News / Africa

Rwanda Demobilizes Some Child Soldiers

Former child soldiers begin reintegration process at Mutobo camp, Oct. 7, 2013. (Photo: Margaret Besheer for VOA)
Former child soldiers begin reintegration process at Mutobo camp, Oct. 7, 2013. (Photo: Margaret Besheer for VOA)
Margaret Besheer
Over the past 16 years, Rwanda has demobilized some 3,000 child soldiers. Yet as these efforts continue, the United Nations claims that Kigali has been helping a Congolese rebel group, the M23, recruit children in Rwanda to send to fight in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.
When Nizeyimani was a toddler, his parents left post-genocide Rwanda for the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. They died there when he was four years old. When he was 12, he was abducted in the refugee camp where he lived by soldiers from the Rwandan Hutu group, the FDLR, and taken to live in the bush with the rebels. He says life was very difficult, and those who tried to escape were caught and killed.
A relative eventually helped him to make his way to the U.N. peacekeeping mission, MONUSCO, which works with the government of Rwanda to help disarm its nationals who are combatants in the eastern DRC.
Former FDLR fighters are first sent to the Mutobo demobilization camp where ex-fighters -- both men and boys -- stay for three months. This is where Nizeyimani began the process of reintegrating into Rwandan society. Former child soldiers are then sent to a rehabilitation center, where they receive counseling and medical screening and resume basic school studies while efforts are made to find their relatives.
Mutobo Demobilization Camp in Rwanda, Oct. 7, 2013. (Photo: Margaret Besheer for VOA)
Mutobo Demobilization Camp in Rwanda, Oct. 7, 2013. (Photo: Margaret Besheer for VOA)
Yet while Rwanda is working to help its own children come home, the head of MONUSCO's child protection section in Kinshasa, Dee Brillenburg Wurth, claims it is deliberately and systematically recruiting others to fight for the M23. Some of the children that have been recruited are as young as 11 years old. While MONUSCO cannot work outside of Congo, Brillenburg Wurth said they have anecdotal evidence that Rwanda is actively recruiting children.
“We know from children -- and this corroborated by other children and by adults -- that children are being recruited for example, we had an example of a football coach, of a police officer. At the beginning they told us they had this system in place, like a pyramid scheme; $5 for every child that was recruited,” explained Brillenburg Wurth.
She says that out of 122 children interviewed, 37 were Rwandan. Some were recruited in their country, others in Congo. Some thought they were being recruited by the Rwandan army, while others did not even know they were in the DRC.
“Many of them were abducted… this is very, very common with any armed group... You go and loot or you need to carry your arms from A to B, you just take kids from the villages and they don't let them go back. Most of the children, in fact nearly all of them, started their life as a M23 child carrying stuff from the Rwandan border,” continued Brillenburg Wurth
Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo vehemently denied that Rwanda recruits children.
“Our track record in terms of military is very clear: Rwanda does not tolerate children being enrolled in any way near armed groups, not in our own army,” stated Mushikiwabo.
She said that once the crisis in the eastern Congo is resolved and armed groups are eliminated, the recruitment of child soldiers will end as well.
The United States has exerted its own pressure on Rwanda, recently blocking military aid to Kigali over its recruitment of child soldiers.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Nyabirungu from: Kigali
October 09, 2013 1:44 AM
Indeed it's unfortunate that pple charged with peacekeeping turn around to be drumming up drums of war in the region with wrong information! If Rwanda since around 1996 started what was called Kadogo Schools to demobilize child soldiers from its army and has been doing the same with children frm FDLR, how come that the same country is placed in the same basket with countries like Burma, Yemen, CAR etc? This is the highest order of diplomatic treason!
In Response

by: Dan from: Kigali
October 10, 2013 4:57 AM
For all of Margaret Besheer's time spent analyzing Eastern Congo, I would expect a much more balanced perspective of such deeply unfounded "claims." (Associating Rwanda today with Child Soldiers is an act of treason). She has little idea of what she's talking about. These claims are unfounded, lack credibility and stems from continued backroom propaganda to destabilize Rwanda. The UN higher ups have little by little spoon fed this propanda mandate to its VOA correspondents with an agenda to use Rwanda as a scape goat to their own inability to bring peace and stability despite a 1.5B annual budget in the region. In other news Mrs. Bresheer has thought that the intervention brigade would be a potential "game changer" to the region. Simply pathetic. And how will the UN skew whatever data they'll get from those tens of millions being spent on drones flying over the jungle. The UN has lost its credibility. The "root problem" of Eastern Congo is primarily Kabila, who lets it's own army rape and pillage its own citizens (Even 126 women at one time last November!). Time for a balanced opinion and stop associating Rwanda with Child Soldiers. Embarressment to the credibility of your own organization and an embarressment to yourself. Ask any professional expat living in Rwanda for an extended period of time and they'll explain how ridiculous these assumptions are. The government and army are highly disciplined and wouldn't risk the political back fall of being associated with child soldiers. People who truly know the situation in Eastern DRC will give far more balanced opinions than Mrs. Besheer whose likely sitting in a comfortable New York office skimming through skewed UN reports making gross assumptions about a situation she actually knows very, very, little about.

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs