Background Information: Support for Child and Youth Protection Initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been experiencing political crises and armed conflicts for a number of years. About 65 percent of its population is under 24 years of age Footnote 1, and the situation for children and youth is very difficult in that country. In the city, many live on the street or are recruited by violent gangs of delinquent youth. In the country's eastern region, children and youth are affected by the decades-long armed conflicts, and some are conscripted to fight. Throughout the country, children are sexually exploited or forced to work under dangerous conditions. Such is the case for children who work in artisanal mines, where cave-ins are common and where there are frequently injuries from dangerous practices and death from heavy-metal poisoning. The rights of children and youth are also violated as a result of various traditional and cultural practices, such as early and forced marriage, and social exclusion following accusations of witchcraft. Many children in the DRC do not receive the help and protection they need to develop their potential and become contributing adult members of society.
The DRC ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and significant progress has been made from a legal, normative and institutional standpoint. However, progress in terms of protecting children and youth and improving their situation remains a daunting challenge. To address this challenge, the Congolese government has adopted strategic directions for the social protection of children. These directions are set out in the national action plan for orphans and vulnerable children (2010–2014), the action plan to counter the worst forms of child labour, the national strategy for the social protection of vulnerable groups (2003–2010), the national action plan to prevent and counter violence against children in the DRC (2007), the national strategy for child participation (2009) and the national strategy to address gender-based sexual violence (2009). However, the results obtained to date have been limited, for reasons such as the poor capacity of national institutional mechanisms, the lack of frameworks for effectively coordinating the work of the various stakeholders involved, and the lack of resources and interventions to ensure that children are protected.
In June 2014, the DRC was confirmed as a country of focus for the Government of Canada's international development efforts. Canadian assistance reflects the priorities defined in the DRC's national development plan, and is based on a longstanding engagement, particularly in the health sector. The bilateral aid program is helping the DRC to reduce poverty in an equitable and sustainable manner, and to strengthen its institutions. Canada supports efforts to provide a future for children and youth, and to support governance and democracy. A large proportion of Canadian cooperation is in the form of humanitarian assistance to populations affected by the conflicts in the DRC.
Canada contributes to the protection of women, children and youth in the DRC. The bilateral aid program seeks to build the capacity of government officials, local authorities and civil society to help the tens of thousands of women and girls who are victims of sexual violence in the country's eastern provinces, and to combat the impunity of the perpetrators of these crimes.
In the DRC, children and youth form a segment of the population that is particularly vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation, given the high level of poverty and lack of adequate infrastructure for providing basic health care. Canadian programming in the DRC aims to reduce their vulnerability, develop alternatives to violence and help repair the social fabric, which has been torn apart by years of conflict and lack of opportunities.
Lessons and best practices for child and youth protection
- A thorough understanding of the context is essential to minimize risk and strengthen protection factors. Although violence against children can be attributed to factors such as societal norms and cultural practices, it takes various forms based on the socio‑cultural and political context, and it depends on key factors, such as the environment (conflicts, humanitarian crises, unstable situations) or the setting in which it occurs (within the family or the community, or at school).
- The state must assume primary responsibility for the protection of, and respect for, the rights of children, including through capacity-building measures, and legislative and political mechanisms consistent with international standards.
- A systems approach that strengthens national protection frameworks is required to minimize the risks associated with a lack of protection for both girls and boys, from birth through their teen years.
- A child protection system is an overall and sustainable approach aimed at promoting the general well-being of children through prevention and protection measures against all forms of violence, exploitation and mistreatment that ensure that girls and boys have a safe and secure living environment.
- The key components of a national protection systems are (1) political leadership, (2) the policy and coordination framework, (3) the child protection information systems, (4) the extent of the child protection systems, (5) the human resources (workforce) allocated to child protection, (6) the funding system, (7) the participation of children and consideration of their viewpoints, and (8) the attitudes and values of the people.
- Changes targeting social behaviour and practices at all levels (including within families and communities) improve the level of protection and minimize risks.
- Participation of children and youth in decisions that affect them is a fundamental principle that must be applied in violence prevention and protection interventions.
- Coordination of the aid provided by donors is essential.
- Footnote 1
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs
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