Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have suffered systematic torture and cruelty during the country's five-year war, according to a new report by a consortium of NGOs.
Foreign and domestic governments as well as armed groups have committed gross violations against children, including assault, rape, abduction, sexual torture, forced displacement, underage recruitment into armed forces and forced participation in the illegal exploitation of natural resources.
"The Impact of Conflict on Children in the Democratic Republic of Congo", a 36-page report released on Monday by the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict to coincide with the end of a UN Security Council mission to the country and the Day of the African Child, documents the grim reality of the DRC.
Among the most striking statistics: over 12 percent of children do not reach their first birthday; three million children are without access to education; malnutrition rates exceed 40 percent in some areas; 400,000 children have been displaced from their homes; tens of thousands of children have been recruited as child soldiers; and gender-based violence, including rape of girls, is widespread.
The ongoing conflict in the country has claimed an estimated 3.3 million lives since 1998, mostly women, children and elderly, according to a report by the International Rescue Committee, titled "Mortality in the Democratic Republic of Congo: Results from a Nationwide Survey, Conducted September to November 2002, reported April 2003".
In Ituri District in the northeast, according to the Watchlist report, children had been forced to witness parents and grandparents being hacked to death; young girls raped in front of their families; children forced to kill their close relatives; children and other hospital patients dragged from their beds and killed; children, including infants, dying after being locked up without food or water; and children killed, some shot in the back, in massacres along with hundreds of other civilians.
Speaking to the media for the launch of the report, Anne Edgerton of Refugees International said that the situation in the DRC was "the largest humanitarian crisis on the planet right now with the smallest amount of response".
She added: "If somehow the response can be much more appropriate to the actual crisis, it could be ended. It's not so large that it could not be done."
The report recommends that all parties to the conflict, the UN Security Council, and to the UN Mission in the DRC take "urgent action" to address the situation in eastern DRC.
The Watchlist is a network of local, regional and international NGOs working to protect the security and rights of children in armed conflicts.
[For the complete report, go to: www.watchlist.org