GOMA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 28 September 2023 – The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is on track to have record levels of verified grave violations against children for a third consecutive year in 2023.
Intensifying violence, massive displacement, and proximity of armed groups to communities are leading to an alarming increase in cases of killing, maiming, and abduction of children in DRC. If trends continue, the country is on track to reach new highs since the United Nations Monitoring and Reporting mechanism started in 2005, and surpassing records set in 2022.
“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,” said Sheema Sen Gupta, UNICEF’s Director of Child Protection, during a week-long mission to DRC. “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.”
Latest data shows there has been a 41 per cent increase in the number of verified grave violations against children in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period a year ago. There were 3,377 grave violations against 2,420 children in all of 2022, according to the June 2023 Children and Armed Conflict – Report of the Secretary-General.
Recruitment and use of children in armed groups has spiked by 45 per cent 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 was up 32 per cent in the same period, compared to 699 cases last year.
Rape and other acts of sexual violence against children and abduction of children are also on an upward trajectory. 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, making it 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.
Since violence flared in October 2022, 1.5 million people have been forced to flee for their lives in eastern DRC, taking them away from their homes, livelihoods and communities, and children away from their schools. There is a total of 6.1 million displaced people in eastern DRC.
In response to increasing violations and the urgent needs, UNICEF has provided more than 100,000 children with mental health and psychosocial support services and has assisted more than 6,300 survivors of gender-based violence since the beginning of the year. Despite that, UNICEF has received only 11 per cent of funds required for its child protection response under UNICEF’s emergency appeal in eastern DRC, meaning most needs are going unmet.