Cornerstone Global Associates

Conflict Orphans in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Posted by: simona on: February 3, 2013

Simona Ross, Cornerstone

“When there is not love for a child to remember,

Then there is nothing for the child to remember except the hate.”

— Roger Dean Kiser

Violent conflicts have devastating consequences for the entire population.  A change in the characteristics of conflict has made civilians more susceptible to the devastation from conflict. Today, a majority of combat related deaths are civilians. Armed conflict mostly affects women and children; orphans are the most vulnerable.  Young children lack the capability to take care of themselves and depend on external support for survival. A child that lost its parents to conflict and is not enjoying the care of a third person is deemed to die. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), suffering from civil conflict for several decades, has produced multiple generations of orphans. To achieve long lasting and sustainable peace, orphans have to receive the education that enables them to integrate themselves into society, ensures employment, and promotes reconciliation.  The future is going to ask for a next generation of environmental aware leaders that have the skills to address climate change and natural resource management.  Hence, orphans in the DRC have to benefit from a comprehensive approach, combining the provision of basic needs, education, environmental skills development, and peace building.

Democratic Republic of Congo

The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world and is ranked 187th of Human Development Index, and thus, has the lowest ranking of all countries. The life expectancy in the DRC is 48.4 years, the average years of schooling are 3.5 years, GNI per capita in PPP terms is US$ 280 and the Gender Inequality Index (GII) value is 0.722. The GII measures inequality between men and women in terms of reproductive health, empowerment and the labor market; DRC’s GII value of 0.722 is the world highest after Iraq, Yemen and Niger (UNDP, 2012b). Even though the government is investing in economic alternatives, the economy is heavily reliant on natural resources and minerals, where revenues fail to reach the majority of the people. In 2011, the DRC had an estimated population of 71 million people (USDS, 2012). Over 54 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, roughly 30 percent of the population has no access to clean drinking water, and 87,000 Congolese are living with HIV (UNICEF, 2012a).

Historical Background of the Conflict

The DRC, former Zaire, gained independence from Belgium in June 1960.  In 1990, President Mobutu increased his involvement in Rwanda, and even supplied the Hutu government in Rwanda with arms. The DRC’s contribution had terrible consequences.  In 1994, within three months, 800,000 Tutsi were killed in the Genocide.  When the Tutsi rebellion successfully ousted the Hutu government, one million Hutu crossed the border to the Kivu region in Eastern Congo in only two days.  Since then, the Eastern region in the DRC was used as a battleground between Hutu and Tutsi rebels.  Even after overthrowing President Mobutu and defeating the Hutu insurgence, the Tutsi led government of Rwanda and the government of Uganda maintained their influence in the Kivu region to benefit from its vast natural resources (Meredith, 2005). In the North people still face further insecurity due to the presence of the Lord’s Resistance Army (UNICEF, 2012b). Even though, in 2008, the government signed a peace agreement with over 20 armed rebel groups, heavy fighting continued and is intensifying every day. (USDS, 2012) Since 1998, more than 5.4 million people died as a consequence of the war (UNICEF, 2012b).

Orphans

Orphans can be defined as children that lost their father, mother or both. Given this definition, there have been 132 million orphans in the developing world in 2005. This definition is primarily used in the humanitarian aid sector. Industrialized countries only consider children that lost both parents as orphans. By this account, there are over 13 million children in developing countries that have lost both parents and depend on family members, relatives and the entire community (UNICEF, 2012c). According to UNICEF (2012c), five percent of all orphans are under the age of five. This further led to the terms ‘single orphan’, with one parent, and ‘double orphan’, without parents (UNICEF, 2012c).

Orphans in the DRC

An estimated 800,000 orphans and other vulnerable children between the ages 0 and 17 years are living in the DRC (UNICEF, 2012a). Orphaned children comprise almost 15 percent of the population younger than 18 years old (Bloemen, 2009). School attendance of orphaned children is significantly lower then the rate of non-orphans. In the DRC the “ratio of school attendance rate of orphans to school attendance rate of non-orphans” is 0.74 (UNData, 2012). Children are further affected because armed rebel groups take advantage of the insecurity in the region and force children to join their rebel groups. At least 60,000 school children are at risk of being recruited. As of today, 2,000 children are already participating in violent conflicts (UNICEF, 2012b).

“Grave violations are taking place, including massacres of entire villages by armed groups, mass rape, abductions, exploitation and abuse, and child recruitment and use in armed forces and groups.  At the same time, malnutrition has surpassed emergency levels; nationally, one million children suffer from severe acute malnutrition (SAM). “ (UNICEF, 2012b p.1) 

Malnutrition in the DRC is not a result of food shortages overall, but rather a consequence of limited access to nutritional food (UNICEF, 2012b). Also, given that rape is the weapon of choice, women and girls are constantly susceptible to Gender-Based-Violence (GBV). This year alone, over 5,000 women have been raped in one province alone (UNDP, 2012b). The suffering caused by ongoing violence makes migration seem like the only viable option. Currently, more than 2.2 million internally displaced people (IDP) live in the Eastern region of the DRC; an estimated 50 percent of them are children below the age of 18. Another 25,000 people fled to Uganda, and Rwanda is hosting another 17,000 Congolese refugees (UNICEF, 2012b). In total, there are over 430,000 Congolese refugees living in all the neighboring countries. The great number of IDPs and refugees is a direct and indirect consequence of the ongoing conflict in the Kivu region (USDS, 2012). In addition to discussing the physical harm to orphans, Kiser (2004) underlines the importance of the psychological impact. “There is one key element that is the real cause of the orphan's problem. It is the lack of ‘unconditional love’, the given right to be accepted as a child and to be loved as a child, no matter what you do.” (Kiser, 2004)

Behind all this horrific facts are silent voices of little personalities, whose days are filled with desperation and hope. Eleven-year old Rodrigue, an orphan from the Kivu region, wrote a letter to ‘Father Christmas’, telling him about the civil war and children that lost their parents during the war. He continues to describe that many of them live on the streets and have no food or clothes and ends the letter asking for help (SOS Children, 2012).

Conclusion

Vulnerable children, affected by the bloody war in the DRC, are in sincere need for assistance. Initiatives addressing their needs have to aim for long lasting conflict resolution and a new generation that is tolerant, open-minded, environmental aware and possesses the skills to thrive in future markets.

References

Bloemen, S. (2009, January 12). Protecting orphans and vulnerable children in the DR Congo. UNICEF. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/drcongo_47100.html

Kiser, R. D. (2004). The Sad Orphan. The Life & Times of Roger Dean Kiser. Http://www.rogerdeankiser.com/. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://www.rogerdeankiser.com/Introduction.htm

Meredith, M. (2005). The fate of Africa: From the hopes of freedom to the heart of despair : A history of fifty years of independence. New York: Public Affairs.

SOS Children. (2012). SOS Children in Democratic Republic of Congo. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://www.soschildrensvillages.org.uk/sponsor-a-child/africa/congo

UNDP. (2012a). International Human Development Indicators – United Nations Development Programme. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://hdrstats.undp.org/en/countries/profiles/COD.html

UNDP. (2012b). Fighting sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/ourwork/crisispreventionandrecovery/successstories/fighting-sexual-violence-in-the-democratic-republic-of-congo.html

UNICEF. (2012a). At a glance: Congo. Statistics. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/congo_statistics.html

UNICEF. (2012b). Unicef Humanitarian Action Update. Democratic Republic of the Congo. 1-10. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://www.unicef.org/hac2012/files/UNICEF_DRC_Humanitarian_Action_Update_2012.pdf

UNICEF. (2012c, May 25). Orphans. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://www.unicef.org/media/media_45279.html

U.S. Department of State (USDS). (2012). Background Note: Democratic Republic of the Congo. Retrieved November 5, 2012, from http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2823.htm