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Deepening crisis in Burundi

Many children have already been separated from their families
Many children have already been separated from their families

19 people have been killed and many opponents of the government are suffering harassment after the coup in Burundi on 13th May. People are fleeing the capital and an estimated 50,000 have been displaced, of which 60% are children.

The recent conflict is the result of political tensions and claims that upcoming elections will not be free and fair. Burundi has struggled to find political stability since it was granted independence from Belgium in 1962.

Burundi is a small landlocked country in south-east Africa with a population of around 10 million. Though the nation has occasionally assumed a veneer of security, it is a politically troubled country, surrounded by similarly struggling nations (such as Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo) and has suffered two genocides in recent years.

Children at risk of displacement

Many children are at risk as a result of the situation in Burundi, UNICEF has expressed concern at the high number of separated and unaccompanied children (1,032 as of 9th May) who have arrived in Rwanda since the troubles began. It is anticipated that 250,000 people could eventually be displaced and this is especially troubling as so many of the people already displaced are unaccompanied children.

Boy in Burundi with empty bowl
Even prior to the current crisis in Burundi food was scarce

Schools in the capital Bujumbura, including 3 SOS Schools, have been closed since unrest began. Education has been patchy or non-existent for a lot of Burundi’s children with previous unrest and ethnic tensions interrupting schooling. Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with problems of food shortage, HIV/AIDS, a high fertility rate (the average Burundian woman will have 6 children) and associated high child mortality. Literacy is only around 50% leaving many struggling to end the cycle of poverty they find themselves in.

It has been reported that the government has armed the youth wing of the party indicating a return to the use of child soldiers. During the previous civil war thousands of children were recruited as soldiers and many girls were taken as slaves. The scars of these events last a lifetime and it would be terrible for the children of Burundi to have to repeat history in this way.

Potential for violence

Burundi is one of the poorest countries in Africa, a situation which has been perpetuated by decades of conflict and unrest. Even prior to the current situation, 43% of the population did not have access to reasonable sanitation facilities and there were concerns over food security with Burundi listed as the hungriest nation on earth in 2013. Access to and from the capital has been severely restricted and food prices have escalated. Women who have tried to leave report being threatened with rape and the government is cracking down on journalists, activists and demonstrators.

Burundi has a similar ethnic mix to neighbouring Rwanda and has suffered from two genocides of Tutsis and moderate Hutus since independence. It is feared that something on the scale of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which killed 800,000 people, is possible.

Our work in Burundi

SOS Children have been working in Burundi since 1976 and around 1000 children are cared for across 5 Children’s Villages. The services provided by these villages include schools, medical centres and family strengthening programmes. These institutions increase our reach to many thousands of children and families in the surrounding communities who rely on SOS Children to provide essential services. Most of the civil unrest in Burundi has been focused around the capital Bujumbura, but this is now spreading to other towns and could compromise our work across the country.

The forced closure of three SOS Schools in Bujumbura has created uncertainty for the 260 children and young people are cared for at the Bujumbura Children’s Village. We hope to continue our work, especially as it is likely we will need to provide care for the growing number of children who have been separated from their families.

It is anticipated that the crisis in Burundi will get much worse over the coming months and children, whether separated from their families, hungry and unable to attend school or as child soldiers, will suffer greatly. We need to help those already displaced and affected by the crisis and be prepared to help many more children and families should the situation worsen. 

We need your support to ensure we can help Burundi's most vulnerable children. Find out how you can change a child's life by sponsoring a child in Burundi.