Agencies working in the area estimate that as many as 3,000 to 6,000 children may be currently involved since the recent increase in fighting. The total number of children recruited since the outbreak of the conflicts in 1996, is estimated at 30,000.
Sadly, recruitment of child soldiers is nothing new, and the charity Save the Children say they are now seeing whole schools targeted. Boys are forced to fight while the girls become "wives" to the soldiers.
"Unfortunately also you'll have the children sexually abused in these groups. Those are clearly some of the worst cases and then yes they are used as fighters, they might be trained as fighters - all sorts of uses. I mean you can only imagine."Save the Children is active in re-integrating child soldiers with their families and communities. It is not an easy task. Rehabilitation is not straightforward. These children are often severely traumatised and have become used to using threats and violence to get their own ways. The sudden transformation from normal life into that of a soldier, and then back again, can cause depression, personality disorders or eating disorders.
Rehabilitation programmes provided by CRN, a Norwegian organisation working in this field, involve psychological counselling, basic literacy classes, vocational training, and pre- and post-resettlement visits. Their latest project is aimed at preventing re-recruitment. Children who are sent straight home without any help are more likely to rejoin the militias, and the time spent at the training centre means less time in the villages where the recruitment drives are happening.
For the children who do escape and have a chance to be reunited with their families, life is getting better. They are given a chance to forget.