Life for children in the Republic of the Congo should be better than for other children on the African continent; there are high literacy levels (running at 86% ~ the highest across Africa) and longer periods of education, which is both compulsory and free for children aged six to fifteen. Despite these figures including high attendance rates (averaging 80% across the country), it is widely acknowledged that the actual standard of the schooling itself is of an unsatisfactory quality not least because the schools themselves are under resourced. As with many countries, life can be very different for children in urban and rural areas. For example, 84% of children living in towns and cities have access to safe drinking water whilst this drops to just 27% for children living in rural areas of the Republic of Congo.
Similarly, access to healthcare varies considerably not least because 66% of all doctors in the country live and practise in the capital city Brazzaville. Within the last few years it has been estimated that 85% of all children living in rural areas are engaged in work either in exchange for low wage, despite child labour under the age of 16yrs being illegal. There are also many children in the country who live as refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda whose life chances are even poorer. Although the situation is improving somewhat, very few of these refugee children have historically had any form of access to heath or education. The situation is also wanting for the indigenous children in the Congo still called 'pygmies'.
These children are often discriminated against by other Congolese and are often subject to physical or other abuse. During the civil war, the pygmies, who make up 2% of the country's population, were treated as 'game' and even hunted down and eaten often by members of the Movement for the Liberation of Congo. Today many pygmies and their children still live as slaves to Bantu masters. Efforts to improve their circumstances are hampered not least because many of the children have difficulty in attending school as birth certificates are required for school enrolment. Few have such documents as their very lifestyle is outside of such societal norms. As such, despite education being compulsory, just over one in three indigenous children between the ages of 12-15 attend school compared with a national average of 61%.
The government launched an action plan in 2009 to help these children, however the challenges faced are reflected in the targets set to be achieved by 2013; 50% of indigenous children receiving education, 60% having access to HIV/AIDS prevention and health care services, and 90% being registered with the state. The government has recently been criticised for failing to monitor its borders for illegal people trafficking. As such, the Republic of Congo is a recognised source and destination country for the trafficking of children for sexual exploitation and forced labour. There is also a thriving internal market for the trafficking of children, with children from rural areas forced into commercial sexual activities, domestic servitude and street vending.
Many of these children end up on the streets with the problem being particularly high in the country's capital of Brazzaville, where there are an estimated two thousand children sleeping rough. Children particularly vulnerable to living on the streets are the 7-10% of the child population with disabilities as they are socially excluded, rarely attend school and are thus ill equipped to find employment, making life on the streets more inevitable. Despite these wide ranging concerns, the transitional government is making some progress on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and has recently enacted laws on child protection. The government has also been overseeing a program to ensure that all children have a birth certificate to prove their nationality.
Of the Republic of Congo's 1,716,000 children, 69,000 have been orphaned by AIDS and a further 6,600 are infected themselves. 26% of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished whilst 47% have a vitamin A deficiency, with 33% having an iron deficiency. Children also face risks of infections of diseases such as bacterial and protozoa diarrhoea, hepatitis A and typhoid fever as well as rabies and Malaria, the latter accounting for 35% of all child deaths in hospitals in Brazzaville and Pointe Noire. Life expectancy for all children in the Republic of Congo is around 55yrs.
The video (below) shows some rural children from Congo Brazzaville at play.
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A short video and facts and figures
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