By Felix Nkambeh Tih
At least 2,000 children have been press-ganged into fighting by militias and more than 600,000 people have been displaced in rising violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Kasai region, UNICEF said on Friday.
The UN agency also said the security and humanitarian crisis had affected more than 1.5 million children overall.
"The children of Kasai are being forced to face horrible hardship ... hundreds of children have been injured in the violence, with reports of children being detained, raped and even executed," Tajudeen Oyewale, UNICEF representative in DRC, said in a statement.
At least 300 children have been seriously injured and more than 4,000 have been separated from their families, according to the UN.
The UN agency also said 350 schools had been destroyed in the same provinces, while one of three health centers in Kasai Central was no longer operating.
Kasai Central is the stronghold of the Kamwina Nsapu militia. Violence between the Kamwina Nsapu and the security forces worsened in August 2016 after government troops killed the group’s leader.
So far more than 400 people have been killed in the fighting between Congolese security forces and militiamen, according to the UN.
On Wednesday the UN said it had discovered an additional 17 mass graves in Central Kasai province, bringing the total number of mass graves documented in DRC to 40.