In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) we support the reintegration of girls - former child soldiers - coming out of armed groups into their families and communities. We also help to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers through training and awareness-raising.

Current project

In January-February 2016 we spent six weeks in eastern DRC and interviewed more than 150 former girl soldiers to learn about their experiences, and understand their needs. Those brave young girls repeatedly told us about the crucial importance of education in their lives. Many joined armed groups to be able to pay for schooling, and most said that being in school promotes their social acceptance and reintegration into the community once they come back.

Among many other girls we met Yvette (not her real name), from Rutshuru, in North Kivu. Yvette was 14 years old when she joined the self-defence militia known as the Mai-Mai Nyatura. She decided to join them after being kicked out of school for failing to pay her fees. She spent one year with the group as an armed escort. She now lives with her aunt but still cannot afford to pay her school fees.

In Nyiragongo South, in North Kivu, we met Neema (not her real name), now 16 years old. Neema told us:

If we could go to school, the community would be nicer to us, we would get some consideration, that would help a lot.

Keeping girls in school is a way to keep them safe while offering them a better future. This is why, with help from our partners in DRC, we are helping former girl soldiers like Yvette and Neema to go back to school, either straight away, for those who have not been out of school for too long, or through catch-up classes to help them get to the required level for formal education. We also organise literacy classes for girls who have never been to school or who are too old to start. These classes help both former girl soldiers and other vulnerable girls in their communities.

Watch a short film on our project in Democratic Republic of Congo.

The issue

Children continue to be recruited and used by numerous armed groups in DRC. Girls are often used as ‘wives’ and sexually abused by their commanders and other soldiers. Although a third of all children associated with armed groups in DRC are thought to be girls, they make up only about seven per cent of children released to date. When they are released or escape from armed groups, they receive little or no support to reintegrate into their communities, and many are shunned.

Our impact

For the last 10 years, partnering with Congolese organisations, Child Soldiers International has researched the military use of children in DRC. This research has contributed to decisive steps by the United Nations and Congolese government to stop the recruitment of children by the state armed forces.

We also produced awareness-raising material that was widely used across the eastern provinces to inform local authorities, communities and armed groups about their obligation to protect children. “It is an excellent tool to build the capacity of army officers,” said a commander in Congolese army. Through our 2016 research on girls coming out of armed groups, we hope to ensure that reintegration programmes can better meet the needs of girls in the future.

What we’ll do next

Child Soldiers International will continue its research, advocacy and awareness-raising to help prevent the recruitment and use of children in DRC, in particular to stop the military exploitation of girls. We will work with Congolese organisations, the UN and DRC government to improve assistance programmes for girls released from armed groups, as well as for other vulnerable girls in the same communities.


North-eastern DRC has been plagued by armed conflict involving national and foreign armed groups and forces for over 20 years. The vast majority of fighting forces have recruited and used children, and all armed groups still exploit boys and girls today. After signing an Action Plan with the UN in 2012, the Congolese government has virtually stopped enlisting children into its armed forces, although many of its soldiers continue to use girls for sexual purposes.

Photo © Mads Nissen/Berlingske/Panos Pictures