There are an estimated 1,045,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in the Democratic Republic of Congo (GSI 2018). In 2016 several armed groups continued to abduct and forcibly recruit men, women and children as combatants and in support roles such as guards, cleaners, cooks and spies. In 2016, 184 cases of child soldiers were reported, with 1,662 children reported to have separated or escaped from armed groups. Child soldiers who manage to escape remain vulnerable to re-recruitment as adequate rehabilitation services remain unavailable to children suffering trauma, stigmatisation and the continued threat of armed groups.
Byaombe tells of his experience of being a child soldier for the FDD militia in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He tells of how he was taught to kill, how he was given drugs and how there was little food or shelter at the military camp.
There is something I can’t forget, even at night. We were fighting at the front against the RCD. We were with the FDD. We captured a child soldier. We tied him up and forced him to smoke marijuana. He lost his mind. We cut off his fingers. It was as if he didn’t feel anything. He was acting like a mad man. Then we opened up his stomach and showed him his intestines. He didn’t feel anything. Finally, we took out his heart and he died. Then we put it all back inside the body, and we tied him to a tree so that his friends would see him. Then, we left.
[Did you tell your parents you were joining the armed forces?]
Yes, I told them. They told me to go, to help them to cope with what is happening to us.
When I arrived at the camp, I went to see the commander, I explained my worries to him. He told me that they would show me how to kill the enemy. When we capture an enemy we must make him suffer. We must take out his eyes, and remove his heart… and cut his ears and his feet.
Sometimes we would return from training and there was nothing to eat. There were no medicines to keep up our strength. They gave us marijuana to change our ideas. Also, when we went to the front, many child soldiers were scared. The marijuana gave them strength and courage.
Military life is bad. We had few clothes to wear and little food to eat. The commanders slept inside while we slept outside. We slept in the cold of the mountain, with no blankets. When we were sick there were no medicines.
At the camp, the girls helped us to cook. But most of them were the ‘wives’ of commanders.
I would advise commanders to demobilize child soldiers. Children of my age shouldn’t be soldiers. They should enlist people who are over the age of 18.
I really want to tell young civilians that military life is of no interest. When you become a soldier, your soul changes. It is like dying today and being reincarnated into another life. Before I left home, I knew people who had been soldiers. When they lost their tempers, they could easily stab you. Because to them killing someone wasn’t a big deal. They had already killed many people. That is why I want to tell others not to become soldiers. It is better for children to stay at home.
There you only learn how to smoke marijuana and then you become weak mentally. I want to tell my friends that they shouldn’t try this life. They should stay at home and pray to God for his help.
Copyright 2004 AJEDI-Ka/WITNESS
Original narrative to be found here