(Part of the Lost Childhood series)
Within twenty four hours of capturing Goma the Congolese rebels of M23 began their search for anyone loyal to the government. Those who had worked for the city were hunted down and executed in mass. Anyone who had ties to the military were also rounded up and killed. The numbers of how many were killed are still being estimated as the rebels prepare to move onto their next city.
As for the 200,000 estimated children (under the age of 18) within Goma, the roundups are still happening. These children are now at risk of being forced into conscription with the M23 rebels. This would mean that they would be turned into child soldiers and used as slave labor by the rebel army. Their task would be more dangerous than their adult captors. They could be facing task such as placing landmines, running ammunition under fire, and fetching weapons off fallen soldiers.
According to UNICEF around 600 children are in immediate danger due to having been separated by from their families. "We know from the recent practices of the groups involved in this latest fighting that unaccompanied children in this part of DRC are in immediate and real danger of forcible recruitment into armed groups," reported World Vision. Once again it is important to remember that nobody can say for sure how many children are being forced into the rebel army. Yet reports of forced recruitment are coming in.
"Children have nowhere to turn, we can't get to them, and we are hearing reports of groups arming people around Goma. Local partners have seen armed people passing guns and ammunition to civilians this morning, including children aged 16-18. A former child soldier we have worked with in the past told us today: 'I have seen some of my friends receiving weapons and going to fight... they are being told to go and fight the rebels and take their guns'." As reported by World Vision.
These children are, just as everyone else in Goma, afraid and lost as confusion sets in and lawlessness take over. Loyalist are just as likely to take advantage of this sense of helplessness as they too force children into makeshift militias in an attempt to fight off the M23 rebels... something the Congolese military refused to do. With this irony the children of Goma are quickly finding themselves with nowhere left to hide.
Organizations like World Vision and UNICEF are urgently petitioning the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to take action to stop this criminal activity. Many of the human rights groups working in the area have tried to get permission to enter the conflict areas to rescue innocent civilians caught up in the battle. However it is more than likely that nobody will be able to reach the conflict region until most of the atrocities and crimes have already been committed.
As the M23 rebels prepare to march on their next target, Kinshasa, the citizens of Goma will continue to suffer mass executions, gang rapes of women and children, and the looting of their homes and businesses. One can only hope that the majority of the 200,000 children of Goma will escape with their lives.... and avoid the horrors of becoming a child soldier.