On March 23, 245 combatants from the militia group Kata Katanga marched into Lubumbashi in Katanga Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). After entering the UN Peacekeeping base there, the combatants, including 40 minors, reportedly surrendered and were disarmed. With support from USAID, UNICEF and its local partner Reconfort responded to the situation within hours, verifying and separating these 40 children from the surrendered group. UNICEF successfully negotiated to allow the children to be turned over for care in the transit center, rather than be handed over to government officials along with the Kata Katanga adult combatants.
These children, all boys between the ages of 10 and 17 who UNICEF and Reconfort were able to literally “separate” from the armed group, were placed in a transit center in Lubumbashi, which Reconfort was able to open, stock, and staff within a single day as a result of USAID’s ongoing work to improve the local organization’s capacity. In the transit center, these 40 boys are getting shelter, protection, medical care, psychosocial support, and opportunities for recreational and educational activities. Over the next few months, the youth will be reintegrated into their families and communities and enrolled in school or vocational training programs.
Since 2011, USAID’s child protection work with UNICEF has separated over 1,100 children from armed groups in North Kivu, South Kivu, Orientale, and Katanga provinces, provided separated children with temporary care in transit centers or foster families, supported their reintegration into their communities, and helped an additional 5,000 conflict-affected children to enroll in school or obtain vocational skills training. In addition, USAID has strengthened the capacity of 15 local organizations, like Reconfort, that are assisting children associated with armed groups, and we have created or strengthened over 70 community committees to promote child rights at the grassroots level and prevent child recruitment into armed groups. USAID has recently signed an agreement to continue UNICEF’s child protection project, bringing the total project amount to $5 million. This new agreement will give the project more geographic flexibility and build more capacity among local organizations to ensure rapid response to unexpected events like this one.