Crisis Unfolds in DRC
GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 28 September 2023 – The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) faces an unprecedented crisis as it heads towards a third consecutive year of record-high verified grave violations against children in 2023.
Escalating Violence and Dire Consequences
Intensified violence, massive population displacement, and the dangerous proximity of armed groups to communities are driving a distressing surge in cases involving the killing, maiming, and abduction of children in the DRC.
If current trends continue, the nation is on track to exceed the records established since the United Nations Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism’s inception in 2005, surpassing the grim benchmarks of 2022.
Urgent Calls for Protection
UNICEF’s Director of Child Protection, Sheema Sen Gupta, who conducted a week-long mission to the DRC, expressed her deep concern, stating,
“I met children who survived the horrors of recruitment and use by armed groups and the unspeakable trauma of sexual violence – atrocities that no one should experience, let alone children. These harrowing stories underscore the urgency for the government to intensify its efforts to safeguard civilians – especially the most vulnerable, the country’s children – and actions needed from partners and donors to be able to scale up our prevention and response activities.”
The latest data reveals a staggering 41 percent increase in the number of verified grave violations against children during the first half of 2023 compared to the same period the previous year. In all of 2022, there were 3,377 grave violations against 2,420 children, as reported in the June 2023 Children and Armed Conflict – Report of the Secretary-General.
Recruitment and use of children in armed groups have surged by 45 percent in the first six months of the year. In 2022, 1,545 children – some as young as 5 years old – were verified as having been recruited and used by armed groups. Killing and maiming of children increased by 32 percent during the same period, compared to 699 cases in the previous year.
Rape and other acts of sexual violence against children and abduction of children are also witnessing an alarming escalation. In both 2021 and 2022, DRC had the world’s highest levels of verified cases of sexual violence against children committed by armed forces and armed groups.
Moreover, in 2022, 730 children were verified as abducted, marking it as the highest number of abductions ever verified by the United Nations in the DRC.
“This violence is unacceptable. We call on all parties to the conflict to take measures to prevent and end all grave violations against children,” added Sen Gupta.
Escalating Humanitarian Crisis
Since violence erupted in October 2022, an astounding 1.5 million people have fled for their lives in eastern DRC, compelling them to leave their homes, livelihoods, and communities. This mass displacement has disrupted children’s access to education. Currently, eastern DRC hosts a total of 6.1 million displaced people.
In response to the escalating violations and urgent needs, UNICEF has provided more than 100,000 children with mental health and psychosocial support services. Additionally, the organization has assisted more than 6,300 survivors of gender-based violence since the beginning of the year.
Despite these efforts, UNICEF has only received 11 percent of the required funds for its child protection response under UNICEF’s emergency appeal in eastern DRC, leaving many needs unmet.