In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) we support the reintegration of children formerly associated with armed groups. We do this by promoting practical, community-led initiatives and supporting former girl soldiers' return to education.


Eastern DRC has been plagued by armed conflict involving national and foreign armed groups and forces for over 20 years. The majority of fighting forces have recruited and used children, and most 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 and domestic purposes.

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 7 % of children released to date. When they are released or escape from armed groups, many never receive any support to reintegrate into their communities and for the few who do, the support has often been poorly adapted to their needs. Many are shunned by family and friends and some even chose to go back to the bush, not being able to face the rejection.

Our impact

In 2016 we interviewed more than 150 girls formerly associated with armed groups, and key members of their communities, in the conflict-affected provinces of Eastern DRC.

This research formed the basis of our extensive new report, What The Girls Say, which was published in June 2017.

We listened to the experiences of these girls, and the challenges they face. The girls and their communities themselves then suggested ways to improve the assistance and help girls overcome these challenges. We are now supporting local organisations to deliver the support these girls urgently need.

The brave girls we spoke to 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*, 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*, 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.

With help from our partners, 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 & numeracy 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.

As of January 2019, we have helped 245 girls back to classrooms across the region learning invaluable skills and finding their place in their communities once again.

Watch a short film on our project in DRC.

Alongside our educational projects, we have produced a practical guide to help communities and local NGOs better understand and assist returning girls. Published in Swahili, Lingala and French, the guide offers practical, low-cost solutions enabling communities to directly improve the lives of former child soldiers.

Download the report here. Download the guide here

Our projects are moving forward in 2019 as we continue to support girls formerly associated with armed groups and their communities while the work of our newly created National Action Group accelarates.

The National Action Group – made up of local organisations and government representatives - held its first sessions in February 2018 - working with communities and government officials to promote community acceptance with the help of our Practical Guide. 

Here is an animation we produced in 2018 - in partnership with the Education Above All Foundation and created by PositiveNegatives - telling the story of what life is like for returning girls in the country. 

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, and in particular to stop the military exploitation of girls. We will work with Congolese organisations, the UN and the DRC government to enable the release of more girls from armed groups and to ensure that they receive the assistance needed to recover and rebuild their lives, once back home.

We will continue to support girls and their communities through our education and training initiatives, while our National Action Group will expand its presence in the country through 2019. 

This will build the foundation needed to ensure that girls formerly associated with armed groups will be supported in the long-term, making sure they can find their place back home, as girls or young women, and no longer as "child soldiers". 

Photo © Mads Nissen/Berlingske/Panos Pictures