Friday, December 02, 2016

The girl-soldiers of the DRC

Eastern Congo is plagued by dozens of armed groups that prey on locals and exploit mineral reserves. Millions died between 1996 and 2003 as a regional conflict caused hunger and disease.

Girls in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are joining armed groups because they cannot afford to go to school, while former girl soldiers struggle to return to class amid stigma from their communities, a charity said. Around a third of all children in armed groups in the country are estimated to be girls, who are often married off to militants and are vulnerable to abuse and rape, activists say. While civil society groups have had some success in getting boys out of armed groups and into re-integration programmes, this shame and fear of rejection back home has kept many girls in the bush.
"If we leave the group, we're going to be targeted ... so many girls accept and continue to live with their bush husband," said one of the 150 former girl soldiers interviewed.

Many girls in the region join militia groups to obtain food and money, to seek protection against violence, or because their families cannot afford to pay their school fees, according to a report by Child Soldiers International.

"It is deeply shocking that, because their families cannot afford to pay school fees, some girls see joining an armed group as their only option, and decide to throw themselves in harm's way," said Isabelle Guitard, director of programmes at Child Soldiers International. While primary education is free and compulsory by law, most schools in Congo charge fees for books and uniforms.

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