In the Democratic Republic of Congo, government officials say at least 15 street children have been killed, possibly by vigilantes guarding lucrative diamond mines. U.N. officials say they have recovered six bodies of children who were burned or stoned to death. There are thousands of street children in the Congo, where the social infrastructure has been devastated by years of war and neglect.
Mbuji Mayi is a dusty, bustling diamond mining town in the middle of the Congo. But during the last week, a dark story of attacks on street children has reached the capital, Kinshasa, 1,200 kilometers to the west.
There are gruesome reports of a week-long spate of attacks on the town's children, many of whom have been burned or stoned to death, while hundreds of others reportedly fled for their lives.
Ingele Ifoto, Congo's minister for social affairs, says that between 15 and 19 children have been killed during the last week alone.
The minister says some of the attacks have been linked to diamond miners who set up a defense force, following a series of robberies blamed on street children.
United Nations humanitarian workers say they have heard that scenario, but note that there is general frustration with the estimated 8,000 street children in the town, many of whom roam the streets hoping to get a foothold in the lucrative small-scale diamond mines.
The U.N. Children's Fund says its staff recovered at least six bodies of children who were killed.
Trish Hiddleston, UNICEF's child protection officer in Kinshasa, says some of these children were burned to death, while others appear to have died after being pelted with stones.
She called on the authorities to maintain calm and ensure the town's children are protected.
Years of war and neglect have left the vast African country's social affairs infrastructure in tatters, as the still divided transitional government struggles to create a sustainable peace.