In the Republic of
South Africa

Overview of the country

South Africa is a major destination for migrant children on the move from countries throughout Eastern and Southern Africa. According to latest Data of Migrant and Displaced Children in Africa, more than 642,000 migrant or displaced children currently live in South Africa, making it the country with the largest child migrant population on the continent. South Africa’s mixed movements includes refugees, asylum seekers, victims of trafficking, smuggled migrants and unaccompanied and separated minors.

Many refugee and migrant children experience ongoing violence and exploitation on their journey and many arrive in the country without parents or caregivers, while others arrive with parents or relatives and they are later separated. Currently, the care and protection of unaccompanied and separated migrant children is determined by the courts South Africa and these children are often placed in Child and Youth Care Centers (CYCC), or in temporary community-based foster care.

The lack of national data on the numbers of unaccompanied and separated migrant children prevents national authorities to fully plan for their care and protection. The data collected during the survey will be used by authorities and service providers to better support migrant children, including to identify options for alternate care and address the barriers that those children face such as accessing birth registration as well as education and health care services.

In this regard, PWC works to protect and advance the rights of mostly marginalised people in South Africa such as vulnerable refugee children and women. By saying so, we are advocating for their rights to ensure that all individuals are treated accordingly in the framework of international laws and conventions. In this regard, we are promoting equal access to education for all children in South Africa regardless of their origin by:

Facilitating registration of children, providing necessary support in order to access education such as: provision of school uniform, school shoes, school bags and stationery to destitute children. In addition, we work very closely with the Department of Education (Provincial and nationally) to increase the intake of girl children into mainstream education but also advocating for free education for all children in South Africa.



In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC):

The DRC is a country in turmoil for more than two (2) decades due to civil unrests and continuous armed conflicts mostly in the eastern part of the country (South, North Kivu Provinces and the Ituri Province). These conflicts, according to credible reports claimed more than ten million lives (10,000.000) and to date, these conflicts continue. It is in this regard important to indicate that, these continuous series of wars and armed militia groups in the eastern DRC affected millions of families with more than 300 active armed militia groups making all sort of human rights violations and killings of innocent people.

More than this, Children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are living through one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, where armed conflict is a daily reality and children are recruited and forced to train as child soldiers. The human rights situation is severe for children,  and they experience a myriad of daily challenges: poverty, sexual violence, disease, and inability to access to food and clean water. Their human rights are routinely violated and they are frequently exposed to violence from armed groups, in some cases abducted and forced into military forces.

Overview of the DRC

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (“DRC”) forms the largest country in size in the Sub-Saharan African region, and is the second largest country in Africa, second to Algeria. As of 2016, the total population of the DRC was 78.7 million, and further grew to 84.07 million in 2018 but at the moment it is projected that, the DRC population has grown to 100.000 of total population with Kinshasa the capital city to have 14.000.000 people.

It has a 25-mile coastal line along the Atlantic Ocean, but remains primarily landlocked with the bordering countries of Angola, Zambia, Tanzania, Congo Brazaville, Central African Republic, South Soudan, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. Historically speaking, the DRC was under Belgian colonization for an 80-year period, and although the country gained independence in 1960, acts of torture became widespread against political opponents due to patterns of political instability and a large absence of democratic process (OHRC, 2005). Simply put, since the DRC gained independence, the country has experienced severe war-related and civil conflict.

The DRC continues to experience brutal political repression and delays in democratic elections, where state security forces use violence to exercise power over Congolese civilians (HRW, 2018). Simply put, the DRC is in a constant state of war and political upheaval because the Congolese government is at war with its own people (HRW, 2018).

Status of Children’s Rights

The DRC stands as one of the poorest countries in the world, with 77% of the population living in poverty and on less than $1.90 per day. It is more likely than not that the average household in the DRC is poor and has more dependent persons, especially children. Educational level is a key factor in determining socio-economic status in the DRC, whereby the higher the education level of the head of the household is, the less likely it is for the family to be poor. Higher education improves overall life outcome for children and families with results being improved diet, health and access to essential services. Other socio-economic concerns include underemployment for young persons, with noticeable limited access to jobs and programs for career mobility.

Addressing the Needs of Children

Right to Education

For children in the DRC, education is a path to a hopeful future, yet education remains out of reach for almost 7 million children ages 5 to 17. Political instability and natural disasters have prevented the DRC from achieving universal primary education for children. Moreover, the main financial costs for direct and indirect expenses related to supporting a child’s education are the parent’s responsibility. There are serious economic disparities between families who can afford to support their child’s schooling costs, disparities that result in uneven distribution of school institutions and infrastructure in the country.

The quality of education is a further concern, as there is a significantly lower rate of qualified teachers, and there are high repetition and dropout rates for children who do attend school. Other socio-cultural barriers and vulnerabilities such as child labour, child marriage, health conditions and early pregnancy all impact the chances of attending school for children. The likelihood of girl children is most concerning, as UNICEF documents that 52.7% of girl children aged 5 to 17 do not attend school in the DRC.

Right to Food

It has been documented that 25% of Congolese children are underweight and there is a widespread issue of anaemia for children who are between 6 months to 5 years of age. The rate of malnourished children is acute, where at least two million children who are malnourished are highly likely to experience death unless they are provided adequate food (Aljazeera, 2018). Children who live in remote conflict zones and displaced children are also likely to go without food since it is difficult for humanitarian workers to reach them (Aljazeera, 2018).  

Malnutrition is a persisting issue for Congolese children, where 46% of children are stunted, impacting their growth and development (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015).  Malnutrition can be attributed to poor nutrition, patterns of infection and insufficient psychosocial interaction (i.e. lack of access to education). The DRC suffers greatly from acute malnutrition in alarming numbers, what has been defined as a ‘silent crisis,’ (European Commission, 2018).

specific challenges

Poverty and Street Children

There are several key contributing factors to homelessness: war-conflict, internal displacement, illness and unemployment, all of which drive the rate of children who become homeless. Political instability and armed conflict are the driving primary causes of poverty in the DRC beginning in the 1990s.

Poverty and homelessness can also be attributed to families unwilling to adopt orphans and unwanted children, where children are left with no other choice but to live on the street. In conflict where rape is used as a war tactic, women become pregnant with children and abandon them due to humiliation and embarrassment from society, as well as feelings of shame.

Children who were born as a result of rape are thus rejected and abandoned by their mothers and because there are no existing child protection institutions in the country, the children suffer greatly. Children of rape are also excluded from their communities, which causes them severe trauma and distress. These circumstances forces children to live on the street, a phenomenon also known as ‘street children’, whereby children are exposed to daily violence and hardship. Poverty and the inability for families to provide for children also results in children being abandoned and ultimately homeless.

Street children go unsupervised with no access to food, education, or shelter and other basic necessities, circumstances which leave them vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by adults and law enforcement personnel who force them into illegal criminal activity. Law enforcement officials have used the vulnerability of street children to their advantage by deliberately recruiting street children to disrupt political protests and cause public disorder, where many children become injured and even killed.

Children are further exploited by civilians who use them as porters, cleaners or laborers in their homes and stores, paying them very little while making them work long hours and perform physically gruelling work. Adults have also forced street children into illegal activities such as prostitution and drug trafficking. 

In 2011, it was documented that almost 30,000 children under the age of 18 were homeless in the country’s capital, Kinshasa. What is most concerning, is that girl children are increasingly homeless, with some girls as young as ten years of age. Both girls and boys who live in homelessness are survivors of rape and sexual assault committed by older street boys and men.

Violence and Sexual Exploitation of Children

Patterns of gender inequality against females and girl children that take place during peacetime increase during armed conflict. While all civilians are greatly impacted by armed conflict, studies have consistently shown that females and girl children are more likely to be victims of violence and are targeted based on their sex.

In 2018, it was documented by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children of Armed Conflict that 277 girls were raped during intercommunal disputes. Unequal power relations in peacetime are violently carried out during war. Research on the DRC and war-related crimes of sexual violence shows routine state failure to prosecute sexual assault and a refusal to criminalize forced marriage. Despite domestic laws in place to protect children from sexual violence and the presence of the issue on the UN Security Council’s agenda, no real protection is afforded to children in peacetime and in period of conflict.

Violent war-conflict in the DRC that has been ongoing since the 1990s is largely associated with widespread rape, a method of violence used by combatants and military forces. Conflict in the Eastern region is a critical issue for children as they experience high levels of sexual and gender-based violence, and researchers have found that survivors of sexual violence under the age of 18 in this region were more likely to experience gang rape and assault than adults were. 

While the majority of sexual offenders of child abuse were identified as civilians, militarized rape among children is also prevalent (Kalisya et al., 2011). Children are used as part of military tactics by all combatant groups involved in conflict. Planned attacks are also carried out against children by armed groups and homes are also destroyed by armed groups who burn them down. There is also a severe lack of resources and supports for families and children who are victims of sexual violence, shelter, food and water is scarce, which forces many women and children into prostitution. 

Forced Displacement of Children

Over the past two decades, over 6 million civilians have been killed by government armed forces, with approximately 5 million people forced into displacement, making the DRC conflict the largest internally displaced situation in Africa (HRW, 2018). Children are the first victims of conflict, uprooted from their homes, schools, families and communities in war-related conflict. Children willingly enter forced displacement in order to avoid being recruited by armed groups.

As of 2017, 850,000 Congolese children were forcibly displaced due to brutal conflict in the Greater Kasai region, and have had to survive in makeshift huts, suffering from basic necessities such as food, water, sanitation, shelter and healthcare (UNICEF, 2017). The eastern region of DRC recently experienced increased displacement in 2018, forcing families to flee their villages and homes to live in informal settlements made of branches, exposing them to harsh weather conditions and safety threats (UNHCR, 2020). Displaced children remain in dire need of urgent care, protection and basic necessities.

Child Soldiers and Armed Conflict

Congolese children are the primary victims of war because they are consistently recruited by armed groups and the Congolese army, in some cases by force, to participate as fighters, porters and escorts (Human Rights Watch, 2016). Child soldiers are also unlawfully detained for long periods of time, where conditions are severe: lack of food, clean water, and medical care. Armed conflict is a persistent issue in specific regions of the DRC, and children are highly vulnerable in these situations as they are powerless against the brutality of militant groups.

Since 2001, use and recruitment of child soldiers has been a tactic used by armed political groups, where up to 40% of their forces were made up of children (Child Soldiers International, 2004). Child soldiers that are recruited are often under the age of 15 (Rakisits, 2009). In 2018 alone, 631 cases of recruitment and use of children in armed conflict was recorded by the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children of Armed Conflict.

Given the increase in conflicts in various regions throughout the DRC, children are recruited by armed groups to serve as combatants, spies and transports. Children form part of the militia group where they witness murders and other crimes, are sent to camps to learn weapon training, and are then forced to commit serious human rights violations against civilians and even their own families. In these cases, a child is not able to experience childhood or attend school and obtain an education, they are forced into a life of violence and trauma.

As the result of the situation in DRC, we have established a regional office in order to address multiple challenges faced by people on the ground but also monitoring our interventions in the great lakes regions (DRC, Burundi and Rwanda)

Our focus in DRC and the great lakes region:

Access to education and renovation of schools in efforts to improve learning environments,

Provision of skills training programme to destitute children, youths and women,

Child protection,

Advocacy and lobbying programme for children accused of witchcraft,

Child protection programme and

Reintegration of former children soldiers in the mainstream society.



In the Republic of
Burundi

Overview of the country

Burundi is a small landlocked country located in the Central-East part of the African continent bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda and Tanzania with a high population density and an extreme susceptibility to the protracted global climate emergency. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, and rain-fed agriculture employs around 90% of its inhabitants (UNDP, 2020). Child rights in Burundi unfold in a highly complex and difficult context of post-conflict, post-genocide, post-colonialism and the neoliberal international order. Many measures have been taken by the nation in recent years to improve Burundi’s child protection framework, but there remain prevalent day-to-day and structural challenges seriously impacting children’s lives.

Children’s Rights situation in Burundi

In Burundi, there exists an established national legal framework for the protection of child rights, and Burundi has ratified key international treaties including the Child Rights Convention, and both of its Optional Protocols. Burundian law penalises commercial sexual exploitation of children with 10 to 15 years in prison and a fine, and penalises child pornography with 3 to 5 years in prison and fines. There were, however, no prosecutions of this nature during 2018. Furthermore, the law penalises violence against or abuse of children, with 3 to 5 years’ imprisonment (U.S. Department of State, 2018). Burundi’s 2014 anti-trafficking law criminalises forced labour and trafficking. There are, however, gaps in Burundi’s Penal and Labour Codes which leave some children without legal protection.

 

Addressing the Needs of Children

Right to education

In Burundi, since the government abolished school fees in 2012, education is free, compulsory, and universal from ages 7 to 13. Consequentially, primary schools saw a high 96% enrolment rate for the years 2010 to 2014, with an 89% youth literacy rate overall (UNICEF, 2016). Secondary school in Burundi, however, comes with tuition fees and is not compulsory, contributing to a low net enrolment ratio of 25%, and an even lower attendance rate between 2010 and 2014 (UNICEF, 2016). Challenges which can impede children’s access to education in Burundi include that throughout the country informal fees are imposed for schooling at all levels (U.S. Department of State, 2018), as well as costs of school books and school uniforms.

Rights to health

Children in Burundi have access to free health care until the age of 5, securing a crucial aspect of their right to health during the most vulnerable period of infancy. The principal direct threats to Burundian children’s health include malaria, malnutrition and respiratory diseases. Burundi is also considered to be at risk of Ebola from neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

Country-specific challenges

Child displacement

 

Burundi risks becoming a forgotten refugee crisis as, since 2015, hundreds of thousands of people fled the political crisis that erupted in the country, taking refuge in neighboring countries such as Tanzania and Uganda. More than half of all refugees within Burundi are children, with over 30,000 children having been repatriated to Burundi since 2017, and over 78,000 children registered as internally displaced throughout the 18 provinces (this is decreasing). Many displaced children are unaccompanied, and are at severe risk of abuse, neglect, sexual violence, exploitation and death.

Child poverty

Burundi consistently figures as amongst the few poorest countries in the world (USA Today, 2018). Child poverty is a persistent problem in Burundi, and worsened after the country’s 2015 crisis. In a 2016 report on child poverty, 78% of Burundian children have been identified as living in poverty (monetary, and/or non-monetary poverty), with children who live in rural areas being particularly affected. Child poverty intersects with the other challenges to the fulfilment of child rights in Burundi. It is estimated that just under half a million children live in extreme poverty in the country, with indigenous children from the Batwa minority being disproportionately affected.

Street children

According to the NGO War Child, thousands of children continue to live on streets throughout Burundi. These children rely on humanitarian assistance for basic services, such as medical care and economic assistance, since the government provides them with minimal support. Children who live or work on the street continue to face arrest and detention, and many were detained as part of a plan to end vagrancy. Although the government intended to reintegrate detained street children and adults to their places of origin, it seems this has not yet occurred