The fighting in the Eastern DRC has left over five million
people dead. Thousands of women have been brutally raped and thousands of
children have been abducted as child soldiers.
One of the organizations working to rehabilitate
and reintegrate child soldiers is Save the Children. Jasmine Whitbread, the CEO
of Save the Children UK, has just returned from Eastern DRC. From London, she
spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about whether the
recent peace deal has actually brought peace to the region.
"I was in Goma in Eastern DRC and the peace
process that exists on paper is really not there on the ground. It was very
concerning to see the escalation in violence and the huge displacements of
people that have been going on in the last few months. The stories from some of
the children, in fact, who had escaped from the fighting, who had been abducted
and forced to fight as soldiers, were all very shocking," she says.
Whitbread tells the story of some of the child
soldiers. “These two boys, they had actually been on a boy scout training camp.
And they’d been very ironically learning life saving procedures.… And they had
been abducted along with eight boy scouts in total and their leader. And they’d
been taken to fight on the front line, as they call it, with a rebel group, and
they had just escaped three weeks ago. They’d been out fighting for six months
and it was really distressing to hear their stories. Their other friends, boy
scouts, two of them died actually fighting and two others had died carrying
very heavy loads through the bush. It was a very hard life,” she says.
The former child soldiers said they were forced
to do horrible things. “These boys described how they’d been forced to kill
people, to loot villages, terrorize villages. And they were clearly extremely
distressed. They knew that was a terrible thing to have done. They really felt
awful about it, but what they were most concerned about was although they had
managed to escape, they had left other children behind,” she says.
She says there were both girls and boys in their
Whitbread says reintegrating former child
soldiers into society can be a long and difficult process.
“Save the children is running one of the largest,
if not the largest, child soldier reunification programs in Eastern DRC, with
hundreds, if not thousands, of children on our case books.… And the question
is, what do you do with these children? They’ve seen and been party to some
really horrific atrocities. What kind of future do those children have?”
Save the Children provides them with
psychological counseling and material support. The boys she spoke of were
placed in a foster family near Goma. Whitbread acknowledges the family was
nervous about taking them in. “But they felt it was the right thing to do to
give these children a chance,” she says. After a while, the foster farther
said, “”We realized they were just children.”