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Save the Children: 78,000 children displaced, many missing in DRC war with M23

Save the Children International (SCI), the charity organisation, says the escalating war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with M23, a non-state armed group, has left at least 78,000 children displaced and an unknown figure missing.

SCI made the disclosure in a statement issued on Thursday.

Following a dispute over the implementation of a peace agreement signed in 2009, the M23, now branded as a terrorist group by the government, defected from the Congolese armed forces.

The group has been a source of conflict in the country.

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There have been challenges in finding a political solution to the crisis, with regional dynamics and the involvement of neighbouring countries, further complicating the situation.

The current wave of violence follows a tumultuous year of heightened outbreak of conflict in 2023, when intensified fighting in the east of the country between various groups displaced more than 1 million people, including at least 500,000 children.

By the end of 2023, North Kivu alone had more than 2.4 million people internally displaced, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

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SCI said the escalating violence has forced thousands of children to flee their homes in the past week, with thousands now on the road to Goma.

“It was last Friday around 5 p.m. that we heard bullets. Everyone fled in their own direction. Some children were even lost and have not yet been found,” SCI quoted a staff who works at a partner school in North Kivu as saying.

“Many parents are crying about the disappearance of their children, but the number of children lost is not yet known. The road was cut off. Shops were looted. Schools have been closed and children are no longer studying.

“In addition, we are not going to return unless the situation improves.”

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Greg Ramm, SCI country director in DRC, said sexual abuse is also among the horrors children are facing in the country due to the ongoing conflict.

“Children in eastern DRC are living through yet another a nightmare. Abrupt violence on the weekend has separated children from their families and forcibly torn them away from their homes,” Ramm said.

“Families are now seeking refuge in schools, churches, and hospitals, hoping they won’t get caught in the crossfire. Meanwhile, host families, already stretched thin, are stepping up amid this deepening crisis.

“This region has endured persistent violence, with children growing up in a relentless cycle of death, destruction, and displacement.

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“Children in the DRC are not only witnessing the horrors of conflict but are also being recruited into violent armed groups, facing catastrophic hunger, and enduring sexual abuse.

“Urgent and resolute action is imperative to break the cycle of suffering for these innocent lives.

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“The rights and well-being of children across DRC must be prioritised. Children cannot continue to be caught in the crossfire.”

SCI called for stronger and more consistent systems to hold perpetrators accountable, and called on parties involved in the conflict to adhere to international laws and human rights provisions designed to protect children.

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