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APO International

Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC): Violence in North Kivu Forces Over 500 Schools to Close, With Teachers Kidnapped and Students Terrified

todayMarch 28, 2024 9

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A spike of violence in the North Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has forced 540 schools to close in the past year, creating chaos for children and putting them at risk of being recruited by armed forces, forced into work, Save the Children said.

Since the beginning of 2024, violence has forced about 190 schools to close their doors, according to Save the Children’s analysis of data from the education cluster – a coordination mechanism made up of education actors that assess needs and prioritise humanitarian responses.

Among the affected schools are 24 that have been seized by armed groups, 10 that have been directly attacked, and 29 that have been used as an emergency shelter for displaced families. Additionally, over the past year, there have been at least two reported cases of teachers being kidnapped, along with two incidents involving the abduction of students either at school or on their way to class. The closure of 7% of schools in the region has left about 270,000 children out of education, putting them at risk of being without the essential skills they will need to build a future. The neighbouring provinces of Ituri and South Kivu have also been impacted by violent attacks.

Attacks on schools leave deep emotional and psychological scars on children and can negatively impact their ability to develop, said Save the Children.

Bahati*, 12, who was at school when fighting broke out in his village in North Kivu last year, said:

We played football at recess, then the bell rang, and we went into the classroom. Only a few minutes later, we saw the armed men coming out from the eucalyptus trees. They came to our school firing bullets. I heard explosions and other loud noises. We fled, without even thinking, everyone fled into another direction. 

People walked for two days; people were separated from their families. Children without parents and parents without their children. As bullets kept on flying, we headed to Goma, which is how we arrived at the displacement camp in Goma.”

The current wave of violence follows a tumultuous year of heightened outbreaks of conflict in North Kivu in 2023, when intensified fighting in the east of the country displaced more than 1 million people, including at least 500,000 children. At least 250,000 people, including about 130,000 children, have been forced to flee their homes in North Kivu since February 2024 alone, with more than 2.6 million people–about 30% of the population in the region–displaced since 2022.

On 28 February, the United Nations started the gradual withdrawal of its peacekeeping mission in the DRC–known asMONUSCO– at the request of the government, despite concerns about increasing violence. The country is facing the second-largest displacement crisis in the world after Sudan, with close to 10 million people on the move, while poverty and hunger affect a quarter of the population, or 25.4 million people, according to the UN.

Although education is a top priority for children and parents in crisis, it is all too often the first service to be suspended and one of the last to resume. Prior to the escalation of violence, many children in North Kivu were already too scared to attend class and distressed by the presence of armed soldiers in and around their schools.

Greg Ramm, Save the Children Country Director in the Democratic Republic of Congo, said:

“A single attack cannot only cause devastating injuries to children, physically and emotionally, but also deprive hundreds of students of the chance to receive a good-quality education. Sometimes, a community’s only place of learning is destroyed.

“All children in North Kivu have had their learning interrupted by the latest wave of violence, even if they have not been displaced. And, even if schools eventually reopen, the children will struggle because of the extremely crowded learning environments, given the scale of the displacement.

“At the same time as the UN reduces the number of its peacekeeping troops in eastern DRC, the situation is worsening. All parties need to prioritise the protection of civilians and especially children over other considerations.”

Save the Children is calling on all parties to the conflict in DRC to cease attacks on—and threats against—schools, and refrain from any military-related use of educational facilities. The presence of military forces or other armed groups in schools, damages facilities, disrupts students’ education, and can provoke attacks from opposing forces.  Schools must be protected as safe spaces that provide shelter from harm and the opportunity to learn and play.

Save the Children has worked in the DRC since 1994 to meet humanitarian needs linked to the arrival of refugees and the displacement of populations due to armed conflict in eastern provinces. Save the Children has scaled up its humanitarian response to support existing care systems, training local leaders and communities to prevent and respond to exploitation and abuse and ensuring access to healthcare through mobile clinics.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Save the Children.

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