A 9-month-old girl is screened for malnutrition at the UNICEF-supported Kinkole Health Center, Nsele, Kinshasa, DRC. ©UNICEF/UNI357329/Desjardins

UNICEF in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The worst displacement crisis in Africa has exacerbated humanitarian needs in the DRC. UNICEF is helping hundreds of thousands of children and families, but more support is needed. Learn more.

Crisis for children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

A surge of violence and displacement in eastern DRC has created a dire situation for the nation’s children.

With more than 6.3 million people forced out of their homes, it is the worst displacement crisis in all of Africa, and one of the worst globally. An estimated 800,000 children were uprooted between January and July 2023 alone.

Children who are displaced live in precarious conditions, with limited access to essential services such as safe water and health care. They can easily become separated from families and caregivers, and face high risks of violence, exploitation and abuse.

In the first three months of 2023, in North Kivu province alone, more than 38,000 cases of sexual and gender-based violence were reported — a 37 percent increase over the same time period in 2022. 

“Violence against children in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has reached unprecedented levels,” Grant Leaity, UNICEF’s Representative in the DRC, said during a Sept. 8, 2023 press briefing. "On a daily basis, children are being raped and killed. They are being abducted, recruited and used by armed groups — and we know the reports we have are only the tip of the iceberg.”

A cholera outbreak is compounding the already grave situation, intensifying the need for improved access to clean water and sanitation, especially at displacement camps.

Measles cases are also on the rise. An estimated 1.2 million children under age 5 are at risk of acute malnutrition.

“There are few worse places, if any, to be a child,” Leaity said. 

But there is hope. UNICEF remains on the ground in the DRC, working with local partners to bring relief and support.

“UNICEF has the solutions to respond to all the humanitarian needs of children,” says Leaity. “Provided we have the resources to do so.”

Two young children being treated for severe acute malnutrition in a UNICEF-supported health facility in South Kivu, DRC.
18-month-old Wilodja, left, and his 7-month-old brother, Chiruza, were treated for severe acute malnutrition at the Intensive Therapeutic Nutritional Unit of Kaziba General Hospital, South Kivu, DRC. UNICEF is working to combat child malnutrition in the country by training frontline community workers to identify cases and by improving the availability and quality of treatment services in Kaziba and other priority areas. Once stabilized, the boys were discharged to continue their treatment at home; their mother, Riziki, is taking part in information sessions on good eating habits and is learning how to cook balanced meals using locally available foods. "My children will no longer suffer from malnutrition," Riziki says. © UNICEF/UNI441597/Mulala

How UNICEF is helping children in the DRC

In collaboration with local partners, UNICEF remains a rapid first responder to DRC’s urgent needs. Efforts include:

  • deploying emergency personnel to areas such as Beni, Rutshuru, Drodro and Mahagi to reach the most vulnerable children
  • establishing safe spaces for girls and women within displacement camps, staffed by psychologists, professional social workers and community-based para-social workers
  • helping tens of thousands of children and their families receive mental health counseling
  • building hundreds of temporary learning spaces to provide education to displaced children, and to children whose schools are being used to shelter displaced families
  • supporting in-patient care for thousands of malnourished children
  • increasing immunization coverage to protect children against measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases
  • expanding municipal water networks to serve displacement sites as well as host communities
  • providing clean water and sanitation to more than 800,000 people 

UNICEF, in partnership with local organizations, continues to support children who have fled or have been released from armed groups as they readjust to everyday life.

Providing hope after horror: one child's experience

According to UN data, in 2022, DNC had the highest number of children conscripted into armed groups in the world.

One of them is 10-year old-Louise (name changed). When she was 8, while traveling to the capital Kinshasa to see her biological mother, Louise and her three sisters were abducted by a non-state armed group.

Separated from her sisters, Louise was assigned child care duties, and survived by eating the crops of farmers who fled the areas the group passed through.

Eventually, Louise was able to escape the group, fleeing during a battle. She met other escapees and they made their way to the provincial capital of Bunia, where she was referred to a UNICEF-supported center for trauma counseling, medical care and psychosocial support.

At the center, while awaiting family tracing and, ultimately, reunification, children take courses that help them catch up on schooling and learn trades. 

With time, and with the help of social workers and psychologists, children like Louise will be able to readjust as they prepare for adulthood.

“I love it here," Louise said, "but I want to return to school and find my family."

UNICEF depends on voluntary contributions to reach children with health care, clean water, nutrition, education, protection and more. Learn more about what UNICEF does in pursuit of a more equitable world for children. Support UNICEF's mission. Donate today.


TOP PHOTO: Nine-month-old Djonice is screened for malnutrition at UNICEF-supported Kinkole Health Center in Nsele, Kinshasa. © UNICEF/UNI357329/Desjardins