According to a new report published by Human Rights Watch, schools and their students have been negatively affected by the chronic violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and need the government to provide increased protection.
The organization released a 58-page report on the issue titled “‘Our School Became the Battlefield’: Using Schools for Child Recruitment and Military Purposes in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.”
It reported that “armed groups have attacked schools and recruited children at school or while on their way to school,” among other human rights violations of students.
Some schools have been taken over by armed groups or the national army, preventing or disrupting the building’s educational use, and often opening them up as targets for violence. Many parents are keeping their children home rather than take the risk that they could be raped, abducted, or beaten.
The education of over 10,000 children is being interrupted or prevented.
The report’s co-author, Bede Sheppard, said:
Children’s access to education is more often a fight than a right in many parts of Congo. …Keeping students safely in school should be at the heart of efforts to build durable peace in Congo.
The Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 120 people to gather the information for this report, including students, teachers, and officials from the Education Ministry and the United Nations.
The Human Rights Watch blog quoted one teacher’s description of a student’s abduction:
When a fighter knocks on the classroom door, you have to answer. He asked for a girl student. I couldn’t refuse. So I called the girl he named, and she went with him. He didn’t have a gun, but his escorts were behind him, and they had guns.
The report recommended that the Congolese government take action to deter military use of schools, join the international Safe Schools Declaration, and avoid policies that negatively impact education and the safety of students. They have also been asked to hold perpetrators of human rights violations against students and teachers accountable.
The nation’s defense minister has stated that military personnel would face consequences for bringing harm to students and their education, but it has proven to be an empty promise since no laws dealing with the issue are on the books and no one has been prosecuted.
Problems in the nation’s schools rose sharply in 2012 after the Congolese army officially began a military effort against the M23 rebel group. That group was disbanded in November of 2013, but the violence has continued against other groups.
The eastern Congo has seen decades of ethnic conflict, reports Yahoo News, as groups vie for control of mineral resources and the power that comes with it.