|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
Despite progress in the past year by the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s national army to end the recruitment and use of children as soldiers, armed groups in that country were still gravely violating children’s rights, a top United Nations official said at a Headquarters press conference today.
Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said child recruitment had plagued the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo for too long, and armed groups were still involved in killing, maiming, abducting and sexual violating children.
“The citizens of the [ Democratic Republic of the Congo] are asking for peace and I call on all armed groups to immediately lay down their arms and release children in their ranks,” Ms. Zerrougui said.
She emphasized the need for the present peace process in the eastern part of the country to better protect children affected by the conflict. “The surrender of the [23 March Movement] and other armed groups brings with it the responsibility to help children reunite with their families, go back to school and aspire to a better future,” she said.
Ms. Zerrougui, who just returned from a week-long visit to the country, confirmed the commitment of the Congolese authorities to make their army child-free. Hundreds of children had been released since the Government and the United Nations signed an action plan in October 2012 to prevent child recruitment. Moreover, authorities were determined to ensure that all perpetrators of child rights violations, regardless of their affiliation, were not integrated into the national security forces and were held accountable for their actions in court.
But challenges remained to consolidate progress and achieve political stability in the country, she said, citing the need to bolster State authority and the justice system, building on support provided by the United Nations and its partners.
Responding to reporters’ questions, Ms. Zerrougui said that, although she had observed positive changes and a clear vision in the Government’s posture, there were still challenges to properly reintegrate children into their communities. Child protection must be at the heart of the ongoing dialogue to build a sustainable regional peace, she said, and welcomed the campaign for “zero child soldier in the Great Lakes region” announced last week by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.
The United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) were supporting the Government with programmes to help affected children return to school and resume a normal life with their families, she said.
She also reaffirmed the determination of the United Nations to work with Congolese authorities to develop a national demobilization plan that would facilitate adequate planning and resources for the reintegration of children, including girls used as sex slaves.
Regarding the situation of schools in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ms. Zerrougui said that children’s right to education had been compromised by the looting and destruction of many schools by armed groups. The Government should make school rehabilitation a priority in rebuilding efforts to give children a better future.
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