Several million children are at risk in DR Congo regions that have been destabilised by armed groups, the UN’s children’s agency said on Friday.
“The lives and futures of more than three million displaced children are at risk in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) while the world is looking the other way,” UNICEF said in a statement.
According to UN figures, 5.2 million people in the DRC have been forced from their homes because of conflict — “more than in any country except Syria,” UNICEF said.
Of these, half have been displaced in the past 12 months, it said.
“Displaced families live in crowded settlements that lack safe water, health care and other basic services, it said.
“Others are accommodated by impoverished local communities. In the most violence-afflicted provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika, more than eight million people are acutely food insecure.”
Children are at risk from sexual abuse and recruitment as child soldiers by armed groups, UNICEF said. Documented violations of this kind rose 16 per cent in the first six months of 2020 compared to the previous year.
A vast country the size of continental western Europe, the DRC is grappling with numerous conflicts, especially in its remote east.
Scores of militias roam the four eastern provinces, many of them a legacy of wars in the 1990s that sucked in countries around central-southern Africa and claimed millions of lives.
The most notorious of these groups, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), has been blamed for hundreds of deaths since the DRC’s army opened an offensive against it in October 2019.
The UN’s refugee agency, the UNHCR, said on Tuesday that more than 2,000 civilians were killed in North and South Kivu and Ituri last year.
UNICEF appealed for a greater effort to meet aid targets to prevent disease and malnourishment among children in the DRC.
It has so far received only 11 per cent of the $384.4 million it is seeking for humanitarian operations in the DRC in 2021.