Violence has been raging for the past several months in the Provinces of Tanganyika and South Kivu, which are in the south east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These provinces are plagued by inter-ethnic violence and clashes between the regular army, militia and armed groups.
Children are the first victims of the clashes. Villages are burnt down, schools are destroyed and health centres are looted, leading to mass displacement of people. There are 654,000 displaced persons in Tanganyika, of whom 462,000 are children.
UNICEF estimates that more than 500 children throughout the province are unaccompanied. Ngoy is one of the children who were forced to flee their villages because of the ongoing violence.
“We were at home when pygmies invaded our village. They took my mother and killed her in my presence. Then, I fled with my neighbours until we got here at the Monikaymana camp. Today, I live with them and when they have something to eat, we share.”
At 17, Manda is also unaccompanied. She is from Katibili, a village located 18 kilometres south of Kalemie, the capital of the province of Tanganyika. She now lives at Katanika 2, one of the many camps that have sprung up spontaneously in recent months around Kalemie.
“My father and mother died during the attacks on our village. I saw my parents killed. My mother was assassinated with an axe, and my father with a poisoned arrow. I fled with neighbours to the Katanika 2 camp. Here, we sleep on a wet floor. We do not have tarpaulins to protect us from the rain and the cold.”
Manda was lucky enough to continue her schooling, but, she says, “When we were asked for money to continue, I had to stop because we do not have enough money.”
Gérôme is 13 years old and has been living for several months now in the Katanika 2 camp with neighbours from his village. For months, he did not know where his parents were nor if they were still alive. He was recently informed by the head of the camp that his mother and grandmother had been killed in an attack. He still has no news of his father.
“Life in the camp is difficult. In order to survive, we gather wood that we sell to the people of the town. We get about 500 Congolese francs (approximately US$0.4) for a bundle of wood. This enables us to buy a cup of flour and a bunch of soft potato leaves.”
Inter-ethnic conflict threatens the future of Ngoy, Manda, Gérôme and many other children in Tanganyika. UNICEF and its partners have recorded many cases of violation of children’s rights, especially the recruitment of children by armed groups, family separations, sexual violence, murders and mutilations, abductions, attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as restrictions on humanitarian access.
The work of UNICEF and its partners
Due to limited humanitarian access and especially the lack of funds, UNICEF and its partners have so far been able to provide limited assistance to unaccompanied children and their caregivers.
Hoping to secure additional funds from donors soon, we plan to train partners in the field to document and report serious violations of children’s rights, identify unaccompanied children, train foster families to take care of unaccompanied children, and organise remedial classes for displaced children, including unaccompanied ones.
Read more about the situation on the ground.
Yves Willemot is Chief of Communication at the Country Office of UNICEF in the DRC. Previously he was the Executive Director of the Belgian National Committee for UNICEF and the Communication Advisor at the Regional Office of UNICEF for West and Central Africa.