Congo conflict, weak education leave millions out of school

DAKAR, Senegal — Fighting in Congo has forced hundreds of thousands of children to stop their education, making them a part of the 7.4 million children who are out of school in the country, the Norwegian Refugee Council said Monday.

Congo's central Kasai region has in the past year seen intensified violence that has displaced more than 850,000 children and destroyed more than 900 schools, the group said. Only 4 percent of humanitarian funds for education have been received this year, it said, warning that the vast Central African country risks losing its next generation.

"When children are displaced they are forced to suspend their education, or drop it altogether. This disruption to their development hinders their personal progress, and has detrimental effects to the socio-economics of the entire country," said Celestin Kamori, the council's Congo education program coordinator. "Donors should recognize that education is also a protection tool. Children enrolled in emergency education classes, catch-up classes and child-friendly spaces are less likely to join armed groups."

The Norwegian Refugee Council called on donors to prioritize humanitarian relief to education emergencies.

The conflict has worsened Congo's already weak education system, it said. Many schools that stay open amid conflict are used as shelters for displaced families, the group said.

Rates for children out of school in Kalemie and Tanganyika towns, where conflict has hit, stand at 92 percent of those in the six-to-11-year-old age group, it said.

In the past two decades, more than 3.8 million people have been forced to flee their homes in Congo, and school-aged children account for at least 684,000 of those displaced in that time, the Norwegian Refugee Council said.

"We need more funding to scale up emergency education support so that we don't lose a generation," said Kamori, the council's education coordinator for Congo.

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