Conflict in the Kasai, DRC
UNICEF Child Alert | Kasaï: A children’s crisis
Conflict in the Kasai region at a glance
The latest news from the Kasai region
Children and militias
Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of the crisis in Kasai is the use of children by militias. At least 60 per cent of the region’s militia forces are composed of children, according to the interagency Global Education Cluster and Global Protection Cluster.
The militias use children to fight and kill, or to act as human shields. All of them have to endure what is commonly known as a ‘baptism ritual’ in which would-be soldiers – regardless of age – are forced to drink alcoholic potions to acquire supernatural powers that are believed to protect them during combat.
While the security situation has stabilized in parts of the Kasai region and displaced populations have begun to return to their communities, humanitarian conditions remain critical.
More than 770,000 young children are malnourished, including 400,000 children – a staggering 10 per cent of the under-5 population – who urgently need treatment to recover from severe acute malnutrition.
Beyond the threat of malnutrition, the children of the Kasai region face a continuing health crisis. Many young children missed out on scheduled vaccinations because violence and displacement destroyed health centres and disrupted immunization campaigns – making them even more susceptible to deadly childhood diseases.
Even for people who were not displaced during the conflict, health care has become harder to find. According to tallies by UNICEF and local partners, 224 health centres were looted, burnt or destroyed in villages affected by the violence, effectively cutting off all health services to hundreds of thousands of local households.
The disruption of education by the conflict is robbing the children in the Kasai region of a viable future.
Almost half a million children in the region were unable to complete the school year in 2017 and school attendance is likely to be disrupted by violence in 2018 as well.
Since the beginning of the conflict, 416 primary and secondary schools have been attacked or used for military purposes. About 100 schools have been destroyed.
UNICEF is on the ground working with partners to reach children with lifesaving assistance:
Preventing and treating severe acute malnutrition among the region’s children by distributing therapeutic food and training health workers, mothers and community members in infant and young child feeding practices.
Improving children’s access to health care by replenishing stocks of medicines and therapeutic feeding supplies, and distributing medical equipment to health facilities.
Helping children keep learning through organizing remedial classes in primary schools that are operational so that students can prepare for exams. Distributing school materials and uniforms, and supporting regional back-to-school campaigns.
Reaching the hardest to reach with emergency health services, as well as nutrition, water and sanitation supplies, which are desperately needed by people who have been deprived of any assistance for months.
Helping the children used by militias regain a degree of normalcy and return to school despite having endured often nightmarish experiences. Supporting centres that help children make the delicate transition back to their families and communities, as well as helping unaccompanied children reunite with their relatives across Kasai.
Call to action: For the children of Kasai
UNICEF and its partners have achieved some critical results for children in the Kasai region. However, if humanitarian action is not stepped up in 2018:
- 400,000 children will be at risk of dying because of severe acute malnutrition.
- Thousands of children formerly associated with the militias will lack the support they need to reintegrate into their families and communities.
- Children across the region will continue to be denied their right to education.
To protect the lives and futures of children at risk in Kasai – UNICEF calls upon all parties to the conflict, and the international community, to take urgent action on three key priorities: stopping the violence against children, ensuring access to essential services for all children and providing support for sustained humanitarian assistance.