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UN: Recruitment of Child Soldiers in Congo on Rise

The United Nations Children's Fund says the recruitment of child soldiers is on the rise in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. UNICEF says the escalation of conflict and upheaval of people from their homes and shelters is leading to further violations of human rights.

The UNICEF Representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pierrette Vu Thi, says every time there is an upsurge of fighting in the Congo, there is also an upsurge in violence against children.

"In particular in the area of recruitment of child soldiers into the armed groups and also in sexual violence, mostly on women and girls, but not only. And, we are very concerned about that because when this happens again with this latest upsurge in fighting and we are concerned about the impact of this," said Vu Thi.

UNICEF says children, some as young as nine, are being recruited by all armed groups - by government and rebel forces alike. Over the past few years, the agency has succeeded in getting armed groups in North Kivu to release about 10,000 child soldiers.

But in an interview from Kinshasa, Vu Thi tells VOA many of the children who have been reintegrated into their communities are again being targeted for recruitment by the armed groups.

"Our concern is that with a lot of advocacy and efforts at prevention with the government and also redemption programs, working with community leaders, with religious leaders, with local radio, etc., we were making an impact in terms of prevention, but now with the recurrence of the fighting, that this is all going the other way," she said.

Vu Thi says all the gains that have been made over the last four years, now are at risk of being lost. She says armed groups find it easier and more productive to re-recruit children who have already been trained as soldiers than to invest in having to teach new recruits the discipline of soldiering.

UNICEF reports rampant sexual violence and exploitation are taking place with impunity in villages and sites for internally displaced people. It says women and girls of all ages are raped in the fields and in their homes.