Freeing children from the horrors of war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
Throughout 17 years of nearly uninterrupted conflict in eastern Congo, the DRC’s military and armed groups have committed gross human rights abuses that have devastated the country. Over 5 million people have been killed, millions more displaced, brutality is pervasive, and rape is regularly used as a weapon. One of the most pressing human rights violations is the forced recruitment and exploitation of boys and girls as soldiers, porters, and sexual slaves.
BVES: Extraordinary progress in the face of incredible danger
Since 2005 the Fund has supported an organization based in south Kivu, Bureau pour le Volontariat au Service de l’Enfance et de la Santé (Office of Voluntary Service for Children and Health – BVES), which was set up to fight for the protection of children. BVES monitors, documents and reports children’s rights violations, and rescues child soldiers from armed groups across eastern DRC. The dedication of the staff at BVES is extraordinary: they work in an unforgiving and volatile context, receive regular harassment and death threats, and have at times been forced to live apart from their families to ensure their safety. During negotiations with armed groups, some BVES staff have even endured kidnapping and physical violence.
However this personal risk and sacrifice doesn’t deter them; to date BVES has helped negotiate the release of nearly 4,000 child soldiers and more than 4,500 girls who have been sexually assaulted by armed groups. Their pressure and ongoing work with military leaders has also led to numerous commanders directing their soldiers to stop recruiting children and to release those in their ranks. As many released children would return to their villages as orphans, BVES also runs centers to house them, offering protection and activities to help their reintegration into society.
For years, BVES operated with only in-kind contributions from UNICEF and others; the Fund gave the organization its first financial support in 2005, and our on-going funding has allowed BVES to dramatically scale up its reach and advocacy. BVES now heads a coalition of around 60 child rights organizations in three of DRC’s provinces, which coordinates strategies and prevention messages to stop child recruitment by armed groups.
In recognition of its outstanding work, BVES Director Murhabazi Namegabe received the 2009 Oscar Romero Award—for which he was nominated by the Fund—and the 2011 World Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child, joining a group of laureates such as Nelson Mandela.