Children in eastern DR Congo are facing unheard-of violence, the UN warned Friday, cataloguing rapes, killings and use of youngsters by armed groups, including a case of infant twins taped to a booby-trapped bomb.
The United Nations children's agency UNICEF said the war-torn country had the world's highest number of UN-verified violations against children in armed conflict.
The violence "has reached unprecedented levels," UNICEF's representative in the country Grant Leaity told reporters in Geneva.
"There are few worse places, if any, to be a child."
Leaity highlighted "depraved trends" in which the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF), a group affiliated to the so-called Islamic State, and various local militia competed to outdo each other in barbarity.
"On a daily basis, children are being raped and killed. They are being abducted, recruited and used by armed groups," he said.
But, he said, the documented cases were surely "only the tip of the iceberg".
He described the rescue of infant twin girls, who had been abandoned in a village where their entire family had been massacred.
They were found desperately malnourished "and attached to an explosive belt."
The explosive device was hidden under blankets and clothing, and was likely aimed at killing police or rescue personnel going to pick up the twins, Leaity said, adding that fortunately anti-mine personnel managed to defuse the bomb.
The girls, now just over one year old, are being cared for at a UNICEF centre in North Kivu province, he said.
They have "fully recovered from the malnutrition" but concerns remain around the "mental scars" they are likely to have suffered, he said.
In addition to using children as "booby traps", Leaity said recruitment of children by armed groups had increased sharply over the past year.
"The majority of them eventually end up as child soldiers," he said, also detailing a sharp increase in the killing and maiming of children.
"This practice is carried out by many of the armed groups present in eastern DRC."
Across the Democratic Republic of Congo, a sprawling country the size of continental western Europe, 1,600 children were recruited by armed groups last year, according to UNESCO's estimate.
Sexual and gender-based violence -- already a massive scourge in DR Congo, has meanwhile been surging, with 38,000 cases reported in North Kivu alone in the first three months of 2023.
Children were the victims in around 40 percent of the cases.
UNICEF says it has received just a fraction of the $400 million it needs to address the towering needs in eastern DR Congo in the next six months.
Leaity warned about the risk of "acceptance of something which is unacceptable."
"As the world looks away, we are failing the children of DRC," he said.