Advocates claim answer to child trafficking in Congo is U.S. special envoy
May 13th, 2011
04:11 PM ET

Advocates claim answer to child trafficking in Congo is U.S. special envoy

By Amanda Kloer, Special to CNN

Editor's Note: Amanda Kloer is an editor with Change.org, where she organizes and promotes campaigns to end human trafficking. She has created numerous reports, documentaries and training materials on human trafficking in the United States and around the world.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where civil war and frequent violence have raged for fourteen years, there have been reports of forgotten children known to some as “falling whistles.” These children have been kidnapped from their homes, schools and friends by rebel groups and turned into child soldiers, bush wives, porters, and human shields – the youngest and smallest of them often too small to hold a man-sized gun.

So instead, the tiniest have been sent into battle armed only with whistles. Their job? To make enough noise to scare the heavily-armed rival troops away. And then, with their small bodies, absorb the first round of bullets.

The story of these young soldiers is only one of the many untold tragedies of the ongoing conflict in Congo. According to the Enough! Project, 45,000 people in Congo die each and every month, mostly from hunger and disease resulting from the ongoing conflict. Over 1 million people have been displaced. But some of the most egregious collateral damage from the conflict has been suffered by women and children.

A 2007 UNICEF report on child trafficking found approximately 200,000 victims in Central and West Africa, and the UN estimates there are approximately 3,500 child soldiers in the Congo today.  Children are trafficked from Benin, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Togo, and Cameroon. Many are lured with the promise of jobs or apprenticeships, but are then forced to work on farms or in private homes, conscripted into the militia, or exploited in prostitution.

The gravity of child trafficking in Congo is only eclipsed by the challenges of how to help Congo's children, when they face death on the battlefield and violence at home. The many organizations working to advocate for peace in Congo often disagree how best to meet those challenges. But one strategy most Congo advocates agree on is this: the key to ending child trafficking in Congo is bringing peace and stability to the country.

Luckily, just six short months from now, there will be an unprecedented opportunity to do just that.

This November, Congo will hold historic elections – only the second since the official end of Africa’s Second World War.  These elections could be the first time the country experiences a peaceful transfer of power through the democratic process. If the November elections are free, fair, and represent the choices of the Congolese people, they could establish a powerful pattern of peace and stability in the country. If they aren't, the likelihood of violence is high.

That's why a coalition of the leading Congo advocacy organizations, including Falling Whistles, a nonprofit taking its name from the tragedy of young child soldiers, is calling for the U.S. to help ensure the upcoming elections in Congo are free and fair. The coalition says the fastest and cheapest way to do that – and avert a human rights disaster of Holocaust proportions – is to appoint a Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

A Special Envoy would be able to raise critical funds from international donors to facilitate fair elections, pressure the Congolese government to enact electoral reforms, and coordinate U.S. and international policy. This Envoy would also help ensure that legislation recently passed to prevent child trafficking, like the Dodd-Frank Act banning the import of conflict minerals and the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament bill, is implemented. And an envoy would be a prominent symbol and tool for peace this coming November.

This call for a Special Envoy is nothing new. President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded this appointment six years ago in a bi-partisan bill they co-sponsored as senators. But now that they have the power to implement their own recommendation, they have yet to do so.

So tens of thousands of peace activists have signed an online petition in support of a Special Envoy on Change.org, the world's fastest-growing social action platform. They are joined by 35 Members of Congress and 6 Senators, who are also demanding swift action.

But time is running out. Unless an envoy is appointed within the next couple of weeks, there won't be enough time to actually affect the upcoming elections.

You can find out more about the ongoing campaign for a U.S. Special Envoy for Congo here, including how Ben Affleck is lending his talent to fighting for Congo's children. Or consider making a donation to charities helping children in Congo, like SOPROP. In doing so, you'll be part of helping end one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts of our time and restoring the lives of Congo’s forgotten children.


soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Monique Beadle

    Thanks very much for covering this pressing problem and the vital solutions that, if implemented, could help foster peace in Congo.

    It's important to clarify a small, but important detail about the Falling Whistles story. This article seems to suggest that the problem of children being given whistles is a) ongoing and b) widespread. That's not the case. We don't know how many child soldiers may have been given whistles, and there has not been any verification of whether that particular form of abuse is an ongoing problem or pattern. This was simply a story that we heard from a group of former child soldiers in eastern Congo in 2008. It woke us up to the larger realities of our world's deadliest war and inspired us toward action. Over time, the whistle became a symbol of protest. That's why we share the story.

    – Monique Beadle, Advocacy Director of Falling Whistles

    May 14, 2011 at 12:13 am | Reply
  2. Sean D. Carasso

    Just to clarify, the falling whistles story is the story of a single day. Five escaped child soldiers told us of the whistles as one example of the many abuses of children in war.

    We don't know if the use of whistles in war has happened again, but the symbol lived on. We now share the story because it is what originally opened our eyes and began our search for solutions in a region where they are in short supply.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:14 am | Reply
    • loupatriz

      Where do you get off "clarifying" something in an article you had nothing to do with? I think the point is that this happens at all. Is your point that this is OK because all the other kids never lived to tell the tale? As if you would know whether or not its widespread. The abuse of these children in innumerable ways has been widespread in several African countries for the past 15 years, aren't we past minimizing what atrocities are going on there?

      June 14, 2011 at 4:26 am | Reply
      • Austexan

        Actually, Sean Carusso is the founder of "Falling Whistles" and the one who originally brought the story from these children to light after his time in the Congo. So actually he is in a pretty good position to clarify... since it's his words that are being potentially misrepresented. The more you know --*

        December 11, 2013 at 2:17 am |
  3. Kim Nelson

    One child sent out with only a whistle is too many. "Bush wives" is also too nice a term for what happens to young women.

    I think the Special Envoy is necessary. The damage is colossal -

    I hope the play "Ruined," recently at The Berkeley Rep in CA will help many people understand what is going on.

    May 14, 2011 at 2:20 am | Reply
  4. Walter Costa

    The gravity of child trafficking in Angola, will be really diffcult to face challenges at present period but of how to help Angolan's children, when they face diffrent situtations at home, in areas where the help never arrive field even gov. and in the meantime they have to face violence situations everyday if they don't bring any food, or salt. The many organizations working to advocate for peace in Angola too often disagree how best to meet those challenges. But one strategy most Angolans advocates agree on is this: the key to ending child trafficking in Angola is to bring economic stability to the country, going to the difficult areas where foreing people go and give-and-take I mean parents exchange they childs with salt, money, ...... please let's do something about it and be in mind isn't only Angola but most of country's in west Africa...

    Luckily, just six short months from now, there will be an unprecedented opportunity to do just that.

    This November, Congo will hold historic elections – only the second since the official end of Africa’s Second World War. These elections could be the first time the country experiences a peaceful transfer of power through the democratic process. If the November elections are free, fair, and represent the choices of the Congolese people, they could establish a powerful pattern of peace and stability in the country. If they aren't, the likelihood of violence is high.

    May 19, 2011 at 7:31 am | Reply
  5. Medya

    In http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DwcTrbNwAbYw&h=b1dc4 , that was said in 1 Timothy 2:12 and Exo.21:7 and god justify for a child to get married if the child or the partner can afford it just to avoid fornication bec. some were matured in their early age like Lina Media pregnated when she was 5 years old and Bobby Fischer beat men in chess and become rich in his early age.
    The price is right bec. the food and shelter for her are for the buyers expense. That's better than parents leave their child in the street bec. they couldn't afford it. That's not Islam to kill her without reason. I think they should have licence midwife to help her to insure it's safety. If you think you can care the child better than the buyer then buy her.
    Moses law was also design to remember not to do the things that Adam and Eve did which they fall from paradise to tribulation.
    Rich people usually in Saudi, America, and others will not do that but poor people like in Afghanistan, India, and others usually sell their children bec. they could not feed them.

    What the CNN can do about this is either to buy slaves and set them free, give money to parents in order they will not sell their children bec. they could not afford to feed them,give money to the parents who already sold their children in order they can redeem them by giving back the money to the buyers if the children were not yet married to the buyer, or adopt them in honest way not to let them call them as parents as what Jesus said Matt. 23:9.

    They don't like to buy male slaves bec. according to Exo. 21 that they will be free after 6 years.

    Some slavery saves life bec. if the children were not sold they will die in hunger bec. their parents could not afford to feed them. It saves fornication too. In buying human beings is not like buying livestocks that you have the right to cut their body parts or kill them. God design this inorder their children will sold immediately so that will be save death due to hunger.

    May 20, 2011 at 12:55 am | Reply
  6. HPNIII

    Can you believe so many of the blacks in America who have the nerve to bitch about being brought over here. You sure don't hear any of them wanting to go back. I wonder why?

    May 24, 2011 at 11:49 am | Reply
    • Humanatarian worker

      The African Americans complain for how they were brought over, as slaves. I hope that you get a chance to travel and realize that not the whole continent has the same problems as DRC. And for your info, the african americans originated from West Africa, not DRC and secondaraly many of the problems in Africa stem from colonization, imperialism and exportation. Please educate yourself, travel and open your mind before posting messages such as this. In this day and age, ignorance is no longer an excuse. Happy learning

      June 1, 2011 at 11:22 am | Reply
    • Commentmaker

      That has to rank among the dumbest statements made to-date. Slavery was no picnic. I had a great-grandmother who was a child when slavery ended in Texas. The product of rape by a slave master, she told stories about the rampant abuse. No different than what is happening in the Congo now, slave masters tortured, tormented, and killed many "blacks" as you would call them because they saw them as property not people. Maybe your white people are the ones who taught current practices. You are dumb as nails.

      June 20, 2011 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  7. Humanatarian worker

    Thank you for the story but I would like to add that the election process in DRC will not have an effect of what is going on beside Lake Kivu. Most of the people committing the crimes are Interehamwe, the same people who orchestered the Rwandese genocide. The best solution is for DRC and Rwanda to work together and find a solution regarding the Interahamwe. The conflicts in DRC are more complex and a simplistic solution will not work

    June 1, 2011 at 11:18 am | Reply

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