Monitoring and Reporting Attacks on Education in North Kivu, DRC

In June 2015, Elburg van Boetzelaer, a recent PFMH/MSPH graduate, and Lina Rojas, a current graduate student, worked closely with Rebuild Hope for Africa (RHA) to evaluate the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) of attacks on education by armed groups in North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Here they write about their work with RHA and the study. 

 Elburg_Goma

Armed violence against schools by militant groups threatens students and school personnel across the world, depriving children from their right to education, and further damaging the already fragile future of states in context of armed conflict. In order to track disruptions of education by armed groups the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1612 established the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to manage the new Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) for grave violations against children. Among the six grave violations tracked by the MRM are attacks on schools, including attacks on school personnel, and threats against these persons. The DRC has had an active MRM for 10 years, having been selected as a pilot site for the mechanism’s rollout in 2005.

In response to the need to strengthen the monitoring and reporting mechanism of attacks on education, and following a study that was conducted in 2014 in South Kivu, the Columbia Group for Children in Adversity (CGCA)—an extension of the Program on Forced Migration and Health–in partnership with Rebuild Hope for Africa (RHA), has conducted a study in the province of North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The study aimed to appraise the effectiveness of efforts to monitor and report attacks on education through semi-structured interviews with key informants of 35 organizations including government, UN agencies, and civil society organizations, while exploring the veracity of key informant reports and avenues for improving the surveillance of such incidents.

For the purpose of the study ‘attacks on education’ were defined as follows: intimidation, theft, indoctrination, recruitment, abduction, kidnapping, illegal incarceration, injury, abuse, torture, sexual- or gender-based violence, forced labor, forced marriage, and murder, whether in school or on the way to school, as well as military use of schools, and partial or total destruction of school buildings or other facilities, by an armed group.

Key informants identified a number of challenges that impede the efficacy of the MRM in monitoring attacks on education in North Kivu. Constant insecurity that dominates North Kivu, poor infrastructure, a lacking phone network and the absence of an official mail system make the effective communication and reporting of incidents from affected schools almost impossible. In addition, a vast majority of key informants were unfamiliar with the MRM, including government officials, representatives of international and local NGOs and representatives of the educational system. The few informants that were familiar with the MRM expressed a lack of confidence in the mechanism; the main reason being the MRM’s inability to actually capture attacks on education due to a lack of information sharing between key stakeholders, as well as a lack of financial and human resources to fulfill the requirement of verification of attacks prior to their inclusion in the MRM. The unfamiliarity of key informants with the MRM, suggests a need for awareness raising, training and technical capacity building in order to ensure meaningful participation in the MRM of representatives of education institutions, government, UN agencies and (inter)national NGOs alike.

A total of 113 attacks on education that took place between December 2013 and June 2015 were reported by key informants in Goma, providing a description of the incident, the name of the school and its location, the suspected perpetrators and the date of the event. About 20% of these reported events were chosen by the researchers for on-site verification, based on reachability, security, and diversity of sources that provided the reports. In this way, 23 schools in three different territories were chosen across the province for verification. Of the 23 schools that were chosen for verification, on-site informants including schools directors, teachers, religious leaders, and village chiefs confirmed 19 reports. Therefore, 83% of the reports of attacks on education were considered confirmed. During the visit to the 23 selected schools, interviewees described two additional attacks, which had occurred in those schools that had not been reported by key informants in Goma.  An additional 25 schools that were nearby the initial 23 were visited where no attacks on education had been reported by key informants in Goma. On-site informants at 20 out of the 25 schools (80%) reported that the school had been attacked during the period under study. Some schools were affected by multiple attacks between December 2013 and June 2015, resulting in 27 distinct attack reports within those 20 affected neighboring schools. Thus, a total number of 29 attacks not known to the key informants in Goma were added during the field verification process. The high number of additional attacks that were documented during the on-site verifications (an additional 26%) suggests a probable underestimation of attacks on education in North Kivu when surveillance is solely based on key informants in Goma. Further illustrating the importance of including local and community based representatives from the education and child protection sector in the monitoring and reporting of attacks on education, and strengthening communication and reporting pathways.

The quantity and quality of the total 142 reported attacks on education (113 by key informants in Goma, and 29 during on-site verification) attest to the need for an enhanced monitoring system for attacks on education in North Kivu, as this number is considerably greater than the number that was reported in the UN Secretary-General Report on Children and Armed Conflict, which documented 34 attacks on education in 2014, including the use of schools for military purposes, affecting 31,000 children in the entire DRC.[1] This study demonstrates the feasibility and affordability of an active surveillance system based on key informant interviews and on-site verification to monitor disruptions of education in North Kivu. As regular active surveillance will provide a better understanding of patterns of attacks on education in the province and contribute to more effective advocacy, prevention, response, and protection efforts, the repetition of this study, twice annually and preferably by a local NGO is strongly recommended.

[1] United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) (2015). Report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. S/2015/409. 5 June 2015.