April 26, 2006
Congo children dying, despite peace effort: report
By David Lewis
KINSHASA (Reuters) - Several hundred children die daily
from hunger, disease and violence in Congo, despite the efforts
of U.N. peacekeepers, billions of dollars of aid and the
prospect of post-war elections, a rights group said on
by armed groups and have little access to education or
healthcare, the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict said
in a new report.
Instead of improving after the official end in 2003 of a
five-year war, the lives of children in the vast central
African country have deteriorated in some cases, the Watchlist,
a network of NGOs focusing on children's rights, added.
This was in spite of the presence of nearly 17,000 United
Nations peacekeepers in Congo who are safeguarding a faltering
peace process which is due to put an end to a decade of
conflict and chaos and culminate in elections later this year.
"Outward signs of progress should not lull the
international community into a false sense that children in DRC
now live in safety," said Kathleen Hunt, CARE International's
U.N. Representative and Chairperson of the Watchlist.
"To the contrary, stark evidence of the ongoing rape and
mutilation of girls, recruitment and use of children by armed
groups, and other despicable abuses against children continue
to be well-documented," she added.
The Watchlist report said Congolese children endured "some
of the most miserable treatment found anywhere in the world."
"Documented cases recount gross atrocities such as armed
combatants shooting, mutilating, stabbing and burning children
alive," it added.
Insecurity was denying millions of people in Congo access
to healthcare and to their farms and fields to grow food.
Experts say 1,000 people continue to die every day in Congo
from war-related hunger and disease, adding to the four million
people who have died since the war first broke out in 1998.
"Approximately 45 percent of these deaths occur among
children under age 18," Watchlist said.
CHILDREN UNDER ARMS
Elections, Congo's first free polls in four decades, were
initially due to be held last year.
But fighting in the east, as well as political wrangling in
the capital and the logistical challenge of organizing a
national vote in the war-scarred country, have led to many
delays. Diplomats now say they do not expect the polls to occur
before the end of July.
Foreign and local rebel and militia groups continue to roam
the mineral-rich east, resisting attempts by U.N. peacekeepers
to pacify the country. The Congolese army remains chaotic and
is often as dangerous as the rebels.
Watchlist acknowledges that some progress has been made in
demobilizing thousands of children from the armed groups.
But many remain under arms and Amnesty International warned
last month rebels in the east were recruiting children as young
as 12, often by force, to swell their ranks before the historic
The Watchlist report said girls were often forced to join
the fighting forces as sex slaves, or they were held as ransom
and sold in exchange for cows or gold.
"During fighting in North Kivu in 2004 and early 2005,
soldiers shot and raped the mother and father of a 10-year-old
girl, Aurelie, in front of her and then gang-raped her,"
Watchlist said, giving an example of the abuses committed.