|© UNICEF video|
|Bakary, 15, was abandoned by his family after the fighting erupted. At ‘The House of Childhood’, a local non-governmental organization supported by UNICEF, Bakary found a safe place to stay and learn vocational skills.|
By Bob Coen
BOUAKÉ, Côte d’Ivoire, 20 November 2005 – Children are bearing the brunt of a three-year-long civil conflict that has divided this west African nation. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Bouaké, Côte d’Ivoire’s second largest city, which has been the scene of some of the worst clashes.
Bakary, 15, found himself alone and abandoned by his family after the fighting erupted. “After the rebels destroyed the hotel, I went there – it became my home. I slept there, did everything there,” says Bakary. “Then one day my friend told me about UNICEF and how they are helping children.”
A safe haven for vulnerable children
Bakary found assistance at ‘The House of Childhood’, a local non-governmental organization supported by UNICEF. ‘The House of Childhood’ runs four youth protection centres around the city, catering to the needs of hundreds of children affected by the conflict.
|© UNICEF video|
|Christiana, 17, left home at 15 to live with soldiers at a military camp. With the help from ‘The House of Childhood’, she moved back with her family and is now an apprentice hairdresser.|
“The economic situation was catastrophic and people were forced to survive,” says Father Henri de Penfentenyo, who oversees the protection programme. “Families could no longer care for their children and so we saw a situation where even children had to do whatever they could to get by.”
To survive, many children and young people expose themselves to serious risk, especially girls. Christiana, 17, left home at 15 to live with soldiers at a military camp. “Prostitution, drugs, I did a lot of things,” says Christiana, one of the many girls receiving support at the centre. Many arrive pregnant, others with babies.
‘The House of Childhood’ provides the children with access to recreation facilities, vocational training and education to help them get back to school one day. It also does whatever possible to help reunite the children with their families.
|© UNICEF video|
|‘The House of Childhood’ provides the children affected by conflict with access to recreation facilities, vocational training and education to help them get back to school one day.|
Building a better future for children and the country
After months of counselling Christiana is now an apprentice hairdresser and has moved back with her family. “I realize that I was on the wrong path and my life is much better now,” says Christiana.
As for young Bakary, he is now off the streets and lives in a foster home while learning electronic repair.
Since the conflict erupted in 2002 UNICEF and ‘The House of Childhood’ have helped more than 470 conflict-affected children in Bouaké.
UNICEF Representative in Côte d’Ivoire Youssoof Oomar says the process is as crucial for the rehabilitation of the country as for the children themselves. “We are also helping to build the necessary resources which in five or 10 years the country will require once it gets back into a normal mode. I think this is extremely important,” explained Mr. Oomar.
As Côte d’Ivoire remains divided and a United Nations-sponsored peace process stalled, protecting children amid the grim reality remains an urgent priority for UNICEF.
21 November 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Bob Coen reports on UNICEF’s work to protect children affected by conflict in Côte d’Ivoire.