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The Forced Inheritance of DRC’s Military Kids

GOMA, DR Congo , Apr 12 2013 (IPS) - The children of deceased police and army officers in North Kivu, eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, are finding themselves forced to adopt their late fathers’careers in the armed services to help their families survive.

Children have been adopting their parents’careers in defence and policing for fear of losing the benefits enjoyed by soldiers and policemen in the DRC, particularly health care and accommodation in the army barracks.

“My father was a policeman and when he died they wanted to evict us from the house at the camp, but we had nowhere to go. We had to find a way to keep the family together, so I decided to become a policeman to help provide for my family,” said Pistchen Kalala, who became a policeman at the age of 20.

“Otherwise we would have been homeless and without health care,” he told IPS.

Congolese soldiers’ income of around 80 dollars a month is very low, and few of them can afford to own even a small home.

Following the death of his father, and his mother’s remarriage to another solider, Dibwa Ntambwe, aged 24, joined the army. He decided to become a soldier so that his brothers and sisters could continue to have access to the benefits accruing to his late father.

Around three quarters of Congolese soldiers are army children, according to Augustin Lukubashi, the chairperson of local NGO Integrated Development Association for Police and Army Children. He is also the child of a deceased soldier.

Lukubashi’s estimates are based on information from the policy and army communication departments in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.

“Often, when a military parent dies, the children receive their monthly salary, which encourages them to follow the same career,” Lukubashi told IPS, adding that it was policy for children to receive their deceased fathers’ salaries, sometimes for up to two years after his death.

He added that “living in a military family means living a military life where you grow up in hardship. Army children are well prepared for life in the military.”

Sometimes, against their better judgement, army widows encourage their sons to join the army or police at 18 in order to protect their families.

“When my husband died, they wanted to throw us out of the house we lived in because when a soldier dies, there is a tendency to forget his family,” said Sifa Nyota, an army widow in Goma.

“To continue to receive benefits—health care and accommodation—we decided that our oldest son should take his father’s place (and join the army). That’s how he became a soldier,” she explained to IPS.

Human rights NGOs in North Kivu have protested that this is a violation of the rights of the child, as many of these children have no choice but to become soldiers just like their late fathers. NGOs say that the government should assist these children to further their studies and to embrace other careers.

“The situation these children find themselves in is unacceptable. They should be taken care of by the Congolese government, who should take responsibility for their basic needs and safety,” Duffina Tabu, the chair of the Volunteers Association of Congo, a local NGO, told IPS.

Similarly, Flavien Ciza, a member of the provincial coordinating group of civil society organizations, told IPS that “the precarious living conditions, poverty and unemployment experienced by these children, and their neglect by the government, is at the root of this social trend.”

According to a study in 2011 on poverty in the DRC, “70 percent of households live below the poverty line of less than a dollar a day.”

“The Congolese government should think about educating these children and provide them with a minimum income so that their futures are safe,” Ciza said.

Tabu said the current situation has negative consequences for the army. “This phenomenon weakens the Congolese army, which is sending untrained and inexperienced men into the field. The youth stay in the army out of desperation or to take revenge, rather than out of personal conviction.”

Lukubashi wants the government to pay for the education of all army children. “The unemployment rate and lack of support for these children is the reason for this forced inheritance.”

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