Congo child soldiers brainwashed into battle using voodoo
thousands of children are still being enlisted to join armed militia groups. The Kasia conflict was sparked by the 2016 murder of Kamwina Nsapu, a rebel tribal chief who had called for an uprising against the state. His followers created the Kamuina Nsapa militia in his honour and have waged war ever since. Around 1.4 million people have been forced from their homes and the region’s 20 million people face famine after missing several planting seasons. All this in a country rich in resources of gold, cobalt and diamonds. Unicef aid workers say schools and health centres have been destroyed and as many as 400,000 children are on the brink of starvation. Estimates claim as many as 60 per cent of militia recruits are children either lured in or raped, beaten and made to watch their parents’ executions before being forced to enlist. Their brainwashing militia “baptism rituals” include drinking the enemy’s blood or cocktails spiked with body parts to give them “magical powers”. Over the past 12 months Unicef has rescued 1,712 children who fled rebel groups in Kasai – including 481 girls. Worker Evariste Nkayenemuine said he had rescued one child who was only six. Yamam Tshiela, 16, fled her captors after being forced to join at 14. She still believes the mystic lies the rebels told as they sent her into battle as cannon fodder. She said: “We always went out first. We had a brush we waved and it would stop bullets. “And we had a skirt that would collect bullets and fire them back. I killed many men this way. I knew the powers would protect me.” Yamam was abducted after her parents and two brothers were slaughtered in their home by 20 machete wielding rebels. “They told me I had to join them or they would kill me too.” She said her captors forced her to drink alcohol laced with ground tree bark, telling her it would make her immortal. They told her the magic skirt was short to “distract” the enemy. Even now – months after fleeing her captors – she is still convinced her skirt helped kill many men. But Gisele Badianga, 15 when she joined the militia, now knows better after psychological care from Unicef. She said: “I fought in three battles and watched many friends die. I left and now I know I was lied to. I know I could not fire bullets from my skirt.” UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, described the Kasai region as a “landscape of horror” earlier this year as more than 80 mass graves were found. But at least for survivors like Dorcas, Yamam and Badianga, Unicef has ended the nightmare.
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