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Faith Nyasuguta

A Congolese teenager made an urgent plea to the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday to safeguard children in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where ongoing conflict between the military and armed groups in the east is devastating young lives. The 16-year-old, whose identity was protected, addressed the council via an interpreter during a session focused on children and armed conflict.

I implore you all to champion the protection of children’s rights both globally and in the DRC,” the boy urged.

In the past year, the United Nations documented nearly 4,000 serious violations against children in the DRC, a nation where armed factions have long fought for control over its abundant natural resources. Over 1,800 children were recruited by these armed groups last year alone, according to the annual U.N. report on violations against children.

Sixteen armed groups were singled out for various offenses, including the abduction and forced recruitment of children, as well as maiming and killing them. The Congolese armed forces were also listed for committing sexual violence against children, though the U.N. noted that they have begun formal measures to prevent such abuses.


Last year, over 650 children were confirmed killed or maimed, predominantly by three groups: CODECO, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), and M23. The Congolese army and police were responsible for 30 child casualties.

The teenager detailed his own harrowing experience of abduction, beating, and forced recruitment by an armed group while on his way to school with friends. “We cried and begged to be let go home to our families, but they wouldn’t listen,” he recalled. “They whipped us and kept us in the bush under heavy guard, with orders to kill anyone who tried to flee. I had to leave school to serve this armed group by force.”

His role included stealing food from farmers’ fields. “During the fighting, many child recruits were killed by the enemy or by their own group to prevent them from revealing secrets if captured,” he said.

After three years in captivity, he managed to escape while out searching for food. Captured by the army, he was briefly imprisoned before undergoing rehabilitation and returning to school. However, not all children are as fortunate. “Girls were also abducted,” he said. “Some became wives of the chiefs, while others were taken by other soldiers.”

The U.N. report highlights escalating sexual violence, with 279 girls and two boys subjected to rape, gang rape, forced marriage, and sexual slavery last year. “The use of sexual violence by armed groups is spiraling,” Ted Chaiban, UNICEF’s deputy executive director, told the council. He recounted meeting adolescent girls during his visits to the DRC who had fled their villages and were now the heads of their households.

Chaiban expressed concern over the intensifying conflict as the U.N. peacekeeping mission begins to withdraw at the government’s request. “There is a very real risk that the humanitarian crisis in the DRC could soon become a catastrophe,” he warned.

Women also face staggering levels of sexual violence. In Goma, the capital of North Kivu province, reported cases of sexual violence in the first half of 2024 doubled compared to the same period last year, rising from 7,500 to 15,000, according to Francois Moreillon, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s head of delegation in the DRC.


“Anyone with a gun feels that he can do whatever he wants,” Moreillon said, recounting how women now carry condoms into the forest when collecting firewood to try to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and to reduce the anger of their husbands, who often abandon them after discovering they have been raped.

The DRC faces one of the world’s largest internal displacement crises, with over 7 million people affected.


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Faith Nyasuguta

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