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Children Fight on Front Line of DRC War

Much effort is made to stop the recruitment of child soldiers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, but aid agencies say thousands of children still fight on the front lines of the rebel war. United Nations officials say armed groups enter displacement camps to recruit, or forcibly recruit new fighters. Children who escape often are re-recruited and forced to fight again. Kari Barber reports from eastern Congo on what is being done to prevent child soldiers from re-entering the war.

At age 12 Izawadi Ndahajo says Congolese soldiers abducted him on his way home from school and forced him to fight in their ranks.

He sings about the difficulties child soldiers face.

Now at 17 he is free after the United Nations convinced Congo's government to revamp its military and release child soldiers.

He says, "The children need to know who they are, what their work is, what their rights are. 'I have the right to education. I have the right to protection.' But in the military they have no right to protection. Their rights are stolen."

But thousands of children continue to fight on the rebel side.

And former child soldiers, struggle to reintegrate into society. Alpha Karupala and Samuel Sadiki Kakulu are learning to be mechanics.

In the conflict-torn region, there are few job opportunities for the children and many return to the war.

Samuel says it is not easy, "Life is difficult. It is a life of fighting. First, I was abducted and fought with the government, then later with the Mai-Mai rebels and then with the government again."

Joachim Fikiri Kifungo runs a local organization called Pami that has helped hundreds of boys to return to civilian life.

Kifungo says the kids have done undescrible crimes, but he wants to offer them hope.

"They have done very bad things like rape and pillaging," he says. "Often when the children want to return, the neighbors resist or the family is afraid of having a child living with them that is considered by others to be a criminal."

Rain leaks through the tin roof of the house that Izawadi Ndahajo shares with 12 family members.

He says he hopes child soldiers might hear his songs and be encouraged to escape.

Meanwhile, the war between the Congolese government and rebel groups is becoming more intense. And recruitment continues.