Democratic Republic of Congo

War, hunger and disease have killed more than five million people in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 1998. One child in every five dies before reaching their fifth birthday.

Families and children in the DRC remain at grave risk of mass atrocities. There hasn't been prolonged peace and stability in eastern Congo since the end of the 1998-2003 war, and armed groups have continued to carry out attacks on communities throughout the region. 

Before the most recent crisis in December 2012, there were more than 2.2 million displaced people and tens of thousands of refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries. 

  • 5.4 million people, mostly civilians, have been killed in fighting since 1998; there are 1,000 rapes every month.
  • One in five children die before the age of five – a quarter of them before they’re a month old.
  • We're working hard to reach tens of thousands of people with life-saving health, child protection and education assistance.

The challenges

Beatrice (pictured above) is just one of thousands of children affected by the prolonged conflict in eastern DRC.

When the violence reached her village, she was at home while her mother was at the market and her father was farming their fields.

She had no choice but to flee, taking nothing with her but her five-year-old sister and the clothes of their backs. 

After days in the bush and unable to find her parents, Beatrice and her sister finally made it to Goma. There, Save the Children’s partner organisation identified her and now visit her regularly in her foster family.

Sadly, Beatrice’s story is similar to thousands of children in eastern Congo who have become separated from their families as a result of conflict.

What we’ve achieved

It is rare, nearly nonexistent, to find a child who doesn’t have multiple problems – acute malnutrition as well as lack of education, or abuse in the home on top of chronic illness.

That’s why our DRC programme has developed an integrated range of supports – a child might receive regular health check-ups and start school, or be reunified with his or her family and given vocational training. 

This approach gives us the greatest chance of success with children and their communities.

Through our capacity-building work, we've strengthened our emergency response and ability to confront the enormous obstacles of geography, conflict and uncertain funding to help the DRC’s children. 

Child survival

In a country where a fifth of children don’t live to see their fifth birthday and which has one of the world’s poorest health systems, we are saving lives.

With increasing numbers of families displaced from their homes, accessing healthcare is becoming an increasing challenge.

In 2012, we provided healthcare to thousands of adults and children through the training of hundreds of nurses, midwives, doctors and community health workers.

As well as constructing, repairing and providing health centres with life-saving equipment and medicines, supporting the identification and treatment of persons living with HIV and supporting the treatment of children with severe malnutrition.

Protection

Many aid agencies work on child protection and sexual violence, but few specifically address the needs of the 45–60% of rape survivors who are under 18.

One of the major issues in eastern DRC is the continued sexual and gender-based violence against children. While this is a well-acknowledged problem and many aid agencies are working on the issue, very little is being done to address this violence against children. With the recent crisis, we've received reports that new levels of sexual violence are occurring.

We're working with local organisations to provide medical, health, legal and psycho-social support to child survivors of sexual violence.

In 2012, we reached thousands of vulnerable children by training local leaders and communities to prevent and respond to exploitation, abuse, violence, and neglect, providing medical and psychosocial support to hundreds of separated and unaccompanied children, and identifying and supporting survivors of sexual violence.

Education

Just two years from 2015, the deadline by which countries are committed to providing universal primary education, nearly half of all Congolese children – 3 million – are out of school. 

The recent conflict has also resulted in thousands of children dropping out of school and many schools being looted or damaged.

In 2012 we increased access to quality basic education for thousands of children in primary schools across the country, training teachers distributing learning materials, constructing classrooms and establishing children’s clubs that encourage children to stay in school.

What’s urgent now

In November 2012 the situation in DRC deteriorated dramatically as an armed group entered Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu region. As a result, a further 130,000 people have become displaced, causing significant humanitarian needs. 

Displacement camps are already stretched to the limit and some families have been forced to move several times. Thousands of children are being separated from their parents in the rush to flee the fighting. It’s a terrifying and confusing time.

We’ve heard reports of children being recruited by armed groups operating in the area. Any child separated from their parents will be at risk and easily preyed upon by armed groups. Many will have witnessed terrible things.

With families having fled with few supplies, food is quickly running out and many families are unable to find adequate shelter, clean water or health care. Children could fall sick from water-borne diseases, malnutrition or other life-threatening health problems unless we act now.

Save the Children teams are on the ground, rapidly delivering life-saving health supplies, treating malnourished children, identifying and referring vulnerable children and delivering education supplies.

We're urgently calling for further funds to support this response.

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