KINSHASA Nearly a third of Congolese children are missing out on schooling as conflict, poverty, and weak governance take their toll, according to a study from the United Nations.
Democratic Republic of Congo is recovering from decades of dictatorship and two wars that left millions dead and the country's infrastructure in ruins.
Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes in areas of ongoing rebel conflict, such as North Kivu province, and live in makeshift camps.
The study, begun in 2010 by the U.N. bodies for children and education, UNICEF and UNESCO, found that more than 7.3 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 do not go to school.
The problem is worst in North Kivu, where there are myriad armed groups and the government is struggling to control the latest in a series of uprisings; and in Katanga province, the country's most productive mining region.
Poverty plays a major role, the study found, with half of all children in typical households that live on less than $50 a month not attending school. Among much richer families, where the income tops $500 per month, the figure falls to less than 2 percent.
The failure of the state to adequately fund the education sector means, on average, families have to spend more than a tenth of their income to send children to school, said the report which was released on Friday.
This is in a country where most people live on less than a dollar a day.
There is also persistent gender inequality, the study found, with girls' education opportunities often reduced by marriage and pregnancy during schooling years.
The report said the problem of children missing out on education was worst in provinces of high mining activity or recurrent conflict.
It did not explain why the problem was more pronounced in mining areas, though human rights advocates have said child labor in the mining sector is widespread.
Congo, which is two-thirds the size of western Europe, is Africa's second-largest copper producer and exported about half a million metric tons last year.
Despite its mineral riches, including significant deposits of gold, diamonds and tin, the country has been described by the United Nations as the least developed on earth.
(Reporting by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Pravin Char)