the use of children by armed groups, identifying several categories of children. Children under 15 years old, called doria (meaning 'ear agent' in Kirundi), have been used to collect and provide information. Others perform domestic services in exchange for food. A third group are children known as "Keepers of the Peace" – former child soldiers who convert to radical non-violence. Finally there are children under 18 who are forcibly recruited or who volunteer to join armed groups. Many are recruited in refugee camps abroad, in raids on schools or in displaced persons' camps within Burundi. Students are particularly targeted for their ability to be trained quickly. Most children in armed groups have learned how to handle weapons.304

Other sources have reported that even those children serving as spies and domestics live and work close to combatants and are fully integrated into the military environment.305 In July 2000 Human Rights Watch reported that the doria – some as young as 12 years old – not only spy in the camps for soldiers but also participate in looting and serve as lookouts, scouts and porters. In return they receive food and clothing and sometimes a small part of the goods looted.306

Other observers have reported that children are often forced to assist troops by carrying food and water into the hills and carrying out domestic activities in the military camps. They not only wear military uniforms but are taught to use weapons.307 The youngest reported doria, no more than eight years of age, was seen in Kigosi (Kirundo province, North-East). Burundians often claim that children look younger than their age due to malnutrition.308

The US State Department reported the continuing use of children for forced labour by the Burundian armed forces in 2000. Frequent targets were civilians living in 'regroupment camps' established by the government primarily to distance armed groups from civilian supporters. Human Rights Watch reported that the armed forces "frequently exacted unpaid labour from residents and forced both adults and children to accompany them as guides or porters, including through areas where there was a high risk of rebel attack.... Soldiers supposedly protecting several camps raped women or coerced them into providing sexual services against their will."309 President Buyoya agreed to close the camps due to international criticism. By October 2000 only 'temporary' regroupment camps remained.

Government Treatment of Suspected Child Soldiers

The Burundian government has also imprisoned and tortured children – many accused of collaborating with armed opposition groups – for long periods without charge or trial. Some of those arbitrarily accused of being collaborators and detained have been as young as 12, despite the legal minimum age of 13 for detainment.310 In January 2000 a new code of penal procedure went into effect which guarantees the accused access to legal counsel before trial. However due to lack of resources the reforms were not widely implemented.311

Military Training and Military Schools

The many military schools or 'training centres' in the country also facilitate child recruitment. It is believed that the minimum age of entrants is between ages 13 and 16 at training schools; between 14 and 17 at schools for corporals and warrant officers; and between ages 17 and 20 at the Institut Supérieur des Cadres Militaires. An estimated total of over 36,000 children are in military schools, and all are believed to be members of the armed forces.312 However, Burundian authorities claim applicants at the Institut Supérieur des Cadres Militaires must be over 20.313


Hutu opposition consists of three political movements, each with its own armed branch.314 The National Council for the Defence of Democracy (CNDD, est. 1,000), with the Forces for the Defence of Democracy (FDD, est. 10,000) was established in 1994. The Party for the Liberation of the Hutu People (Palipehutu), with the Front for National Liberation (FNL, est. 2,000-3,000) was established in 1980 and operates mainly from the DRC and Tanzania. The Umbumwe, with the Front de Liberation Nationale (FROLINA), was established in the late 1980s. Since 1998, Hutu armed groups have reportedly been supported by Hutu forces in Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Angolan armed group UNITA also allegedly supported the CNDD with weapons and training.315

Child Recruitment and Deployment

Hutu opposition groups are known to recruit children as soldiers, including both boys and girls under 15. Vulnerable children, such as street children, are often targeted. At the start of the conflict between 3,000 and 5,000 children under 18 were sent to the Central African Republic, Rwanda and Tanzania for training. Opposition groups also reportedly recruit fighters, including children, from five refugee camps in western Tanzania.316 In one recent case, teenage Burundian refugees between the ages of 13 and 19 were arrested along with 141 adults for attempting to enter Burundi from Tanzania to attend military training by the CNDD-FDD. Minors were given a reduced prison sentence of three months.317 Furthermore, in July 2000 FNL fighters were also accused of killing, raping, and recruiting children from regroupment camps in Burundi.318 Throughout 2000 opposition forces also continued to use children for forced labour.319

Many young boys are used as spies and sent to the camps of the regular forces, while girls become the property of particular fighters and are used for domestic labour and sex. Typically lacking sufficient training, the children are often massacred in combat. Many families who initially gave their children to opposition groups later refused to continue and were subsequently targeted in punitive attacks.320

Burundian Hutu armed groups, along with Rwandan Hutu armed groups, have also reportedly lured Kenyan street boys into their ranks. Sources say that over $500 is paid for every 150 street boys delivered to the armed groups and their agents. The children are also typically lured with offers of money, well-paid jobs and good living conditions in Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. Many of these children became particularly vulnerable between May and August 1999 when Kenyan authorities were arresting and clearing Nairobi of street children in preparation for the meeting of the Common Market for East and Southern Africa.321 An NGO set up as a street children's feeding programme headed by a Burundian Hutu bishop was implicated in the scandal, reportedly dispatching some 700 children to armed groups and funding Hutu armed groups in both Burundi and Kenya.322


Appeals from the International Community

The UN has made several appeals to the Burundian government on behalf of child soldiers since 1998. The UN Special Rapporteur on Burundi specifically asked Burundian authorities "not to recruit young people under 18 years of age for the army or mandatory civic service and to ensure that such recruitment is never imposed by force and that it includes all the ethnic components of the population without distinction." He has also asked the Government "to prosecute the instigators of practices comparable with forced labour and the use of 'regroupment' camp residents in tasks of a military nature."323 The UN Commission on Human Rights also adopted Resolution 1998/82 on the 'situation of human rights in Burundi' in which it "expresses its concern at the forcible recruitment and kidnapping of children by non-governmental armed groups, and invites the Government of Burundi to take measures to combat that trend, having in mind the non-militarization of Burundian society, particularly the children." The Special Representative of the UN-Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, has continued to pressurise the government of Burundi to raise the minimum age of recruitment in legislation as it has promised. Armed opposition groups have not made any pledges regarding the non-recruitment of child soldiers.

293 Information provided by a reliable source that requests confidentiality, 1999.

294 BBC news online, "Burundi: 30,000 flee fighting in capital", 27/2/01.

295 BBC World News, "Burundi fighting leaves 200 dead", 12/3/01.

296 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit.

297 Initial Report of Burundi to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, 31/7/98. UN doc. CRC/C/Add.58 para. 230, 47.

298 Ibid, para 232; UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/72 of 13/2/98, para. 62.

299 UN Protection of children affected by armed conflict, Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, 1/10/99. UN Doc. A/54/430.

300 Statement of the Burundian Government, African Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers, Maputo, 19/4/99.

301 DCI-Burundi, Rapport redige par Defense des Enfant-International suite au rapport initial soumis par le gouvernement du Burundi devant le Comite des Droits de l'Enfant, 18/9/00.

302 Information supplied by Gervais Abayeho, Consultant Researcher, CSC.

303 DCI-Burundi, Etude sur la genese de la crise burundais et implication des enfants dans le conflit, arme, Bujumbura, 3/98.

304 Burundi report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, op. cit., para 231.

305 Jesuit Refugee Service-Burundi, 1/99.

306 HRW, "Emptying the Hills: regroupment camps in Burundi", 7/00.

307 Association Nationale pour la Communication et l'Education aux droits de l'Homme (ACEDH).

308 Information supplied by a reliable source requesting confidentiality.

309 HRW Report 2001.

310 AI Report 2000.

311 HRW op. cit.

312 Gervais Abayeho op. cit; ACEDH, op. cit.

313 Statement of the Burundian Government op. cit.

314 Horeman and Stolwijk op. cit; Balencie and de la Grange op. cit.

315 Haverman, J., "Burundi", European Platform for Conflict Prevention and Transformation, 11/00; IISS 2001.

316 Associated Press, "Burundi rebels recruiting refugees", 19/1/00.

317 Radda Barnen Children of War Newsletter No. 2/00, "Child refugees heading for military training", 7/00.

318 HRW, "Emptying the Hills",19/7/00.

319 US Department of State, Burundi Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2000.

320 DCI-Burundi, op. cit.

321 East African Standard, "Kenyan street boys join war in Congo", 19/3/00.

322 East African Standard, "Burundi bishop in child soldier saga", 20/3/00.

323 UN Doc. E/CN.4/1998/72 of 13/2/98, paras. 91 and 92.

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