KINSHASA, 8 February 2024 – Escalating violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has forced at least 78,000 children to flee their homes in the past week, with thousands now on the road to Goma, Save the Children said.
The renewed fighting between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) and M23, a non-state armed group, has displaced at least 150,000 people, more than half of them children, since 2 February. Parents have reported that many children have been separated in the violence, although the number of lost children is unknown. Families are seeking refuge in displacement camps, churches, schools and with host families, with thousands now on the road looking for safety in Goma, the province’s capital.
The use of artillery, drones, and explosives in eastern DRC is killing and injuring civilians and damaging and destroying essential infrastructure, said Save the Children. According to local media sources, 19 people have been killed and 27 others injured in the violence, including three young girls. A market was hit on 7 February, and munitions also landed inside a school courtyard and close to a hospital. All schools in the area remain closed.
Alicia*, who works at a Save the Children partner school in North Kivu, recounted the events on 2 February: “It was last Friday around 5 p.m. that we heard bullets. Everyone fled in their own direction. Some children were even lost and have not yet been found. Many parents are crying about the disappearance of their children, but the number of children lost is not yet known. The road was cut off. Shops were looted. Schools have been closed and children are no longer studying. In addition, we are not going to return unless the situation improves.”
The DRC has long suffered from repeated cycles of influx of refugees, conflicts and unrest. Today, more than 25 million people are in dire need of humanitarian aid to survive and over seven million displaced.
The current wave of violence follows a tumultuous year of heightened outbreaks of conflict in 2023, when intensified fighting in the east of the country between various groups displaced more than 1 million people, including at least 500,000 children. By the end of 2023, North Kivu alone had more than 2.4 million people internally displaced, according to the UNHCR.
Greg Ramm, Save the Children Country Director in DRC said: “Children in eastern DRC are living through yet another a nightmare. Abrupt violence on the weekend has separated children from their families and forcibly torn them away from their homes. Families are now seeking refuge in schools, churches, and hospitals, hoping they won’t get caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, host families, already stretched thin, are stepping up amid this deepening crisis.
“This region has endured persistent violence, with children growing up in a relentless cycle of death, destruction, and displacement. Children in the DRC are not only witnessing the horrors of conflict but are also being recruited into violent armed groups, facing catastrophic hunger, and enduring sexual abuse. Urgent and resolute action is imperative to break the cycle of suffering for these innocent lives.
“The rights and well-being of children across DRC must be prioritised. Children cannot continue to be caught in the crossfire. Save the Children calls for stronger and more consistent systems to hold to account the perpetrators of crimes affecting children. We call for all those involved in the fighting to affirm and adhere to international laws, human rights provisions, and rules and standards designed to protect children.”
Currently, children and their families are finding it nearly impossible to access services needed for their protection and survival. The only safe route to access the displaced population is via boat.
Save the Children has worked in the DRC since 1994 to meet humanitarian needs linked to the arrival of refugees and the displacement of populations due to armed conflict in eastern provinces. Save the Children has scaled up its humanitarian response to support existing care systems, training local leaders and communities to prevent and respond to exploitation and abuse, and ensuring access to healthcare through mobile clinics. It is also helping children access basic education by building classrooms, training teachers, and distributing learning materials.
Notes to Editor:
- According to UN Population Prospects, about 52% of the population in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are children.
- According to the UN, an offensive in October 2023 displaced more than 450,000 people in North Kivu: The Largest Humanitarian Needs of 2024 - Democratic Republic of the Congo | ReliefWeb
- Democratic Republic of the Congo: Internally displaced persons and returnees, July 2023 - Democratic Republic of the Congo | ReliefWeb
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