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DRC: Parents keep children at home amid security fears in Dongo

KINSHASA, 10 February 2010 (IRIN) - Schools in Dongo, Equateur Province, in western Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the scene of inter-ethnic clashes from October to December 2009, are still closed because parents are worried about security, despite a call for their reopening by the provincial government.

"We asked if the schools could be reopened, but parents are reluctant as long as the militia are still at large,” said provincial education minister Richard Baengeto.

"Some parents and their children are still in the forest and refusing to go back to their villages, fearing for their safety,” Baengeto told IRIN.

Clashes between the Lobala and Boba ethnic groups led to more than 200 deaths and the flight of 150,000 more - of whom 60 percent are children - to neighbouring Republic of Congo, says the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

According to a December 2009 report by UN agencies in South Ubangi District, of which Dongo is the capital, the region has 1,085 primary schools with 251,383 children.

The area affected by displacement has 904 primary schools and 200,110 enrolled children. Schools in Dongo have been closed since November and in other areas since December after the population fled.

"In and around Dongo there are 132 schools. A dozen were destroyed or burned down, but most are in a state of advanced dilapidation, having been built in the Belgian colonial era. Others were constructed out of straw by villagers,” Raphaël Sanduku, director of education in Equateur Province, told IRIN.

Apart from the destruction of schools, teaching materials have been stolen and desks taken to Dongo and Boyazala for firewood, according to the report.

Saving the school year

The provincial authorities have taken measures to save the current school year by rearranging the school calendar to make up for lost days, said Sanduku. "But some parents have sent their children to finish their studies in Bomboma, Muanda or Bokonzi."

Paul Mbila, a resident of Dongo and father of eight, three of whom are in secondary school, believes "the future of our children is compromised… It is difficult to persuade me to send my children to school until security is fully restored.”

Children and adolescents have also been subjected to violence. Some were recruited by insurgents. In Bozene and Bobito, four children were the victims of sexual violence; in Bozene, a girl with trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) was raped by four DRC army soldiers. Similar cases were registered in Bobito market, according to NGOs.

According to the provincial education minister, the rehabilitation of schools is “an urgent need. The government of Equateur will invest in the rehabilitation of some of the burned-down schools.”

In response to the crisis in Dongo, NGOs and the UN Mission in DRC (MONUC) are planning in the next six months to set up temporary schools in areas where the displaced have moved, for at least 24,600 children - 41 percent of those displaced. They envisage supplying schools with teaching kits, and rehabilitating 12 schools at a cost of US$1.5 million.

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Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Education, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs

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Copyright © IRIN 2010
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.



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