New Save the Children research: 10% of children arriving in Uganda say they were defiled as they fled DR Congo’s brutal conflict

Wednesday 18 April 2018

As thousands of Congolese refugees arrive in Uganda each week, a new assessment by Save the Children has found that 10% of newly arrived children said they were raped during their journey to Uganda.

The assessment—which interviewed 132 refugee children aged 10-17 about their protection and education needs1—also found that hunger was the biggest issue facing children on their journey fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), affecting 81%. Sickness affected more than 1 in 2 children (53%) along the way, and a quarter of children interviewed said they were assaulted by armed groups as they fled (27%).

Children who have just arrived in Uganda from the DR Congo

Johnson Byamukama, Save the Children’s Emergency Response Director in Uganda, said: “The conflict in DRC is one of the world’s forgotten crises. We see child refugees arriving in Uganda every day in desperate need. Every one of them has a horrific story to tell, including of rape, of parents being killed, of witnessing extreme violence.

“Two children we spoke with had made it to Uganda after becoming separated from their parents in the chaos of an attack on their village. Then they heard that their mother might still be alive so they went back home, only to be shown her dead body. She had been killed just a few hours before. The children then had to make the dangerous crossing to Uganda all over again. Heartbreaking stories like this one are all too common.”

Despite the enormous need, the crisis in DRC and the refugee response in Uganda remain seriously underfunded. On Friday donors at the DRC pledging conference in Geneva committed almost a third of the $1.68 billion needed to support the Humanitarian Response Plan.

Save the Children is urging donors to dig deep and urgently increase funding for the regional crisis, including for psychological first aid and counselling support for the survivors of sexual violence.

“The size and scale of this devastating crisis is hard to fathom, and yet the world has not taken notice. It’s time for donors to step up and give generously to support these children, who have had their childhoods ripped up from beneath their feet. Uganda now hosts more refugees than anywhere else in Africa2, putting enormous pressure on basic services, especially health and education, and it needs more support,” Mr Byamukama said.

Even after arriving in Uganda, children remain at risk of sexual violence, with numerous incidents reported around the settlements in recent weeks. Interviewees said the risk of sexual violence was highest while collecting firewood (42%); collecting water (42%); or on the way to school or while playing.

Children reported their biggest concerns are not being able to go to school, hunger, teenage pregnancy, sexual violence, attacks, abductions, and lack of shelter, according to the assessment.

Around 80% of school-aged children in the Kyaka II settlement in western Uganda are not attending school, putting them at even greater risk of exploitation, despite 95% of these children saying they want to go to class. Only 9% of children interviewed were hopeful of being back in their home country DRC in the next five years.

“With many children now out of school for lengthy periods and likely to be in Uganda for some time, it is vital that funding is provided for longer-term education and accelerated learning programmes to help children catch up on the learning they have missed,” Mr Byamukama said.

Save the Children is setting up classrooms and safe spaces to educate and protect children, and working with the Ugandan government to develop a new plan to improve education for refugees and host communities3.

In addition to these challenges, there are growing tensions over land allocation in the settlements. As more refugees arrive in what are already some of the most deprived areas of Uganda, the amount of land allocated for more established refugees is reducing, leaving families concerned they will not be able to grow food.

A woman and her children in Kyangwali refugee settlement, where refugees from the DR Congo are being resettled

“The amount of land refugees receive has shrunk over time, which risks making their already challenging lives even more difficult and creating huge tension between different groups of refugees and local communities—all of whom are living in a desperate situation,” Mr Byamukama said.

“The lack of land is causing extreme overcrowding, which poses direct health risks to thousands of children, women and men living in trying conditions. In Kyangwali settlement alone, 43 people have died of cholera since mid-February, and there are a further 2,000 cases requiring treatment.”.

So far this year, more than 73,000 refugees have fled the gruesome and escalating conflict in DRC to Uganda4, including nearly 2,800 unaccompanied or separated children.

To arrange an interview, please contact:

Alun McDonald

Alun.mcdonald@savethechildren.org

 

NOTES TO EDITORS

References:

  1. The assessment was carried out in western Uganda in late-February 2018. A total of 132 children were interviewed about child protection issues, and 125 children were interviewed on the barriers to education. Adult community members, teachers and authorities were also interviewed.
  2. Uganda hosts more than 1.4 million refugees, including 276,000 from DRC and more than 1 million from South Sudan.
  3. Save the Children has been working with the Ugandan Government on an Education Response Plan for refugees and the communities that host them. With an average of over 200 students in each classroom in some settlements, many schools suffer from poor quality education and a shortage of places. The new plan aims to provide 675,000 school-aged children with three and a half years of quality education at a cost of approximately US$395 million.

Interagency Update 27. Between 3-9 April nearly 3,000 refugees arrived in Uganda from North Kivu and Ituri in eastern DRC

Save the Children works in the Nyakabande and Matanda Transit Centres (operated by the Ugandan government’s Office of the Prime Minister, UNHCR and partners) and is expanding and setting up child friendly spaces, early childhood and accelerated learning facilities at Kyangwali (Hoima district) and Kyaka II (Kyegegwa district) settlements. The charity is also continuing its programmes in Rwamwanja settlement (Kamwenge district), which is no longer receiving new refugees.