21 February 2022 - Burundi

Burundi: Returning children face uphill battle for education and safety

A school in Emmanuel's old community which has been damaged by floods.

Only one in 10 displaced children in Burundi is receiving a full education with as many as 67% out of school, including those who recently returned to the country after fleeing as refugees, putting them at risk of child marriage and abuse, according to research by Save the Children.

At least 420,000 Burundians fled the country between 2015 and 2017, following violence and instability but more than 183,000 of the refugees have returned since 2019, following a return to stability in Burundi and the start of repatriation programmes in neighbouring countries.

Save the Children conducted an assessment of displaced children in Burundi in November, including recently returned refugee children, and found registration challenges and lack of identity documents were key barriers to school enrolment with only 10% enrolled in school, 23% just receiving a partial education, and 67% out of school.

In particular, the lack of resources at transit centres for returnee families meant they were unable to register their return to Burundi and so struggled to access government services like education.

In addition to the barriers to education, Save the Children’s research found high levels of violence and abuse amongst displaced and returnee populations. Of the children interviewed for the assessment, 36% said they had experienced neglect, and 28% said they had experienced emotional abuse over the previous year. In Kirundo, one of the three provinces covered in the assessment, 38% of girls aged 12 to 17 years old reported being married in the previous year.

The combined impact of reintegration challenges, climate change, and the COVID-19 pandemic means the refugees are now among 1.8 million people in Burundi, or 16% of the population, in need of humanitarian assistance.

Maggie Korde, Save the Children’s Country Director for Rwanda and Burundi, said:

In recent years, violence in Burundi has forced hundreds of thousands of children and their parents from their homes. Now, they are returning to a country that is politically peaceful, but at the centre of a largely forgotten humanitarian crisis. Burundian families want a stable life and future for their children, and yet many are displaced, and face a future of uncertainty.

Children need powerful adults – including the national government, donors and global leaders - to invest in education, including non-formal education such as home school and catch-up classes, to help them get the jobs and skills they’ll need for their future. They need services to help them if they’ve experienced or are experiencing abuse. And they need to see real commitment from leaders around the world to tackle the climate crisis and provide countries like Burundi with the funding needed to adapt to its impacts.”

Beyond the challenges faced by returnee populations, at least 113,408 people have been forced from their homes by climate shocks in recent years. Over 84% of all internally displaced people in land-locked Burundi today have been displaced due to natural disasters rather than violence, mostly due to the rise of Lake Tanganyika, Africa’s second-largest lake.

To limit the impact of climate change on the lives of millions of children, Save the Children is calling on world leaders to increase climate financing so vulnerable communities can prepare for crises, with specific criteria to ensure child-centred investments, and to support poorer countries manage unavoidable impacts. Governments must also ensure financial safety nets are available for the most vulnerable families, to help them face the impacts of climate change.

Save the Children has a team in Burundi assisting thousands of displaced children and their families. The agency is providing support in child protection, preventing and responding to gender-based violence, responding to the flood crisis, supporting children to re-enrol in school, and distributing educational materials.

Notes:

  • A total of 606 returnees and internally displaced children and adults were interviewed for this assessment across three of the eight provinces hosting the highest number of displaced people– Kirundo, Ruyigi and Cankuzo provinces. The assessment took place in November 2021  and looked at needs and gaps in relation to education and protection amongst children and their families. Full Assessment Available here

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