|© UNICEF DR Congo/2008/Harneis|
|Dozens of families are living in this primary school in North Kivu province, eastern DR Congo.|
NEW YORK, USA, 21 November 2008 – Fighting in the North Kivu province of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has caused massive disruptions in schooling for hundreds of thousands of children. Throughout the province, thousands of schools are closed. Many schools are now occupied by displaced people.
UNICEF estimates that 60 per cent of the newly displaced people are children. Since late August, over 250,000 people have fled conflict, bringing the total number of displaced in the province to over 1 million.
In the last few days, rebel soldiers have pulled back their positions in North Kivu, but humanitarian access is still limited.
Schools closed by conflict
“Rutshuru territory, in particular, has been a zone of conflict and we know that 85 per cent of schools in that territory have been closed for the last three weeks,” says UNICEF Communications Specialist Jaya Murthy, in Goma. “That has halted the education for approximately 150,000 students.”
Without regular school, children become more vulnerable to violence and abuse, says Mr. Murthy.
“Schools actually serve as a protective environment for children,” he says. “When schools are closed, children start doing other activities, for example collecting wood or going to collect water, or doing other things out in the open. They're more prone to being exploited, to being abused, to being raped and also being recruited into armed groups.
|© UNICEF DR Congo/2008/Harneis|
|Over 60 per cent of the 250,000 newly displaced people in North Kivu are children. Most do not have access to education.|
“We're extremely hopeful that the situation will come down so that schools can resume, so – of course – that children can develop intellectually, but also so that children are protected.”
Emergency education supplies
UNICEF is providing emergency school supplies in some areas. It is also working to move displaced people who are currently living in schools into other forms of shelter so that classes can resume.
UNICEF is also working to provide education for displaced children. “We identify displaced students and schools in a region and we try to integrate displaced children into those schools,” Mr. Murthy says. “Often, schools don't have the capacity to accommodate them, so we'll build emergency classrooms out of plastic sheets, and we can add several emergency classrooms that way.”
The continued risk of displacement has made it difficult for many children in North Kivu to regularly attend school, notes Mr. Murthy.
“This conflict is not new – it's been happening over the last 10 to 12 years, so there have been many children who've actually never gone to school,” he says. “We have catch-up centres where we target adolescents and expedite their learning so that they can get basic literacy and numeracy skills that are critical for their development.”
Since 1996, over 5 million people are thought to have died due to conflict in DR Congo, mostly from preventable disease and malnutrition. UNICEF's mission in DR Congo is one of its largest in the world.
DR Congo crisis
Continued insecurity hinders aid to displaced families in DR Congo