Minor children surrendered themselves after the fights in Cibitoke and Kayanza provinces. Human Rights defenders ask for their immediate release.-By Jackson Bahati translated by J.Berchmans Siboniyo
They all are boys. Their age varies between 15 and 17. The forty one children look very desperate. They are imprisoned in one of the Cibitoke lycée halls. The lycée is located at the headquarter of the province, in the West of the country.
Most of the minors are from the Ruyigi, Cankuzo and Kirundo provinces. They testify that they were not aware of ending up in a rebel fighting group. They indicate they were merely looking for a job to earn a living. “Somebody came my way and promised me a decent job. I followed him”, states one minor from Kirundo province, shedding tears.
Another minor from Cankuzo has the same story. The 14-yearold went with his neighbor, who convinced him that he would get a decent job that would pay him Bif 30,000 without telling him where the job was or what it entailed. The children indicate they are from poor families, some are orphans. They thought they found their way of hardship. All of the minors say they found themselves in Rwanda unconsciously.
They were forced to follow a quick two week military training and afterwards entered Burundi through the Kibira forest in Kayanza and Cibitoke provinces. They decided to surrender themselves to the military stations without a shot fired.
Overall, the children say they’ve been misled and forced to join the armed group. They plea for their release.
Children to be released
A Human Rights defender present at the interrogations of the rebels says that qualifying the participation in an armed group as an infraction does not apply to children. He says the criminal responsibility of these minors must be put in perspective, given that they were not old enough to discern wrong from right at the time of events.
Referring on the International Convention on the Rights of Child and other national and international documents that Burundi has ratified, Child Rights defenders present at the place urge their release. According to them, the place for the children is not in the prisons but at school. They say the children have been traumatized and must pass by rehabilitation centers to be treated before getting reinstated within the community.