· Aid agency finds more than one-third of children are scared all the time or every day
· Lack of protection systems leave children are vulnerable to lifelong consequences of conflict
· Current peace process offers best chance of hope for children
Tuesday 14 January – Children in eastern Congo experience disturbing levels of violence and fear, a new report by aid agency World Vision finds.
More than a third (38 per cent) of children interviewed for No One To Turn To said they were scared all the time or on a daily basis and 36 per cent had experienced or witnessed violence first hand, often extreme and graphic in nature.
“It’s no surprise that this conflict is affecting children, but even we were shocked at the extent we found when we looked into it. It is heartbreaking,” says Frances Charles, Advocacy Manager for World Vision in eastern DRC.
“The atrocities children spoke of – seeing their parents’ killed, fleeing their home, being attacked – are committed so frequently that many regard it as a normal part of daily life,” says Ms Charles.
The continual violence, and their exposure to it, puts children at risk of permanent physical and psychological damage, the report warns.
“There’s a very real risk that children living in other conflict situations around the world, such as Syria and Central African Republic, are suffering in similar ways. Every time a bullet is fired, every time a new peak in the conflict hits, we know that these children are put at further risk of suffering long-term damage,” says Ms Charles.
“They usually witness unspeakable horrors and have no home or family to turn to. We know how vital it is that they receive support, protection and loving, caring relationships now so to prevent permanent damage as they grow.”
More than 1.5 million people have fled their homes in eastern DRC, and almost every child World Vision interviewed for the report (96 per cent) has been forced from their home, many more than once. But the organisation believes another reality is possible.
“The situation in eastern DRC is grim, but that does not mean it is a lost cause,” says World Vision's EU Representative, Mr Marius Wanders. “Peace is a top priority, with 2014 presenting one of the best chances for this we’ve seen for a long time. As one of the most significant donors to the eastern DRC region, we believe the European Union must continue to play a key role in stablisation and peace building efforts."
“In the meantime, children need to be protected – by families or caregivers, with the support of local organisations and the government. The No One To Turn To report serves as a reminder for how important this is now more than ever.”
In Their Words
“I am always afraid since I was raped. Every time I hear a loud noise, like a plate dropping, it grabs my heart. I am always scared because there is always conflict,” said 14-year-old Laini.
“I heard gunshots and fled with my mother. I was ahead of my Mum and they killed her. Then, on the journey, two armed men raped me and I became pregnant,” described Mapendo, 16.
“Armed men arrive. I saw them take adults and tie their arms and feet with their clothes, and then beat their heads with hammers,” said Patrick, 12.
“We are most afraid of rape because it is not only by one person – it can be more than ten people or by armed men who have taken drugs, and we are just little girls,” said Zabibu, 14.
Read the report. Accompanying case studies, photos, footage, infographics or interviews with spokespeople in Goma are available from World Vision on request.