GOMA, DRC, 29 August 2009 – On her second day in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), UNICEF Executive Director, Ann M. Veneman visited Mugunga I Camp for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) in Goma, North Kivu.
Due to the recent fighting, thousands of IDPs have fled to Goma with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. The conditions in Mugunga are appalling. As a result of the volcanic eruption in 2002, the entire site is built upon massive rocks of hardened lava making the ground incredibly difficult to walk on, let alone sleep on. Approximately 10,000 IDPs have to call this crumbling, dusty, tent city their home.
“One woman told that when the soldiers came to her village, she took her children and hid them under the bed,” said Veneman. “Then she realized her hut was on fire. She decided to risk death by gunfire, rather than being burned alive. Luckily, she and all but one of her children managed to escape. Sadly, these stories of rebel militias killing innocent civilians, burning down villages, and raping women and children are all too common.”
Another tragic consequence of the conflict is the recruitment of child soldiers. More children in the DRC have been used and recruited by armed forces than anywhere else in the world – a staggering estimate of 33,000 boys and girls since the onslaught of the conflict in 1998.
However, since the beginning of this year, UNICEF has helped facilitate the release of 2,813 children, which represents significant progress. Among the recent releases were 360 girls, a substantial number given that girls tend to fall through the cracks during demobilisation processes. Many of them have been abducted and forced to become sexual slaves, and end up bearing children while in captivity.
Veneman visited CAJED, a rehabilitation center for former child soldiers which provides crucial care to facilitate the transition from their life with an armed group to living back with their families.
“A 14 year-old boy whose name means innocent in Swahili, told me he was forced to commit acts of sexual violence against women,” said Veneman. “Another still believed that he was invincible against bullets, a common belief among the Mayi Mayi traditional armed groups in eastern and central DRC.”
Also in Goma, Veneman visited Heal Africa. a hospital that provides free health and psychosocial services to survivors of sexual violence.
“It is not only women and girls that are being raped,” said Veneman. “I met a 42-year-old man who was beaten and raped simply because he had no money for the soldiers to steal. He showed me his bullet wounds and scars, but the sadness in his eyes is what shocked me the most.”
Attention broadcasters: VNS of Ms. Veneman’s trip to the DRC is available at www.thenewsmarket.com/unicef
UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. www.unicef.org
For more information, please contact:
Gina Dafalia, UNICEF London,
Tel, + 44 7814 549 071
Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media, New York,
Tel + 1 212 326 7452
Humanitarian crisis in DR Congo
Press release: Veneman visits Dungu, a community terrorized by the LRA
Press release: Executive Director calls for peace and security for eastern DRC
Children and families in DR Congo face multiple crises
Reaching out to mothers to prevent HIV