The lives of Congo's children have not improved and in some cases are deteriorating, despite official peace, the presence of peacekeepers, and promises of elections. The warning comes from the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, which says children continue to be targeted by armed groups and are dying in the hundreds on a daily basis because of insecurity.

Three years after the official end to Congo's devastating war, life for children in the vast country has not improved and, in some areas, is drastically worse.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is due to hold elections this summer, billions of dollars have been pumped in to try and rebuild the shattered country and there are nearly 17,000 U.N. peacekeepers trying to keep the country together.

But the Watchlist, a network of NGOs, warned in a report that this impression of progress did not accurately reflect the reality experienced by children in the Congo.

The report catalogues cases of rape and mutilation of girls, the use of children by armed groups and the failings of the health and education systems.

The rights group says nearly half of the estimated 1,000 people dying every day from war-related hunger and disease are children under the age of 18.

As a result, the researchers believe that children in Congo endure some of the most miserable treatment found anywhere in the world.

Peace deals officially ended Congo's 1998 to 2003 war, but fighting continues in much of the east, political wrangling adds to the insecurity in Kinshasa, and the government is regularly accused of corruption.

Thousands of children have been removed from the forces that were involved in Congo's war. But thousands remain and rights group warn that rebel groups still active in the east have been recently recruiting more ahead of elections.

The polls are the first chance for most Congolese to choose their leaders and, it is hoped, will draw a line under a decade of war and chaos in the mineral-rich, but shattered country.