At least 1.3 million people, including more than 800,000 children, have been displaced by ethnic violence and clashes between the army, militia and armed groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), UNICEF has said.
Congo, almost the size of Western Europe, is the world’s largest source of cobalt. For two decades it has struggled to defeat dozens of local and foreign militias in the east, which has deposits of tin, gold and coltan.
One group, the Allied Democratic Front (ADF), a rebel group from Uganda operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is considered a terrorist organisation by the Ugandan government.
More than 120 massacres in eastern Congo, in which assailants methodically hacked people to death with axes and machetes or fatally shot them, were blamed on ADF.
The DRC is now home to one of the largest displacement crises in the world for children.
“Children in the eastern DRC continue to suffer devastating consequences as waves of violence destabilize the region,” said Dr. Tajudeen Oyewale, UNICEF Acting Representative in the DRC said yesterday.
“Hundreds of thousands of children in the region no longer have access to health care and education, while many have suffered atrocities at the hands of combatants. It is simply a brutal situation for children with no end in sight.”
He said children in eastern DRC are also being sexually abused and recruited to fight.
UNICEF and its partners have identified more than 800 cases of sexual abuse, although the true scale of sexual violence being perpetrated against children is believed to be much larger.
Recent UNICEF data shows that more than 3,000 children have been recruited by militias and armed groups over the past year.
UNICEF is deeply concerned by how the fighting has impacted children’s health and nutritional wellbeing. Many health centres are no longer functioning and there is a heightened risk of food insecurity as violence has prevented many people from working in the fields to grow their crops.
There is a very real possibility that thousands of children could suffer from malnutrition due to the lack of food.
At least 400,000 children in the conflict-ridden Kasai region of the DRC could starve to death, UNICEF said last December.