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Last Updated: Friday, 28 July 2006, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Congo children's battle for life
By Karen Allen
BBC News, eastern DR Congo

Mothers and children in eastern DR Congo
Children have grown up in families that are constantly on the move
Exactly a week before the Democratic Republic of Congo goes to the polls, 21-year-old Buma Marianne gave birth to her third child.

Weighing 2.9kg and with a strong pair of lungs baby Zeina is almost a kilogramme lighter than an average baby in the developed world - but she's healthy.

So what future for a child born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where life expectancy is 43 and the population in the east of the country are feeling the continuing effects of war?

Zeina's mother has already lost one daughter to malaria - contracted as the family were in hiding deep in the Ituri forests.

She's had to flee from her home three times over the last five years. So her hope now is that her remaining children will have a stable life.

"I want peace so that my two children can grow up nicely, then study and have a good job," she says.

People have eventually come back home, but the child has suffered from months of displacement and from being in the forest
Stephanie Savriaud, World Food Programme
In this part of the world one in 10 children will die before their first birthday - hunger, lung infections and malaria claim so many lives.

With pockets of insecurity, making travel at times impossible, many mothers won't seek medical help until it's too late.

Child deaths

As I arrived at the hospital where Zeina was born, five mothers were preparing to go home alone.

None of these women's babies had survived, despite the best efforts of the medical teams.

The reality is that a fifth of all children die within 24 hours of admission.

One of the underlying causes of high mortality rates is chronic malnutrition. One in 10 children in DRC have insufficient food, and the mass displacement of people is making things worse.

"Often these people have eventually come back home, but the child has suffered from months of displacement and from being in the forest," says Stephanie Savriaud of the World Food Programme.

"Parents have had to go out and leave them for two or three days to find food, and of course it's not adapted for children."

Zeina has been born at a time of great hope in the Democratic Republic of Congo after years of war and instability.

But it's a country where half the population is under 15. This is the generation that's most vulnerable.

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