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Democratic Republic of the Congo

Past and present armed conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have badly affected children. Many children live in the streets and the country has one of the highest number of child soldiers in the world. The country continues to suffer mass unemployment due to the turbulence of the 1990s. Many families find it hard to cope and as a result infant, under-five and maternal mortality rates are extremely high.  

The DRC is one of the poorest countries in the world and nearly half the school-age population is not in school. Child labour is common and over 4 million children are orphans.

Thousands of street children are living in Kinshasa. Contributing factors to the large number of street children are poverty, forced displacement caused by the war that has resulted in the break-up of families, the abandonment of children accused of witchcraft, and the death of parents caused by AIDS. These children lack adequate access to shelter, food, health care, educational or rehabilitation services and are frequently victims of sexual assaults and abuse. There are also reports that the military and police regularly harass, threaten, beat or arrest street children.

DRC has been one of the countries with the highest concentration of child soldiers in the world. After signing an Action Plan with the UN in 2012, the Congolese government has almost stopped enlisting children into its armed forces, although soldiers continue to use girls as sex slaves.

There is a growing recent phenomenon of witchcraft accusations against children, who are often subjected to violent exorcism, beaten up and starved. New fundamentalist Christian sects make money out of "investigating witches" for a fee, and then claim to have cured them for an even higher fee. Children are being kept as prisoners in religious buildings where they are exposed to torture and ill-treatment or even killed under the pretext of exorcism. Many of the street children accused of witchcraft are thrown out of their homes or have been forced to flee.

Children have suffered immensely in the shadow of the armed conflicts. They have been the victims of sexual violence and other brutal forms of violence and exploitation. Armed group fighters and government soldiers are the principal perpetrators in these cases and most of them remain unpunished. Staggering numbers of women and girls are thought to have been the victims of sexual violence since 1998. There is a high level of early pregnancy rates among adolescents, and the law sets the marriage of girls at age 15 but in practice many girls get married at a lower age, and although forced marriages are prohibited by law in the DRC, child marriage is still practised.

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