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Children & women continue to suffer in DR Congo conflict

5th January 2009 Posted in: Emergencies
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KINSHASA, 31 December 2008 - The UN Children’s Fund warns that the situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to deteriorate and urges the world not to turn a blind eye to the plight of children and women suffering in the ongoing conflict.

Since fighting intensified in North Kivu in late August, humanitarian access has been limited and sporadic. Continuous fleeing is increasing children’s vulnerability to a multitude of child protection problems, including separation from families, recruitment into armed groups, sexual violence and exploitation, forced labour and abuse, and interruption of schooling.

Child soldiers
“UNICEF is calling on all armed groups to end the recruitment and use of children, to immediately release the children within their ranks, and to refrain from any intimidation of children reunited with their families and communities,” says UNICEF Representative Pierrette Vu Thi.

UNICEF is working with other UN agencies and NGOs to provide supplies to assist the hundreds of thousands of displaced people. UNICEF is also responding to reports of widespread recruitment and exploitation of children. Since September, for example, some 200 children have been abducted in the Dungu district in north-eastern Oriental province by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

UNICEF and its partners are prepared to provide protection and assistance for children who escape or are released, and are currently assisting 31 children who have fled the LRA ranks. The rebel movement has also recently attacked and killed a high number of civilians in the area.

Of particular concern are children formerly associated with armed groups that have been reintegrated into their communities and are now being targeted for re-recruitment. This puts the approximate 10,000 children in North Kivu whom UNICEF has assisted in community reintegration at particular risk and reverses gains made over the last four years.

Violence and exploitation
Rampant sexual violence and exploitation are taking place with impunity in villages and sites for internally displaced persons. In Kanyabayonga, Kayna, and Kirumba, the rape of women and girls of all ages in the fields and in their homes has been reported. Women and girls report attacks both within the camps and when venturing out for firewood, water, and food. In the Kibati camp, soldiers abducted and attempted to rape two girls; as they tried to escape one was shot dead and the other fled. Both girls participated in the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space programme offering protection to thousands of children; their peers have since received psycho-social counselling to help them cope with their loss.

Out-of-school children are exposed to a greater risk of exploitation, abuse, and consequently HIV and AIDS, and unwanted pregnancies. An estimated one million children were not attending school in North Kivu before the crisis and tens of thousands more have had their schooling interrupted.

Schooling at risk
In Rutshuru territory, 85 per cent of schools serving an estimated 150,000 students were closed due to active combat and widespread insecurity. Today, the majority of schools are again functioning, however many parents fear sending their children to school due to continuing killings, disappearances, forced recruitment and the threat of conflict. In November, in areas of displacement such as Kibati, all schools were occupied by either armed groups or displaced persons. Through successful negotiation in Kibati, all but one school are now operational.

“UNICEF urges the authorities to protect all children and adults from sexual violence, whether perpetrated by parties to the conflict or civilians,” says Vu Thi.

“Prevention of sexual violence requires the commitment of the government, armed forces and groups, and community leaders to reduce the risks that girls and women face and to proactively promote a zero tolerance position toward sexual exploitation and abuse.”

You can help
Support UNICEF's work helping vulnerable children and women in DR Congo by donating to our emergency fund.