Tens of thousands of children are estimated to be actively participating in combat situations or serving as support personnel for armed groups in at least 15 conflicts around the world (UNICEF, 2012).
Youth associated with armed groups face prolonged exposure to violence, including being forced to kill or harm others, and undergoing repeated personal victimization, including sexual violence (Betancourt, 2010).
The use of underage combatants was widespread in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in both the First Congo War (1996-1997) and the Second Congo War (1998-2003). When the hostilities formally ended in 2003, DRC had approximately 30,000 underage combatants awaiting demobilization (Child Soldiers Global Report, 2008). This made it one of the countries with the highest number of underage combatants.
The recent aggression by the rebel group M23 raises new concerns as hostilities intensify in eastern DRC. Thousands of people in North Kivu have fled their homes to escape the recent upsurge in violence and, as of August 2013, as many as 2,000 underage combatants were active in the conflict.
Abduction and recruitment of underage combatants is currently ongoing. The lessons learned from past efforts to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate children will be vital to address these new security threats.