The UN’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict, released today, reported 3,377 United Nations (UN) verified grave violations against children in the DRC of which about 46% involved the recruitment of children – some as young as five - by armed forces or groups.
Most of the recruited children were used in combat or in support roles, with others used as guards and spies. Twenty-six children were verified as being used as 'fetish keepers', a term which refers to children who are recruited because of a belief they possess magic powers. These are children who undergo a ceremonial ritual of a deep knife cut to the stomach. Those who do not die of these wounds may be recruited and put on the front lines due to their supposed powers.
Since 2018, the number of children killed and maimed in conflict in the DRC has progressively risen, with the number of children killed and maimed in 2022 (699 children) nearly double the number in 2021 (363 children).
The DRC had the highest number of child abductions globally, with 730 children forcibly taken from their homes last year. Most of these children were abducted for recruitment and use by armed groups, but some were used for the purposes of extortion, sexual violence, and torture.
Yet, the DRC remains a forgotten conflict with Save the Children research showing that between January and end of September 2022, Ukraine received five times more media coverage than the combined coverage of the ten worst conflict affected countries to be a child in 2021.
Save the Children is calling for urgent international attention to address the situation and end the impunity.
Greg Ramm, Save the Children’s Country Director in the DRC, said:
“Many Children growing up in the DRC are living through the toughest experiences imaginable. Every day children are experiencing harrowing violations against their rights. They’ve watched their homes and schools be destroyed. Armed groups force their friends and family members into armed recruitment, and many have survived sexual and gender-based violence, abuse and abductions.
“Despite the extent of the crisis, the humanitarian response is severely underfunded, resulting in a shortage of food, healthcare and shelter, children missing out on education and insufficient psychosocial care for survivors of abuse. The situation has also been exacerbated by disease outbreaks and natural disasters, while the country is grappling with extreme poverty and huge numbers of families displaced by conflict.
“All parties to the conflict must end the unlawful recruitment and use of children in conflict. We urge the government and international community to use their power to hold perpetrators of grave violations to account and to put in place a system of support for those affected. It is vital that schools are safe zones spared from conflict and more action is taken to protect children from killing, maiming and sexual violence. This war on children needs to stop.”
More than 6.2 million people in the DRC have been displaced, and families face violence, hunger and disease every day. This includes 330,000 people that were displaced in March 2023 alone. Despite the scale of need, DRC’s humanitarian crisis is extremely underfunded, with just 28% of its humanitarian plan financed. This urgent funding gap could leave children exposed to the immediate and lasting impacts of conflict, recruitment, exploitation and violence.
James Denselow, Head of Conflict and Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy at Save the Children UK, said:
“In war zones across the world, children are living through unspeakable horrors. About 468 million children globally are currently living in conflict zones, facing the danger of being killed or maimed, suffering famine-like conditions or seeing their education stopped as it’s too dangerous to go to school.
“The high levels of recorded grave violations against children in the DRC for the past two years shows how desperate the situation has become and how vulnerable children living there are to the threat of physical harm, exploitation and the risk of recruitment into child labour or armed groups. It’s vital we protect children from the physical and emotional wounds of war and ramp up efforts to prevent grave violations against children. Children living in conflict zones deserve a future.”
Save the Children is calling on world leaders, donors, UN Member States, and NGOs to protect children in the DRC by holding perpetrators of these violations to account, ensuring all relevant policies and legal frameworks are ratified and implemented, and prioritising funding for the necessary services to support children impacted by conflict to ensure their recovery and resilience.
The Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict is an essential tool for protecting the rights of children in times of war. The listing of parties to conflict must always be evidence based and depoliticized. All perpetrators of grave violations against children must be named and shamed in the report.
Save the Children has scaled up its humanitarian response to support existing care systems, train local leaders and communities to prevent and respond to exploitation and abuse, and ensure children and families have access to primary health care through mobile clinics. It has also been working to help children access basic education by building classrooms, training teachers and distributing learning materials. Following recent deadly flash floods in South Kivu, where 20% of the population is internally displaced, Save the Children deployed its emergency response team to provide essential healthcare to children and their families, including medical supplies to health clinics and 3,500 medical, sanitation, cholera and menstrual health management and education kits.
Save the Children has worked in the DRC since 1994 to meet humanitarian needs linked to the displacement of populations due to armed conflict in eastern provinces, especially in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri and Kasai-Oriental and Lomami in the centre of the country. In 2022, Save the Children reached more than 2.5 million people, including over 1.1 million children.
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NOTES TO EDITORS:
The SG’s Children and Armed Conflict report, which looks at violations against children committed in 2022, identified at least 27,180 grave violations around the world, up 13% on the year before. The highest numbers of violations were the killing and maiming of children following by the recruitment and abduction of children, with a 112% increase in attacks on schools and hospitals on the year before. The highest number of grave violations were identified in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel and the State of Palestine, Somalia, The Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine, Afghanistan and Yemen.
In the DRC, the report found that the recruitment of children was one of the most prevalent violations with 1,545 children recruited in combat, as guards, spies or in other roles, 730 were abducted, 409 children were killed and 290 maimed while 284 children were victims of sexual violence.