|A former combatant at a UNICEF-supported shelter and reintegration centre for recently demobilized child soldiers in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo.|
By Dan Thomas
NEW YORK, USA, 24 July 2006 – Childhood in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been under attack for decades, but elections on 30 July could offer an opportunity to break the cycle of violence that has scarred an entire generation.
A Child Alert report written for UNICEF by British war correspondent Martin Bell and released today in London describes the effects of years of conflict on children in DRC – arguably the world's deadliest current humanitarian crisis.
“It is easy to be overwhelmed by what has happened in DR Congo because the sheer scale of it,” says Mr. Bell, who serves as the UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies. “But we owe it to the children to give them the future they deserve and these elections may be the opportunity of their lifetime.”
Threats to child survival
The conflict that has consumed DR Congo for nearly a decade has killed more people every six months than were killed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Estimates place the total deaths at 4 million, although some experts say the figure is far higher.
The Child Alert report paints a grim picture of a vast, lawless country in the heart of Africa where children are lucky if they survive long enough to become adults.
|Nuzje Krisata, 10, was attacked with a machete in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.|
In eastern DRC, as many as 120,000 people are being forced to flee their homes every month, and 1.66 million remain displaced. Constant migration robs children of schooling, health care and the chance for a normal life.
The report says as many as 30,000 children may be associated with armed forces or groups as fighters, sex slaves and camp followers.
At the same time, sexual violence against women and girls has reached epidemic proportions in DRC. Last year alone, there were 25,000 rape cases in the east of the country – and those are only the reported numbers.
An opportunity for change
UNICEF and its partners in DRC provide substantial emergency aid in the country, but long-term development cannot be maintained until there is sustained peace.
“We’re at the eve of elections on July 30,” says UNICEF Representative in DRC Anthony Bloomberg. “This is an amazing historical opportunity for change and improvement in the country. We have to give all of our support to the new government, to the Congolese people, to give children a fresh start and let children be the engine of positive development into the future.”
In order to continue providing emergency assistance, UNICEF has requested $93.67 million through a consolidated appeal for programmes in 2006. Currently, UNICEF’s programmes in DRC are underfunded by 62 per cent.
“UNICEF issued this report to call attention to this hidden emergency and its impact on children,” adds Mr. Bloomberg, referring to the Child Alert launched today. “We stand ready to work with the elected government and all other actors to begin immediately improving the lives of DR Congo’s children.”
Click here to launch the multimedia Child Alert report
21 July 2006:
Martin Bell reports on children caught in the conflict in DR Congo. Shot by David McKenzie, edited by Rachel Warden.
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from The Newsmarket
21 July 2006:
Martin Bell talks about his recent mission to DR Congo as UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies.
Child alert: DR Congo
Sexual violence scars children and women [with video]
Child Alert highlights child soldiers [with video]
Childhood under attack [with video and audio]