UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Representative in the country, Grant Leaity, issued the alert on Tuesday, revealing that youngsters in eastern DRC face daily atrocities, including rape, abduction and recruitment by armed groups.
“I visited a centre in Beni and North Kivu for children released from armed groups where I met a couple of one-year-old twins. They were found only a few months back and abandoned in their village, they’re orphans. They were severely acutely malnourished and they had explosive devices attached to their bodies.”
DR Congo has the highest tally of UN-verified grave violations against children in places experiencing armed conflict. According to UNICEF, children are killed and maimed every day in the east of the country.
Speaking at a scheduled press briefing in Geneva, Mr. Leaity said that there were “few worse places, if any, to be a child” than eastern DR Congo.
According to the UNICEF official, the family of the twins who were wired with explosives had been killed in an attack by one of the many armed groups operating in the eastern DRC.
The expanding use of improvised explosive devices is just one of several recent, depraved trends, he said.
“When they were found, there were only a few months old. This was indeed a booby trap. We got in touch with the anti-mine personnel colleagues who came and were able to take these devices off safely.”
Ruthless hunt for resources
This upsurge in violence and conflict in the country’s east has its roots in ethnic conflict and ruthless competition for resources dating back decades. It has resulted in the worst displacement crisis in Africa, and one of the worst globally this year.
Of six grave violations against children in armed conflicts reported on by the UN in eastern DRC, two have increased sharply in the last 12 months: the recruitment of children by armed groups and killing and maiming of children.
“More than 2.8 million children are bearing the brunt of the humanitarian crisis in the east. I am here today to, I hope, sound the alarm,” Mr. Leaity continued. “On a daily basis, children are being raped and killed. They are being abducted, recruited and used by armed groups.”
In the first three months of 2023 in North Kivu alone, more than 38,000 cases of sexual and gender-based violence were reported. This is a 37 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2021.
In addition to the devastating violence, around 1.2 million children under five in the east, face the risk of severe acute malnutrition, according to UNICEF. The country is also experiencing its worst cholera outbreak in more than five years, with measles on the rise in particular in and around 12 provinces with over 780,000 cases reported by August this year.
In addition to the immediate physical and mental trauma affecting children, around 2,000 schools have closed in the eastern DRC in the year, as result of the latest uptick in violence.
“There are schools which are directly attacked…they can be shot at or burned down and sometimes they are literally looted and destroyed,” UNCEF’s Mr. Leaity said.
“But there are far greater numbers where schools are being used by internally displaced people who have no other available options for shelter.”
In many other cases, schools that have not been looted or otherwise damaged have had to remain closed because the teachers are themselves amongst the displaced.