Children standing with War Child facilitators, with their faces concealed to protect their identity.
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VoiceMore in the DRC

VoiceMore youth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are taking action to stop the exploitation and abuse of children. They are campaigning to stop children being used as cattle herders and from being recruited into armed groups. 

Child labour and exploitation in cattle herding

In 2019 War Child started working with two groups of young people living in remote areas near Rutshuru, North Kivu, an area close to the border with Uganda. We asked them what issue they felt was harming children in their community the most. Both groups agreed that children working in cattle herding were suffering from neglect, exploitation and abuse. 

The groups were concerned about the long hours children work in difficult conditions, often for no pay other than some of the milk from the cows. Cow herding requires working in remote areas without any adult supervision, which leaves children exposed to other forms of violent abuse. The groups also felt this form of child labour in agriculture was having wider impacts by causing conflict in their community.  

The group said poverty, inadequate school structures and difficult conditions limiting access to education and lack of training structures for young people were contributing to the problem. 

Understanding the issue 

The young people decided to conduct their own research to find out more about the issue and help inform their advocacy. Before starting they were supported with training in basic research practice. 

They decided they wanted to use questionnaires and interviews as their data collection method. After they had gathered this via the questionnaires, the young people organised interviews with groups of young herders, their parents, security officers, local authorities, farmers, and other members of the community. For the individual questionnaires, feedback was gathered from 184 respondents while 55 people participated in interviews. To complement the group’s research War Child conducted a desk-based literature review into child labour legislation in the DRC and existing research on children working in cattle herding.

Findings from both the group’s research and the literature review demonstrate there is a need for more attention to the protection of children working in cattle herding. Children are experiencing significant neglect, including vulnerability to recruitment into armed groups. They are also experiencing sexual, physical and emotional abuse, and when older, can also be perpetrating this themselves against others in the community. Children working as cattle herders consequently face considerable stigma and discrimination.

The lives of shepherd children are in danger. They live in inhumane conditions, without protection from the weather, the rain and cold that causes diseases. They are homeless. It is difficult to find food and this pushes them to steal. They work 24 hours a day outdoors looking after the cattle. The work of cattle herders hinders their physical, mental and social development and prevents their schooling.
VoiceMore participant in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Youth-led action against child labour in cattle herding 

The young people found very little was being done in the area to stop this form of child labour and support the children. The group created a set of recommendations for change and have conducted advocacy with local decision-makers, the International Labour Organisation and the UN to help raise awareness of the issue. The group are continuing with their advocacy action into 2022.

Hear more about the group’s work and their recommendations for change by downloading the full and summary reports.

Download the reports

The recruitment and use of children in armed groups

In 2020 War Child started supporting a group of youth living in Masisi territory, North Kivu. We asked them what issues impacting children and young people worried them the most. They said the recruitment of children and youth into armed groups in the area was the serious issue they were concerned about. Armed groups seek out vulnerable children in communities and coerce them to join. Many children and youth also join armed groups due to lack of family support, access to food or work.

The negative impacts of joining an armed group are severe for young people. Groups normally live in basic camps in the bush, with little shelter or ability to wash, food is often scarce and they cannot seek medical treatment if ill or injured. Physical, sexual and psychological abuse is common and members are often coerced or forced into committing crimes against other young people and communities. For those who manage to leave a group, their problems do not stop. They face risk of revenge from members and families and communities often shun them.


Understanding the issue 

The group decided to conduct their own research so they could find out more about what other members of the community thought about the issue and how to it could be prevented. Before starting this, the group first completed their VoiceMore research training and then worked together to decide on a research plan.

They wanted to use data collection methods that could involve lots of different people in the community and would offer opportunity to hear in-depth people’s opinions, feelings and hope for change. For this reason, they opted for interviews and focus group discussions. In total, the young people spoke to 278 people, including children, youth, parents, community leaders, civil society representatives, local authority representatives and some security personnel. War Child UK also conducted its own desk-based review of literature on child recruitment to compliment the groups research and understand findings in a more global context.

The research identified poverty, lack of job and livelihood opportunities, access to education and land to cultivate as the main driving factors to child recruitment in the area. Impacts on the community were found to be recruitment producing high levels of fear: fear of the armed groups attacking communities, of the threat of revenge from the armed groups on children who leave, and the fear communities felt of children who had exited groups. People who participated in the research emphasised the important role family could play in preventing recruitment.

We are always worried about our children and can only sleep if you are together but can’t sleep if he is away, as you begin to have thoughts of them dying or being crippled or having other problems while there.
Parent in a VoiceMore focus group discussion.

Youth-led action against the recruitment of children 

Support to prevent the recruitment of children and youth in Masisi is very limited. During the research community members agreed not enough was being done. Help for children and youth who leave groups is also normally inadequate and short-term, which doesn’t help them get back on their feet.  

The young people developed a set of recommendations for local leaders, authorities, the DRC government and the international community. These include the creation of ‘transit centres’ for young people leaving, encouraging more acceptance of formally associated children in the community, greater support for girls who join and leave groups, and more holistic support packages, which include vocational training, help with finding work and being able to go to school. The recommendations also included the need to uphold better existing child protection law and legislation in the country.   

The group conducted local advocacy with chiefs and government representatives. They participated in a pod cast for Geneva Peace Week (listen here) and presented their project and recommendations to the UK Government and the Special Representative to the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict. 

Learn more about the group’s work and their recommendations for change by downloading the full and summary reports, and listen to the VoiceMore youth describing how they think reintegration programming could be improved, including what they feel children who leave armed groups need, and how to help them recover from their experiences.

Download the reports Listen to podcast 1  Listen to podcast 2

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Youth action

Young people around the world are taking action against the impacts of conflict and we believe they are the future for change. That’s why we support youth-led campaigning.