AT LEAST 140 children have been killed in combat in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since June, and 500 more have been used as “human shields” amid escalating violence there, new data from United Nations agencies suggests.
It was collated in a report from World Vision, published this week, which warns that, even after children have been demobilised or have fled militias, they are not safe from further harm, and require urgent protection as well as long-term physical, emotional, and mental-health support.
A spokesman for World Vision, Trihadi Saptoadi, said: “This is first and foremost a child-protection crisis. And one of the world’s worst. Children are being killed, and most of those caught up in the fighting are under the age of 18. They are the first victims of this violence.”
There are 3.8 million internally displaced people in the DRC — the highest number on the continent of Africa, and the third highest in the world. The crisis has been fuelled by ongoing political uncertainty, and internal conflict between state security forces and militia groups.
The report notes an upsurge of violence in Grand Kasai region — waged around power, ethnic division, and conflict over land, timber, and minerals — which has led to the displacement of more than 1.4 million people, including 850,000 children, and an “unprecedented” security and humanitarian crisis.
Failure to provide aid to poor communities and help demobilised child soldiers to reintegrate will cause more conflict, it warns. “What these children need now is support, to help them recover and rebuild,” Mr Saptoadi said. “They need peace and stability. It will take mediation and peace-building, provided by the government and partners.”
World Vision interviewed 133 people from 12 June to 5 July to inform the report, including community members, displaced people, demobilised children, donors, NGOs, UN agencies, and religious and customary leaders in Kananga, Lubondaie, Dibaya, Goma, and Kinshasa.
One demobilised 16-year-old girl said: “There are so many children still fighting. What will become of them? Will they kill me if I return home, as I’ve betrayed them?”
World Vision DRC is due to open eight child- and youth-friendly trauma centres in Kasai Central this month, for six months. Its report calls on the DRC government, local power-brokers, and the UN to ensure that humanitarian agencies have urgent and immediate access to the Kasai provinces to meet the needs of children and communities.
Noting that just 11 per cent of the UN’s $64.5-million flash-funding appeal for DRC had been met, the report states that securing funding to support agriculture and education, and to counter extremism and violence against civilians, must be a priority.
It concludes: “The population requires emergency psychosocial support coupled with reintegration programs for demobilised children and youth. It is unclear what the long-term effects of this crisis will be, and therefore social cohesion and grass-roots peace-building and dialogue mechanisms are needed to address social fragmentation.”