CHILDHOOD ON THE FRONT LINE
Violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasaï region has taken a devastating toll on children since fighting flared up in August 2016 and when the Kamuina Nsapa rebel militia was established. Thousands of minors were forced into enrollment and used by the militias to fight and kill or act as human shields.
The youngest children are assigned to serve as porters, to cook or to perform other menial chores. All of them have to endure what is commonly known as a ‘baptism ritual’; in which 'would-be' soldiers – regardless of age – are forced to drink mystical potions to acquire supernatural powers that are believed to protect them during combat. According to a UNICEF report, children make up 60% of armed groups in the region.
For the children who were once enrolled in the militias but managed to flee, life will never be the same again. Most of them have to start over in new villages - where people won’t know about their past - in order to prevent violent retaliation.
How do we reintegrate these children and teenagers who faced such deep trauma into society, and break the cycle of violence that has been tearing apart their country for decades?