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Thursday 4th of June 2020

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United Nations report: Girls in armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Friday 29th of January 2016
Juvenile Justice in the world

In November 2015, United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the DR Congo (MONUSCO) published its second report on children associated with armed groups, entitled “Invisible Survivors: Girls in Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo From 2009 to 2015”. The report offers statistics from data collected between the adoption of the 2009 Child Protection Law – prohibiting child recruitment under DRC Law – and May 2015. Although fewer girls than boys are recruited, this report pays particular attention to their specific ordeals. Armed groups’ female members are often subjected to additional forms of abuse, such as sexual exploitation and other types of gender-based violence.

Of particular interest is Section 5 of the report, which elaborates on the ‘invisibility’ of girls in armed groups. Although there is ample evidence that girls under 18 are being recruited, it remains very difficult to estimate just how many of them find themselves in this dangerous situation. There are a number of possible reasons for this lack of adequate data, including group leaders’ reluctance to communicate that there are women and girls under their command, fear of social stigma, and the fact that it is more difficult for girls to escape and report their captivity owing to pregnancy or responsibility for young children.

The report also confirms that a large majority of girls do not enter armed groups voluntarily, but are instead forced to join after being abducted, initially lured into a group with false promises or after being pressurized by peers, family or traditional authorities. Based on hundreds of testimonies, Section 7 of the report clarifies that few girls are used as combatants, while most of them have to serve as domestic and sex slaves.  

The report’s final section contains a series of recommendations. The DRC’s government is urged to focus on prevention, ensure that its Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programmes pay sufficient attention to the specific needs of women and girls, and see to it that perpetrators of child recruitment and sexual exploitation are brought to justice. Armed groups are called upon to release all children, including girls, from their ranks. Finally, the report addresses other actors and stakeholders, such as civil society and traditional authorities, urging them to increase awareness of the grave consequences of the recruitment of minors and to prepare communities for the possible return of girls and their children.

The IJJO firmly supports all efforts against the recruitment of children during violent conflict and commends this research from MONUSCO, which sheds light from a gender perspective on one of the most hostile environments that girls and women can experience, as well as the different roles they play in this realm. This information is helpful for the designing of peace and humanitarian aid missions from a cross-gender approach, taking into account the concrete needs of girls in conflict and post-conflict situations. DDR programmes should be conceived with these needs in mind and also serve to promote girls’ potential, agency and equal access to justice, health, education and employment.

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