DR Congo

COVID-19 School closures in the DRC: Impact on the health, protection and education of children and youth (May 2021)

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Analysis
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INTRODUCTION

Global data suggest that the risk of transmission of COVID-19 between children in a school setting is minimal when adequate protective measures are applied (mask wearing, physical distancing, hygiene practices).
However, in response to the pandemic, many governments around the world implemented temporary school closure measures. As of March 2020, as part of its efforts to contain COVID-19, the government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) decided to close schools nationwide, depriving over 27 million children of access to education. Schools in the DRC first reopened in October 2020, only to close again after two months in response to a second wave of the outbreak. Following advocacy efforts by national and international organisations working in the DRC, the government reopened schools and universities on February 22 2021.

Analyses of previous epidemics where schools were closed show a reduction in the proportion of children and adolescents who return to school once they reopen. Children who lack the structure and safe space provided by school are potentially more likely to face protection-related risks, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) and transactional sex, which increase the chance of early pregnancy and transmission of sexually transmitted infections. In addition, and particularly in conflict-affected areas, school closures may increase the likelihood of children being recruited by armed groups or subjected to forced labour. The risks are exacerbated for children living in the poorest households in rural areas where school attendance is already lower. Even after schools reopen, communities continue to feel the effects of their prolonged closure.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 epidemic in the DRC, the Social Sciences Analytics Cell (CASS) has conducted integrated analyses of the impact of the pandemic and response on the health, protection, and economic security of communities. This report presents an analysis of the impact of school closures as a COVID-19 response measure in the DRC, and is intended to inform evidence-based programming to mitigate the short- and long-term consequences to health, protection, and education of children and adolescents in the DRC. It demonstrates that the impact of school closures does not end with the reopening of schools; the evidence shared in this report highlight the long-term impacts that will continue to be felt following two extended periods of school closures in the DRC, and calls for an urgent response.