The United Nations was not able to independently verify the ages of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a child protection specialist told prosecutors today.
“I imagine you are aware of the fact that identity cards and documents are not very common in the Congo,” said witness Christine Peduto, who worked for the UN Mission to the Congo (MONUC). “I never saw a child with an identity card in Ituri.”
Peduto told the court on Tuesday that MONUC employees would determine a child’s age based on information obtained directly from the child, interviews with social workers, and to a lesser extent, the appearance of the child.
There was, however, no way to absolutely verify the age of a child since so few people in the DRC have birth certificates or identifying papers.
“Did the child’s behaivor or demeanor influence your assessment of their age?” asked prosecutor Julieta Solano McCausland.
“Well, when you evaluate a child it’s not just based on what they say but how they act,” Peduto responded. “I have seen cases of little children who began crying in my office. Most 18-year-olds wouldn’t do that.”
She recalled an incident where two very little boys were brought into her office, and the moment she started asking them questions, they burst into tears.
“They were so very afraid and frightened,” she said. “I remember holding the hand of the younger child to cross the street with him. He was so small…they [had been] with the UPC [Union of Congolese Patriots].”
The younger children, continued Peduto, also tended to have more trouble talking about family trauma.
“…The older children were able to express the fact that [their] mother died, or their father died, whereas the smaller children tended to avoid answering questions,” she said. “That was one of the signs [that the child was younger].”
Peduto will continue her testimony on Thursday morning.