Many girls associated with armed groups in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) suffer extreme hardship - both while in the ranks of those armed groups and after they come home. However, programmes that support their release, recovery and reintegration are too scarce and often underfunded. As a result, only a small percentage of girls leave armed groups and an even smaller number receive any assistance.
Following extensive consultations with DRC-based child protection partners in 2012-2015, Child Soldiers International travelled to eastern DRC in early 2016 to understand those issues from the point of view of the girls themselves. In collaboration with our partners, we conducted interviews with 150 girls formerly associated with armed groups, as well as local authority officials, community leaders and members of community-based child protection networks.
This report presents the findings of this research, revealing that community rejection remains a major obstacle to the successful reintegration of girls formerly associated with armed groups. Many of the girls we talked to struggled with stigma and discrimination, sometimes years after their return home. Essentially, they simply wished to be like other girls: to have friends, to have someone to talk to, to participate in the life of the community, and to be loved and respected. However, our research identified that, with only a few encouraging exceptions, assistance programmes did not adequately address the fundamental issue of family and community acceptance.
Interviews conducted with the girls and members of their communities suggested several ways in which the girls could potentially overcome this stigma and regain the acceptance of their communities. These findings were presented and discussed during a workshop held in Goma in October 2016, with a view to identifying practical steps to improve assistance to girls. Participants unanimously agreed that Child Soldiers International should develop a Practical Guide designed to support the release and reintegration of girls associated with armed groups through concrete and low-cost interventions at the community level. This guide is available as a standalone publication and is summarised at the end of this report.
Download the report here.