Chance for Childhood has been working in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) since 2015 to support marginalised children affected by conflict and children in conflict with the law.
Eastern DRC is still the epicentre of the deadliest conflict since World War II. Decades of conflict have thrown this region into chaos and abject poverty. In Goma, “rape capital of the world”, children end up on the streets, trying to survive. Most are orphans, many returned from the battlefield only to find rejection and little support to heal their trauma. They’ve had no education.
Life for these children is unforgiving and lonely. Breaking the law isn’t a choice but a question of survival. They steal food to survive, or get into a fight for a spot to sleep at night. Robbery, petty crimes and sexual violence become normal, a price to pay to survive on the streets…
Giving out-of-school children access to an education in war-torn areas
In North Kivu where we work, over 40% of children are out of school. Severely underpaid, teachers have little support to deal with overcrowded classes with up to 50 pupils. The politically unstable environment in the region poses additional threats: uneducated and unemployed children are more likely to be recruited as child soldiers.
WHAT WE’RE DOING
Since 2015, we have enabled over 1,000 marginalised children to access quality primary education in war-torn Kibati. Children attend 10 educational catch-up centres and complete primary education in just three years.
We also give children with disabilities access to education in a mainstream inclusive school. To respond to the unique needs of these children, we are launching this year a Learning Support Assistant scheme – the first of its type in North Kivu! Having successfully piloted this scheme in Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, we know that Learning Support Assistants, who act like UK teaching assistants, have a massive impact on children’s learning.
Families with out-of-school children are supported to start their own business to be economically empowered and pay for their children’s education. The parents then form cooperative groups. Through a Village Loan Saving Association scheme, they can invest back in the community, enabling more families to access grants.
Finally, we work to improve attitudes amongst parents and community members towards educating their children, especially girls. Our work helps to break down traditional beliefs that girls should be doing domestic work rather than being in school and active members of society.
Giving vulnerable children access to fair justice and rehabilitation services with Right2Change
The broken justice system treats children like criminals, even for minor offences. There could be at least 100,000 children in conflict with the law in DRC. Children are detained in overcrowded adult prisons, at risk of abuse and malnutrition. The lack of probation officers and prosecutors means they’re kept in detention for a long time. When a hearing is finally held, only a few are trialled by a juvenile court judge with legal representation.
WHAT WE’RE DOING
In 2017 we set up the first ever community-based diversion programme in Eastern DRC. Our award-winning Right2Change project makes smart use of diversion by strengthening both formal and informal justice systems to deliver child-friendly justice, and promoting community-based non-custodial rehabilitation as alternatives to detention. As a result, Right2Change creates better outcomes for young people (making them more likely to engage in education) and reduces crime.
Overall, Right2Change aims to:
- Improve access to fair treatment and legal representation by providing legal aid to children in conflict with the law. We also train frontline workers (e.g. judicial police officers, judges) and lawyers in Child Protection and alternatives to detention. We also monitor detention facilities to identify and release children kept in prolonged, unlawful detention.
- Enhance access to quality diversion and rehabilitation programmes by enrolling children in vocational training or education.
- Strengthen community-based child protection safety nets by recruiting foster care families – key to diversion and new in the juvenile justice system in Eastern DRC. We also run youth-led radio campaigns and awareness-raising events to challenge negative perceptions towards children in conflict with the law.
Running life-saving Ebola prevention campaigns
North Kivu has been suffering an Ebola outbreak since August 2018. Of the hundreds killed, 30% were under 18. While Goma, a city of one million, is not currently affected, our projects are only 115 miles away from affected areas.
WHAT WE’RE DOING
As Ebola is an extremely contagious disease, we are providing schools with specific training on Ebola prevention. We’re also distributing sanitation and handwashing kits to schools and communities, running community awareness-raising events and distributing early detection kits.
As of March 2019, we have educated 2,650 children, 800 adults and 300 public transport users on what they can do to keep safe. The hardest to reach communities are living in rural areas around North Kivu. Our radio broadcasting campaign has reached a further 120,000 people, giving them vital information on how to keep safe.
- DRC’s worst Ebola crisis has been declared over
- Voices from the ground: Fighting Ebola in a war zone
- Ebola reaches Goma as the crisis takes another turn for the worse