Darfur: Violence threatening children's lives
Khartoum/Geneva/ New York, 2 July 2004 – UNICEF reports today that a significant number of children displaced in Darfur have either been direct victims of violence or have witnessed violent acts.
In interviews conducted in camps for displaced civilians inside Sudan, as well as refugee camps in Chad, UN and NGOs workers say that with disquieting regularity, children report fleeing for their lives after witnessing the murder and rape of parents, siblings, and neighbours.
UNICEF’s Director of Emergency Operations, Dan Toole, who recently returned from Darfur and the refugee camps of Chad, says that while systematic data is difficult to obtain at this stage, enough anecdotal evidence is emerging from children to indicate the broad impact on their lives.
“I spoke with scores of children, who simply tell what they have seen,” said Toole. “Infants shot in front of them, parents gunned down in fields, mothers raped, houses burned, animals killed, and people being forced to run for their lives with nothing. And at least half a million children are among those who fled, which gives us a hint at the scale of the disaster for children”.
Some of the strongest testimony has been etched in drawings made in the children’s support centres that UNICEF has opened in Darfur. Children are encouraged to draw and tell of their experiences as a way of relieving the shock of what they have seen.
In one typical drawing by an 11-year old girl who fled her village, bodies lie bleeding on the ground beneath a red sun, while a man with a gun sits on a camel. As she points to the bodies, she recounts the names of her relatives.
UNICEF says that the work centres, as well as the early restarting of basic schooling, are important pillars in the effort to restore some semblance of stability to children uprooted by war. UNICEF has built dozens of support centres and classrooms in the past weeks, accommodating now 32,000 school children, and hopes to extend the programme to around 60,000 children by September.
“We’re dealing with massive effects on the lives of children”, said Toole. “But significantly, this expulsion is creating a common memory for those who survive of mayhem, insecurity, terrible loss, and the power of violence.”
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James Elder, UNICEF Newsdesk, Darfur: +249-12-167158 firstname.lastname@example.org
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