Learning is a Lifeline: Access to Education for Refugee Children in Kenya

Across the globe conflicts are becoming increasingly protracted, new escalations of violence are occurring, climate disasters are more frequent, and humanitarian crises are worsening. Such realities are displacing more children than ever before and for longer periods of time. Many children are now spending their entire childhoods displaced, and for some, their entire childhoods in refugee camps. A growing population of refugee children in protracted displacement contexts demands concrete action from the international community to ensure that, even if displaced, all children have access to essential services, have their basic needs met, and their rights upheld.

In August and September 2023, USCRI Policy Analyst Victoria Walker travelled to Kenya to visit both Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps and Kalobeyei Settlement with an aim to better understand the experiences of refugee children in the camps and to examine access to education and child protection services within the camps. The following section of a forthcoming report presents key findings from the field visits as it relates to access to education for refugee children, including the unique challenges faced by refugee girls.

If you want to learn more about the education and protection needs of refugee children in Kenya, read our Policy & Advocacy Brief: Her Dreams to Achieve: Ensuring Protection and Education for Refugee Girls.

DR Congo: Children killed, injured, abducted, and face sexual violence in conflict at record levels for third consecutive year – UNICEF

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.


The number of reported cases of violence against women and girls leapt by 37% in North Kivu.

KINSHASA, 9th May 2023: More than 150 schools in North Kivu province in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have been attacked by armed groups in escalating violence since the beginning of January , affecting the education of over 62,000 children, Save the Children said.

Armed groups have targeted schools, often burning desks and chairs as firewood, leaving children without a safe space to learn.

Over 150 schools out of a total of around 6,800 schools** in the province have been attacked. Eighteen schools are currently occupied by armed groups and 113 schools are being used as temporary shelter for internally displaced people, according to data from the DRC’s education cluster, which is led by the Ministry of Education, Save the Children and UNICEF.

North Kivu is one of the country’s most conflict-affected provinces. Over the past year, close to one million people have been internally displaced due to violent clashes. Conflict has been raging in parts of the country for nearly three decades, and children are paying the heaviest price.

The attacks on schools in DRC are having a devastating impact on children’s education, with about 4% of schools occupied or rendered unusable.

Alphonsine, 13, from Nyiragongo, in North Kivu, left her village six months ago, and is now living in a camp for displaced people. Her school is currently occupied by armed groups. She said:*

“One day I met our school headmaster and two of my friends in the camp. The headmaster said that our school was destroyed by bombs. The armed people occupying our school took away the doors and windows to sell them. The headmaster told us that we will take over the school only when the war will stop.”

Save the Children supports schools through partners in North Kivu with building repairs, teacher training, school kits, menstrual hygiene items, and cash transfers for vulnerable families. Four of the organisation’s partner schools have been attacked by armed groups.

Juliana, 27, is a teacher at a Save the Children partner school in North Kivu, she said:*

“Our school has been a battlefield. All the wooden school materials and benches were used as firewood by the armed groups that occupied our school. Students and teachers left the villages for safer places. I hope that peace will return so that I can resume work. I miss my students.”

Marc, 45, is a headmaster at a Save the Children partner school in North Kivu, he said:*

“When I think of all the support Save the Children gave to our school, and now almost everything has been destroyed, I am saddened. Classroom doors and windows taken away, school materials burnt, these armed men are attacking the future of the children. I ask the authorities to secure our environment, including schools, so that the right to education is always guaranteed.”

In addition to schools being damaged during attacks, countless children across the country are unable to attend school, as they are fleeing violence, and living in camps or makeshift accommodation, including school buildings.

Save the Children supports displaced families with food assistance, water, Children’s Clubs and health support.

Alphonsine added:*

“When I fled, I had only taken a jumper to protect myself against the cold. My clothes, notebooks and school backpack were left behind.

“I come every day to the Child Friendly Space that Save the Children has created. We do karaoke, we play many other games. I like coming to the space because I feel free. There is also food and we are given soaps or wipes to be clean.”

The DRC is one of the world’s most complex and long-standing humanitarian crises, with 14.2 million in dire need of assistance.

“This year the North Kivu has seen a startling increase in violent attacks on communities, including schools, and as a result, children’s right to education is under threat. Save the Children calls on the warring parties to establish their camps, storage and training sites away from schools, and for DRC’s government to include school safety in upcoming peace talks.”

Save the Children has worked in the DRC since 1994 to meet humanitarian needs linked to the massive displacement of populations due to armed conflict in eastern provinces, especially in North Kivu, South Kivu and Ituri and Kasai-Oriental and Lomami in the center of the country.

Every child, child has the right to live free from violence, exploitation and abuse.