A social worker who helped to reintegrate former child soldiers in Congo’s Ituri district told the court on Thursday that some families were unhappy when their children left militia groups.
“We had huge difficulties to reintegrate them as many families were hostile to their returning,” said the witness, Serge Kilo Ngabu. “Many families considered this as a sort of assurance for the future to have children who could defend them.”
Ngabu, who worked as a social worker in the Ituri capital Bunia during 2001 and 2002, testified in full public view.
As an employee of SOS Grand Lacs, a non-governmental agency funded by UNICEF, Ngabu worked with about 130 former child soldiers. They had been returned to Bunia from the Kyankwanzi military training school in Uganda at the insistence of UNICEF, he said.
Part of his job was to convince reluctant parents to accept the former child soldiers back into their homes. However, he realised after visiting them that “it was difficult for the child to reintegrate with family. Some said, ‘I would like to go back to the military because at home I am not welcome’.”
The witness said almost all the children who returned from Uganda re-joined the military after Thomas Lubanga’s Union of Congolese Patriots, UPC, overthrew the Rally for Congolese Democracy, RCD, the group previously in charge of Ituri. By November 2002, all but “7 or 8” of the returnees were serving in UPC, the witness said.
Ngabu said although some former child soldiers voluntarily joined the UPC because they had problems with reintegrating into society, others were coerced into joining.
Prosecutor Julieta Solano McCausland asked the witness how old these children were. He said their ages ranged between eight-and-a-half and 18.
“Most children knew their date of birth, and it was written on a sheet [of paper]. They could tell that to us easily,” said Ngabu. “Of course an 8-year old is able to give you that information.”