|Children attend a class in Saint-Marc, some 70 km north-west of Port-au-Prince, the capital. The school, along with others in the region, receives educational materials from UNICEF.|
By Kun Li
NEW YORK, USA, 20 February 2006 – Haiti’s new President-elect, René Préval, has announced that he intends to put children on top of his political agenda. "Children must be taken off the streets. Weapons must be taken from the hands of children and replaced with pens and books," said President Préval during a broadcast aired by AFP, the French news agency.
UNICEF hailed President Préval’s renewed commitment to children. Prior to the country’s election Préval was one of the 23 presidential candidates who signed a white paper called ‘The Political Agenda for Children’. The Agenda specifies actions in child protection, education, child and maternal health, and HIV/AIDS, laying down a roadmap to help lift Haitian children out of the cycle of poverty and neglect.
"Haiti's children deserve the uttermost attention from this new government,” said UNICEF Representative in Haiti Adriano Gonzalez-Regueral. “President Préval’s comments show a positive stand for changing Haiti’s future.”
|Three girls walk through an area filled with garbage and sewage in the seaside slum of Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince.|
As the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has been plagued by political violence since the country’s independence in 1804. In many parts of Port-au-Prince, the capital, children are often recruited by armed gangs to be used as messengers, drug dealers and even killers. In the neighbourhood of Cité Soleil, poverty and violence leave about seventy per cent of school-aged children out of school. Often they have to join a gang just to survive.
“We have thousands of children living on the streets, or involved with armed gangs,” said Mr. Gonzalez-Regueral. “More than 173,000 Haitian children are domestic workers, while 3,000 have been trafficked into the neighbouring Dominican Republic. On top of that the AIDS pandemic has cost 200,000 children one or both of their parents.”
UNICEF will work with President Préval and his new government to help mobilize much needed international support, as well as human and financial resources. The agency will continuously monitor the situation of Haiti’s children, and propose technical assistance to help effectively implement public policies and programmes.
“President Préval’s stated intention to remove weapons from children and replace them with books and pens opens a historical opportunity that we must seize,” remarked Mr. Gonzalez-Regueral.