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Serious Risk of Child Soldiers in Democratic Republic of Congo as Violence Erupts, Says World Vision

-200,000 children at risk in Goma alone, says World Vision
-Local reports of groups arming children and youth

Gisenye, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO — Hundreds of thousands of children caught up in erupting violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are at risk of being forcibly recruited into armed groups, said World Vision. The aid agency estimates that there are 200,000 children under the age of 18 in Goma and believes they are all at risk. UNICEF has estimated as many as 600 are now separated from their families and at risk of serious abuse.

Spontaneous camps for displaced families have been forming around Goma as communities flee to safety. Through its partners, World Vision is receiving reports that in the confusion, children are getting separated from parents — and the implications of this are devastating.

'We know from the recent practices of the groups involved in this latest fighting that unaccompanied children in this part of DRC are in immediate and real danger of forcible recruitment into armed groups,' said World Vision's Dominic Keyzer from the border town of Gisenye. Keyzer is the advocacy manager for World Vision in the DRC.

'Children have nowhere to turn, we can't get to them, and we are hearing reports of groups arming people around Goma. Local partners have seen armed people passing guns and ammunition to civilians this morning, including children aged 16-18. A former child soldier we have worked with in the past told us today: 'I have seen some of my friends receiving weapons and going to fight — they are being told to go and fight the rebels and take their guns'."

'Peace, and the protection of children, has to be today's number one priority for all parties. For these children, who are already at the bottom of the ladder in terms of mortality, education, and resilience, this latest crisis means even more unimaginable violence and trauma.'

World Vision is urgently calling on leaders around the world, but especially the Government of DRC and regional leaders, to ensure all parties to the conflict are respecting their obligations under international humanitarian law and international criminal law. Reactivating the African Union-UN Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region would be an important step to manage this situation.

Everyone involved in the conflict should immediately halt the use of children in hostilities and prevent the targeting of children in violence. World Vision calls on the UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict to begin immediately working to ensure this crisis is averted.

Adding to the severity of the situation, said Keyzer, is the ongoing violence is making it nearly impossible for humanitarian organizations to intervene. The fighting has forced World Vision to suspend significant, life-saving programs in some areas of eastern DRC.

'The effects of this are just heartbreaking — many children in eastern DRC have grown up with violence and uncertainty for the last 20 years, and although they have built up good coping mechanisms, constant displacement exposes them to further risks, and undermines any positive developments that have occurred,' said Keyzer.

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About World Vision:
World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. We serve the world's poor — regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender. For more information on their efforts, visit WorldVision.org/press or follow them on Twitter at @WorldVisionNews

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