DAKAR - Girls in conflict-ravaged eastern Democratic Republic of Congo are joining armed groups because they cannot afford to go to school, while former girl soldiers struggle to return to class amid stigma from their communities, a charity said on Monday.
Many girls in the region join militia groups to obtain food and money, to seek protection against violence, or because their families cannot afford to pay their school fees, according to a report by Britain-based Child Soldiers International (CSI).
Eastern Congo is plagued by dozens of armed groups that prey on locals and exploit mineral reserves. Millions died between 1996 and 2003 as a regional conflict caused hunger and disease.
Around a third of all children in armed groups in the country are estimated to be girls, who are often married off to militants and are vulnerable to abuse and rape, activists say.