RDC - Children' education in the war

Brussels, 28/06/03
We received the following report on education in Congo RDC which we have read with a great deal of interest... and sorrow. We found it absolutely devastating and one which should be made available to as wide a public as possible.

If you like, you can share your impression with the sender:
        "PETER MERCKX"  <petermerckx at hotmail.com>

Paolo - anb-bia

Children's education in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo:

Dear reader please take a moment to read this document and let me know your impression.

Over 12 percent of children do not reach their first birthday.
Many children die while hiding in the bush.
Many children who survive are traumatized by acts of vandalism and barbarity perpetuated by armed groups. They witness horrendous scenes in which their own families and friends are killed, sometimes hacked to death in front of them. Many young people have lost years of schooling. They are raised in communities with eroded family and societal structures, in camps for displaced people, on the streets, in active duty with armed groups and in other dangerous situations. Additionally, donor support for programs and policies needed to improve the security and rights of Congolese children is lacking. Rights abuses committed against children by combatants associated with all armed groups in DRC are egregious and well documented. Moreover, the occupation of large portions of DRC by the armies of neighboring states has caused considerable suffering among children and other vulnerable groups. The poor health situation of children in DRC is in part a result of lack of access to basic services and to humanitarian assistance.
Focus on Unaccompanied and Street Children
War, poverty and the breakdown of traditional coping mechanisms have forced children onto the streets or away from their original home environment into situations where they are facing neglect and exploitation. Refugees International describes the complexity of the situation for these children by listing the many categories used to describe them: children in the street (during the day), children of the street (during day and night), children in prison, child laborers, child prostitutes, children accused of sorcery, demobilized or escaped child soldiers, unaccompanied displaced children, displaced children and abandoned children. A new category has also been created for children orphaned by AIDS. All of these young people are in serious need of protection and assistance. Many fit into more than one of these categories. The number of Congolese children on the street in urban areas has increased, according to UNICEF and other agencies operating in DRC. AI reports that the number of street children in Goma and Bukavu has increased significantly. In 2001, an estimated 10,000 unaccompanied children were living on the streets in Bukavu. One source in Kinshasa estimates 40,000 children on the streets of the capital city. In Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo, over 50 percent of the street children affiliated with IRC's programs originate from DRC. Approximately 60 percent of all unaccompanied children in Brazzaville are from DRC. Young girls who are orphaned and separated from their families or other caregivers are at particular risk of neglect and abuse. These girls are discriminated against for access to services and are subject to sexual violence. The result is that many have adolescent pregnancies, become child-mothers or are forced to turn to sex work to survive. Street children are criminalized under Congolese law and are regularly targeted for roundups by authorities, police and /or military and other forms of abuse by various sectors of society. Separation from families also increases young people's risk of forced recruitment by armed groups. Other children are left in such desperate economic circumstances that they may voluntarily join armed groups in search of food and "security." (See below, Child Soldiers)

International and local organizations have programs to provide housing, education and food for some vulnerable children. The ICRC, UNICEF and others run limited prevention and child reunification programs. In February 2003, ICRC reunited nearly 200 children with their families after many had been separated for several months as a result of conflict. According to Save the Children, some separated children from previous conflicts are still awaiting reunification.

Focus on Children Accused of Sorcery
Girls and boys all over DRC have been accused of witchcraft or sorcery. According to reports, this phenomenon is relatively new and is likely the result of the breakdown of family and community structures due to war and poverty. The increasing presence of revelation churches in areas where traditional beliefs still have strong roots has also been linked to the development of this problem. Families are encouraged to look for signs of sorcery in their women and children and then to engage in exorcism rituals. Many children on the streets of Kinshasa and other urban areas have reportedly been evicted from their homes because their families have accused them of witchcraft. In Shabunda, GRAM estimates that the Mai Mai has sequestered many girls from their village because they are accused of being witches or sorceresses. The problem is often accentuated in poorer areas, such as in the Kadutu and Ibanda areas in Bukavu.
80 percent of all displaced people are women and children.
Children in some camps, such as those in Zambia, reportedly have regular access to educational opportunities, medical care, food and water. Unaccompanied children, are especially vulnerable to violations of their security and rights, such as forced recruitment and gender-based violence, whether inside or outside of refugee camp settings.
Malnutrition is a serious problem among IDP children.
The majority of IDP children have been deprived of proper or any schooling since 1998, according to the UN. Displaced children have almost no access to education, making them more vulnerable to recruitment into armed forces. In eastern Katanga, some parents pay double school fees to enable displaced children to attend. Reports that the majority of deaths among children under five were ascribed to febrile illnesses, diarrhea, neonatal mortality, acute respiratory infections, measles and malnutrition. IRC also reports that health conditions in the east are far worse than in the west. Health conditions in the west are relatively poor compared to Africa generally. In 1998, there were only 2,560 doctors serving the entire population of over 50 million; 930 of these were in Kinshasa. Malnutrition is at the root, every year, of close to 54 percent of children's deaths registered in hospitals in this respective country. RNIS 2001 studies on food intake in Kinshasa have revealed that the average daily calorie intake is approximately 40 percent lower than internationally accepted norms. RNIS also reports an 18 percent chronic malnutrition rate among children in Kinshasa, 30 percent in the city's periphery (2001).
DRC is on the World Bank's list of five countries around the world with the largest number of children out of school. In total, 66 percent of boys of primary school age and 51 percent of girls of primary school age were enrolled in 2001, according to UNICEF; the attendance rate is likely to be much lower. UNICEF also estimated that 3 to 3.5 million children between ages 6 and 11 in DRC did not have access to basic education in 2000-2001; 2 million of these were estimated to be girls. This means that approximately 50 percent of children of primary school age are completely outside the educational system.

Churches and church networks all over DRC have set up and run schools. Despite this important effort, estimates of children who do not have access to school are as high as 70 percent in the East. Some areas of forced displacement, desertion or recent return of displaced persons do not have any functioning schools. Schools in Fizi, Bunyakiri, Mwenga and Shabunda in South Kivu often do not function according to a local source. Only 64 percent of enrolled children make it to grade five, according to UNICEF's 2002 report, State of the World's Children. In urban areas, there is a marked increase in the number of dropouts, as many families are unable to afford high education fees. Teachers are often severely underpaid. In North Kivu, teachers received their last state salary of US$5.82 per month in 1995. Since that time, it has been up to individual schools to collect enough to pay teachers and cover other costs. In most, if not all areas, parents are expected to contribute to school costs. Teacher salaries vary from US$1 to US$15 per month in rural areas and between US$15 and US$30 in urban areas in Ituri District. Due to hyperinflation, the take-home pay is often significantly lower. Many school buildings throughout DRC are dilapidated. Books are not widely available and pupils often do not have uniforms.

Less than 1 percent of the national budget is allocated to education, according to UNICEF. The government has explained that the primary focus at this time is the war effort. In areas outside government control the situation is no better. For example, in Ituri District and North Kivu the controlling forces have not instituted regular educational programs. The 15 percent gender gap in school enrollment is a result of several barriers for girls to educational opportunities. For example, the opportunity cost of girls' education is extremely high, considering the prohibitively high educational fees and girls' regular participation in household and farming duties. The patriarchal nature of society prompts many families struggling with scarce resources to send boys to school at the expense of girls. Some parents choose to keep their daughters at home due to safety and security considerations. Schools are often a long distance from home, the conditions of the schools are extremely poor, and there is increasing evidence of sexual harassment of girls by their teachers. In addition, the learning environment is generally not conducive to girls' achievement. HRW reports that combatants rape women and girls during military operations to punish the local civilian population for allegedly supporting the "enemy." In many instances, the Mai Mai abduct and rape women and girls and use them as sexual slaves and domestic servants, sometimes for periods of more than a year. Women and girls are often attacked while engaged in everyday activities, such as cultivating fields, collecting firewood or traveling to school or a market.

HRW and others have documented extraordinary brutality. For example, The War within the War documents two cases of assailants having inserted firearms into the vaginas of their victims and then shooting them. In other instances, assailants mutilated female sexual organs with knives and razor blades. Some of the attacked girls were as young as five years old. The victims are frequently traumatized and stigmatized by the population. Many victims also contract STIs, including HIV. Children Sacrificed in Eastern DR Congo, poor children, living in poor neighborhoods, towns and even in quarries, are managed and exploited by professional prostitutes and are not provided with condoms as protection against HIV and other STIs. It is widely known that prostitutes who do not use condoms are able to charge higher fees. Many children work for their families, some traveling more than 10 kilometers on foot to look for food and other provisions. In Kalonge, South Kivu, most families have lost their personal possessions through looting by armed forces, often assisted by children. Different armed groups use children to help transport goods ravaged from their own families. According to a local NGO, in some areas, police reportedly use children to accost small vendors and steal cassava, meat or other food. AI reports that in Shabunda, the Rwandan military and RCD-G forced children as young as 13 to take part in a practice known in Kiswahili as Ulinzi (security), in which families were required to give up one of their family members on a daily basis to carry out security patrols. Local populations, including children, are being conscripted by some military forces in different regions and used as forced labor in the extraction of natural resources. Children are also used as stone crushers, commonly called "Twangeuses," to make gravel in quarries. Sexual exploitation of women and children is reported in and near coltan mines. AI reports that girls as young as 12 or 13 in South Kivu in 2001 who were abandoned by their families or displaced by the conflict were provided with accommodation and food in return for earning money as prostitutes at the mines. Impoverished families push children into prostitution or give their daughters to men, to take with them to the mines in exchange for money or goods. Many of these girls are reported to have contracted HIV/AIDS and/or become pregnant.
Tens of thousands of children are child soldiers in DRC.
Child soldiers are still present in all armed groups in DRC, in some cases representing up to 35 percent of troops and are being sent to the front lines. The report also notes that new recruitment, sometimes of already demobilized child soldiers, continues in some areas. In addition to forced conscription, many children are known to voluntarily join the military or militia forces. In the context of generalized poverty and breakdown of basic social services, unaccompanied children or orphans may be seeking protection, food and/or a place in society. Recruitment and use of girls by the different armed groups is difficult to assess. The numbers of girl recruits is likely to be lower than that of boys. While it appears that some girls receive military training, few probably see combat. Girls are typically used for domestic work and sex. Many girls remain "wives" of commanders and may even return with them to their country of origin. Others may resort to prostitution to support themselves and their children after being abandoned or widowed. Some children recruited into the AFDL continued to serve in the FAC under Kabila, while many others became street children. Some former child soldiers face detention, unfair trail and harsh punishments by the government. Although illegally recruited, some children are in prison accused of desertion. Children have languished in prison with adults for months on end, with little access to health care or consideration of their vulnerability and special needs and rights. Some children have faced closed and unfair trails before military courts, with no legal representation and some have been sentenced to death. In 2001, it was reported that children as young as 10 years old were allowed to voluntarily enlist, despite the Presidential decree. An eyewitness account from Refugees International confirms continued FAC child soldier recruitment, both forced and voluntary, as recently as February 2003. UN sources estimate that 50 percent of the Mai Mai forces are children. During the 1996-1997 uprising, the Mai Mai reportedly recruited children as young as eight years old. Mai Mai child recruitment still continues. In 2003, a limited number of Mai Mai forces in the Kindu area, including approximately 20 children, spontaneously demobilized from the militias. While child recruitment continued, with few child soldiers being demobilized, the RCD-G claimed in December 2000 that its commanders had been instructed not to recruit children and denied that such recruitment was occurring. Instead, RCD-G claimed it had "inherited" child soldiers recruited by the late President Kabila. Rwandan forces had also trained these previously recruited child soldiers. Children accused of desertion from the RCD-G face severe penalties if caught. Some are detained in the Central Prison of Bukavu in deplorable conditions. While efforts by local and international organizations have secured the release of some children, others have been redeployed in the armed forces. The former Rwandan government army, FAR, and exiled Rwandan Interahamwe Hutu militia are also thought to be associated with armed groups in DRC and to recruit and use children. According to sources on the ground, up to 20 percent of Ex-FAR/Interahamwe forces in some areas may be children. Children are generally used as porters and for pillaging. Accounts also indicate that some girls are associated with the Ex-FAR/Interahamwe. They have been kidnapped or are dependents of Ex-FAR/Interahamwe fighters.
From Watchlist

Peter Merckx

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