People used to be afraid of Ramine (16). Now, they welcome him.
Photo: Neno la Uzima
Child Soldiers vs. Children Associated With Armed Groups
Unless you’re a humanitarian professional, you’ve probably never heard of the term ‘children associated with armed forces or groups’. Yet, you'll no doubt be familiar with ‘child soldiers’ - and get an immediate image of what that means.
Why do we use the term 'children associated with armed forces or groups'? Because not all children in armed groups are soldiers. Boys and girls as young as six may be recruited to fight on the front line while others participate in targeted killings and serve as cooks, spies, messengers or sex slaves.
There’s also the assumption that children are forced to join these groups, against their will. While this is true for many, in reality there’s a growing number of children who have a level of autonomy in making that decision - although never without the pressure of complex external factors.
Ramine (16) lives in South Kivu province in eastern DR Congo, where more than two decades of civil conflict continues to impinge on all aspects of life. Recruited by an armed group when he was just 12-years-old, he knows how easy it is to be lured in - with promises of education, security and money but also through coercion and inciting fear.
“I did things against the community like stealing food and killing people", he says.
And once he was in, it was hard to get out. Ramine: “My life was in danger. We were always on the run.”
When he eventually made it back to his family, Ramine struggled to accept his actions: “People used to be afraid of me. Everything we did made me feel very bad.”
A New Source of Pride
Through a combination of protection and psychosocial support activities, War Child is supporting him to see things differently.
"By attending War Child's DEALS sessions, Ramine's behaviour is changing and he's beginning to return to a peaceful and calm life", says Davine, his facilitator.
At our network of Child Friendly Spaces, children take part in group-based sports and recreational activities - activities designed to support them to process their experiences and get back to being children. Children with their whole future ahead of them…
“They [War Child staff] show me who I am and how to live with others”, says Ramine, smiling. “These days, I get my pride from playing a positive role in my community."
In 2020 alone, War Child supported 10,608 children in eastern DR Congo to participate in creative and recreational activities as part of our DEALS intervention. We are continuing these child protection and psychosocial support-focused activities for children across the conflict-affected South Kivu province. Learn more about our work in DR Congo here.