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

  • Population:
    – total: 2,864,000
    – under-18s: 1,513,000
  • Government armed forces:
    – active: 10,000
    – paramilitary: 2,000
  • Compulsory recruitment age: no conscription
  • Voluntary recruitment age: 18
  • Voting age (government elections): unknown
  • Child soldiers: indicated – more than 6,000 in government forces and armed opposition groups
  • CRC-OP-CAC: not signed
  • Other treaties ratified: CRC; GC/API+II; ILO 138
  • Thousands of children were systematically recruited into government and opposition forces during the civil war in the Congo. Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes have been established since a ceasefire agreement took effect in January 2000. However the programmes did not proceed as quickly as hoped, and so far there have been no reports regarding the demobilisation of children.


Fighting erupted after contested parliamentary elections in 1993 and became full-scale civil war in 1997. After a brief respite, a new cycle of hostilities began in southern Brazzaville in Autumn 1998 and continued until the end of 1999. Government allied forces included Angolan troops, Rwandan Hutu militiamen, and irregular fighters of Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.476 Armed groups included the Cocoye, which unveiled a new political movement called Mouvement National pour la Libération du Congo (National Movement for the Liberation of Congo, NMLC)477 , and the Ninja. Fighting displaced some 800,000 persons and involved serious human rights abuses, including killings, 'disappearances' and rape.478 In November and December 1999 cease-fires were signed between government and Resistance Self-Defence Forces (FAR), a coalition of Cocoye and Ninja groups. The cessation of hostilities held throughout 2000, enabling the return of some 600,000 displaced persons. Armed opposition fighters who surrendered and handed over their weapons were offered amnesty in August, however disarmament and demobilisation did not proceed as hoped. In October 2000 weapons still held by combatants and the task of reintegrating ex-combatants and militias remained major challenges for the peace process.479


National Recruitment Legislation

Article 59 of the 1992 Constitution stipulates that "Every individual shall have the duty to preserve the peace and reinforce the national independence and territorial integrity of the Fatherland and in a general manner, to contribute to the defence of the country, under conditions fixed by law."480 However there has been no conscription since 1969. Enlistment in the armed forces is voluntary, with a minimum recruitment age of 18.481 In March 2001 talks began to draw up a new constitution.482

There is one known military secondary school in the Congo, l'Ecole Militaire Préparatoire. The school was established in Brazzaville in 1956. No information is available regarding entry requirements.483

Child Recruitment and Deployment

During the civil war children were systematically recruited into government supported militias. Between 7,500 and 10,000 people were members of government-sponsored or opposition militia groups during the June-October conflict. Militia groups recruited individuals between ages 15 and 35.484 Many of the teenage fighters were killed in combat.485

The government acknowledged the use of children among the armed forces. In June 1998 the Congolese Foreign Minister claimed that child participation had only become a major issue towards the end of the civil war, when more children under the age of 16 took part in the fighting.486 By April of that year President Sassou Nguesso had agreed to cooperate with UNICEF to open a re-education centre for child soldiers in Brazzaville, by providing UNICEF with premises for this centre.487

However children continued to be used during the 1998-1999 conflict.488 Government soldiers including Cobra militia forces were responsible for rape and summary executions, including orders to kill rebel fighters who had attained the 'age of bearing arms'.489 And by January 2000 children still had reportedly not been demobilised and reintegrated into society. At that time the president of the Association for the Assistance of Women and Children in Need estimated some 6,000 child recruits remained, although earlier estimates suggested the number was much higher.490 By the end of 2000 the US Department of State reported that it was not known whether during the year any child soldiers had been demobilised as required under the 1999 peace agreements.491


Since 1998 Armed groups have included the Cocoye, under the National Movement for the Liberation of Congo, and the Ninja. These two groups later formed a coalition known as the Resistance Self-Defence Forces (FAR).

Child Recruitment and Deployment

Witnesses reported seeing many children among opposition militia as they entered the capital in December 1998. One observer described: "That day, at about 11 am, there was a sudden clamour, clapping. I heard someone say, "They're coming, it's the Ninjas!" I went out and saw young men, not more than 14 or 15 years old, all wearing black shorts, bodies covered with charcoal, a gun in one hand, the bible in the other.492 Information about minors among the Cocoye is not available, but underage recruitment is thought to have taken place among all armed groups.



In October 2000 UNICEF reported that in the Congo "large numbers of desperate, idle and dropout poor adolescents and youth need urgent assistance and guidance. This group also includes the militia youth and child soldiers of which the precise number is not known." UNICEF cited the need for many of these youths to be reintegrated into the school system and employment. In March 2001 the International Organisation for Migration and the UNDP reported that the collection of small arms and ammunitions among former militia fighters was gaining momentum. The reintegration programme run by the IOM and UNDP currently provides assistance to some 3,500 ex-combatants.493 There were no reports regarding underage combatants among this group or special efforts to target them.

476 US Department of State, Republic of the Congo Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2000.

477 Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: Integrated Regional Information Network (IRIN)-Central and Eastern Africa, Update No. 598, 29/1/99.

478 "Congo-Brazzaville: background on militia groups", IRIN Central and Eastern Africa, 17/2/99.

479 UNICEF Humanitarian Action: Republic of Congo, 12/10/00.

480 Text at:

481 Goodwin-Gill and Cohn op. cit.; Brett and McCallin op. cit.

482 BBC News world Service, "Brazzaville reconciliation talks", 17/3/01.

483 Les Ecoles en France et dans le Monde, at (as at March 2001).

484 Bazenguissa-Ganga, R., "Les milices politiques dans les affrontements", Afrique contemporaine, No. 186, 2nd Quarter 1998; Africa Confidential, 24/10/97.

485 Africa Confidential, 24/10/97; Newsweek, 20/10/97.

486 UN Department of Public Information, "Press conference by Foreign Minister of Republic of Congo", 16/6/98.

487 Reuters, "UNICEF chief meets Congo's Sassou", 26/4/98.

488 US Department of State op. cit.

489 "Congo: le bain de sang" Le Point, 9/1/99.

490 BBC World Service, "Brazzaville urges demobilisation of child soldiers", 29/1/00.

491 US Department of State op. cit.

492 Libération, 12 January 1998, unofficial translation.

493 International organisation for Migration Press Briefing Notes, "Republic of Congo – Small arms collection and reintegration of former combatants", 16/3/01.


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