In November, Watchlist conducted a field mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The mission was an opportunity to follow up on the situation of children and armed conflict with civil society partners who monitor, report, and respond to grave violations against children. The visit took place one year after the Government signed an Action Plan to end and prevent recruitment and use of children, as well as sexual violence by the national armed forces.

The signature of the Action Plan resulted in the release of hundreds of children, and in greater access for the United Nations to monitor military facilities. Still, children continue to be associated with both armed forces and armed groups. They are victims of grave violations including killing, maiming, abduction, and sexual violence. Children are detained by national security forces for alleged association with rebel groups. Furthermore, access to education has been severely compromised by the looting and destruction of schools by both national security forces and armed groups.

Despite increased cooperation from the Government to facilitate identification and verification of children in the ranks of the armed forces, the rate of recruitment remains high, and more progress is needed in the area of prevention. The Government has issued directives to the highest military authorities on the implementation of the Action Plan to stress the prohibition on child recruitment and use, including sanctions for non-compliance, but additional efforts are required to ensure the proper dissemination of these orders throughout the military chain of command. Also, reintegration efforts often fail to address the underlying conditions that make children vulnerable to recruitment, thus increasing the risk of re-recruitment. Identification and verification activities are also needed in non-conflict regions of the country, where children are often recruited before they are transferred to the eastern provinces. 

Watchlist’s field mission coincided with the surrender of the M23. The increased pressure on armed groups to lay down their arms offers a window of opportunity to raise child protection issues in conflict mediation and peace negotiations. Watchlist’s mission also coincided with a visit by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Leila Zerrougui, to review progress in the implementation of the Action Plan. While acknowledging progress made by the Government in addressing the issue of recruitment and use of children, SRSG Zerrougui also stressed the need for continued political commitment to consolidate progress, and put an end to grave violations against children in DR Congo.