World Vision to UN Security Council: Civilian Protection Most Urgent in Eastern Congo

United Nations, New York, November 25, 2008 — International humanitarian organization World Vision will present new findings to the United Nations Security Council today on the sexual violence against women and girls that has characterized the brutal conflict in eastern Congo. One month after hostilities intensified in the volatile region, World Vision is warning that protection for civilians—particularly women and children—continues to be the most urgent and unmet need.

"A silent war has been waged against women and children," says Sue Mbaya, World Vision's Africa advocacy director and speaker at today's UN Security Council Arria Formula briefing by NGOs.

"Women and girls in the hundreds have been targets of opportunistic and brutal rape, while children are also being targeted for recruitment or re-recruitment as child soldiers," Mbaya explains.

Surveys among children coming to the World Vision's Child-Friendly Spaces in six displacement camps found that 120 girls under the age of 17 reported being raped in October, compared to only five reported cases in twelve Child-Friendly Spaces between April and June. The six camps recently surveyed are located in Goma, Shasha and Minova.

Repeated displacements, separation of children from family members, and the vulnerable conditions of camp life are contributing to ongoing sexual violence and recruitment of child soldiers, according to Mbaya.

"Children as young as seven have been forced to fight," explains Mbaya, "Some children are being abducted and others are joining armed groups voluntarily because they lack food and access to education or vocational skills."

Mbaya stresses that long-term development to address the region's poverty is only possible if peace and stability are achieved. In the short-term, DR Congo remains a largely neglected emergency, with an inadequate amount of humanitarian assistance compared to the need. Finally, continued insecurity is limiting the ability of aid groups to effectively reach those most in need.

World Vision is calling for the UN Security Council to review and focus MONUC's mandate so that civilian protection is the peacekeeping operation's first priority—particularly the protection of women and girls against sexual and gender-based violence.

The agency has distributed emergency items, including blankets, plastic sheeting, sleeping mats, soap, cooking equipment, and mosquito nets, to more than 20,000 displaced people, and hopes to reach more than 200,000 people with its program in the next two months. World Vision is also providing therapeutic food to community-based centers in the region, which have seen an increase in children suffering from malnutrition since the renewed fighting.

World Vision is also implementing strategies to protect women and girls from sexual violence, including fuel-efficient stoves that require fewer dangerous trips outside the camp to collect firewood, and community-based protection committees that monitor violence in the camps and escort women during activities that expose them to threats. To help treat victims of sexual violence as well as other injured children and adults, World Vision is distributing medications worth $115,000 to four hospitals in Goma next week.

Donations are urgently needed for World Vision's response in eastern Congo. The public can help by visiting www.worldvision.org or calling 1.888.56.CHILD.