Dozens of Congolese children separated from their families days after a deadly volcanic eruption could be at risk of kidnap, child labour, or recruitment by armed groups
By Jordan Mayenikini
KINSHASA, May 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - About 70 Congolese children who have been unable to find their families four days after a deadly volcanic eruption could be at risk of kidnap and child labour, emergency responders said on Wednesday.
The United Nations said 31 people have died, 40 are missing and 20,000 fled their homes when Mount Nyiragongo, one of the world's most active and dangerous volcanoes, erupted on Saturday near Goma in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
The U.N. children's agency UNICEF said 561 children were separated from their families as they ran - out of which 487 have been reunited and 74 have been put into foster care or in transit centers, where they are getting psychosocial support.
"The children were scattered all over the place," said Enyo Gbedemah, a UNICEF child protection specialist, adding that local authorities and charities, such as Save The Children, were even looking over the border in Rwanda for their families.
"We are in a region where there are a lot of kidnappings of children ... Some can end up in mines and even in armed groups," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Goma, the capital of the troubled North Kivu province.
Insecurity has soared in eastern Congo in the past two years, worsening a long-running humanitarian crisis that has not been resolved despite the official end of the country's civil war in 2003.
The government installed military governors in North Kivu earlier this month to address worsening violence.
Thousands of children in eastern Congo are exploited and abused as child soldiers and child labourers in gold and diamond mines, according to human rights groups.
Gbedemah said that children were at risk of dropping out of school as many schools were damaged in the eruption and poverty was likely to worsen among families that lost their homes and businesses.
Marrion Ngavo, who represents Goma's civil society groups, said that unaccompanied minors could be tempted to take dangerous mining jobs around the city to survive, and girls could be pushed into sex work.
"The situation in Goma is catastrophic," he said.
"Unemployment is already in full swing here. I can already see insecurity and banditry rising to a crescendo ... If the international community does not intervene, it (will be) complete chaos."
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(Reporting by Jordan Mayenikini; Writing by Emeline Wuilbercq; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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