The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is the worst place to be a child living in a conflict situation, and Save the Children says it is high time the world paid more attention.
Reacting to a United Nations report, the international humanitarian organisation observed in a statement released on Tuesday that children in the country are suffering as a result of neglect.
The UN Secretary-General Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict stated that the DRC recorded the highest number of verified grave violations against children, followed by Israel and the State of Palestine, Somalia, Syria, and Ukraine.
The UN verified 3,377 grave violations against children, including cases of abduction, sexual violence, recruitment, detention, killing and maiming, school and hospital attacks, and denied access to humanitarian assistance. As many as 1,545 children were recruited by armed groups as militants, spies, guards, and so on. At least 117 children aged nine to 17 were detained because of alleged association with armed groups, and at least 284, mostly girls, suffered sexual abuse.
The number of children killed in conflict situations has increased since 2018, with those killed in 2022 nearly doubling victims in the previous year. The DRC also recorded the highest number of child abductions in the world.
Yet, Save the Children said, “the DRC remains a forgotten conflict with … research showing that between January and end of September 2022, Ukraine received five times more media coverage than the combined coverage of the ten worst conflict-affected countries to be a child in 2021”.
The humanitarian group’s DRC country director, Greg Ramm, said the experiences of children in the DRC are the toughest imaginable.
“Every day, children are experiencing harrowing violations against their rights. They’ve watched their homes and schools be destroyed. Armed groups force their friends and family members into armed recruitment, and many have survived sexual and gender-based violence, abuse and abductions,” he said.
“Despite the extent of the crisis, the humanitarian response is severely underfunded, resulting in a shortage of food, healthcare and shelter, children missing out on education and insufficient psychosocial care for survivors of abuse. The situation has also been exacerbated by disease outbreaks and natural disasters, while the country is grappling with extreme poverty and huge numbers of families displaced by conflict.”
Ramm urged all parties to the conflict to stop recruiting children and asked the government, as well as the international community, to hold perpetrators accountable.
It is not only children in the DRC who are faced with the harsh realities of war. Head of Conflict and Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children UK, James Denselow, said they face “unspeakable horrors” across the world.
James said: “About 468 million children globally are currently living in conflict zones, facing the danger of being killed or maimed, suffering famine-like conditions or seeing their education stopped as it’s too dangerous to go to school.
“The high levels of recorded grave violations against children in the DRC for the past two years shows how desperate the situation has become and how vulnerable children living there are to the threat of physical harm, exploitation and the risk of recruitment into child labour or armed groups. It’s vital we protect children from the physical and emotional wounds of war and ramp up efforts to prevent grave violations against children. Children living in conflict zones deserve a future.”
Save the Children, in its statement, called on world leaders, donors, and non-governmental organisations to provide support for children in the DRC. It said this could be done “by holding perpetrators of these violations to account, ensuring all relevant policies and legal frameworks are ratified and implemented, and prioritising funding for the necessary services to support children impacted by conflict to ensure their recovery and resilience”.
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been caught in a war between state forces and ethnic militias for many years, leading to the displacement of about six million people. Eastern DRC hosts at least 122 rebel groups, the most prominent of which are the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), Cooperative for the Development of Congo (CODECO), M23, and the Mai-Mai.
The Norwegian Refugee Council has described what is happening in the DRC as the world’s most neglected refugee crisis.
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