12,500 Girls members of armed groups , NGO report says

Some 12,500 girls currently belong to government and non-government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a programme to disarm, demobilise and reintegrate all militias into society is failing them, Save the Children, an NGO, said in an August 2005 report.

The report, titled "Forgotten Casualties of War", said many girls did not want to be in the disarmament and reintegration process. It said they did not see themselves as "child soldiers", but as "wives" or camp followers and, therefore, were not entitled to demobilisation and reintegration benefits.

The disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process, it said, acted to alert communities that girls were involved with armed groups, thereby giving rise to community rejection of them. Girls have reported that community members have assumed them to have been sexually abused and were, therefore, carriers of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. As a result, they were seen as having "lost their value" to their communities.

In the DRC, fewer than 2 percent of girls in armed groups pass through Save the Children’s reintegration programme. Therefore, in its report, the NGO called on the international community to fund the release of children from armed groups, outside formal DDR programmes.

It also recommended that all states ratify, enforce, monitor and report on international treaties to protect children, particularly the UN Convention on the Child’s Rights.

Like boys, girls take active part in fighting and engage in non-combat duties such as portering, cleaning, providing medical assistance and gathering information. Members of armed groups sexually violate most of them, according to the report, and a commander would often take a number of girls as "wives" - in effect, as sexual possessions.

[Full report of Save the Children pdf Format]