An unprecedented opportunity to release all children from armed groups says UNICEF Deputy Executive Director
Kinshasa, February 27, 2009 - The Deputy Executive Director for UNICEF, Ms Hilde F. Johnson, urges the release of all children currently associated with armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She made a visit to the East of the country where the joint military operations between DRC and Rwanda took place. Years of conflict have caused massive suffering and gross violations of the rights of children.
Commending the recent efforts of the Government, Ms Johnson added “The recent developments in Eastern DRC provide an unprecedented opportunity to free all children from armed groups. Not one child should be integrated into the Congolese armed forces or police units in the process. We call for a clear timetable for the voluntary release of all children.” Over 30,000 children across the country have been demobilized and reintegrated since 2004 with assistance from UNCEF. It is estimated that around 3,500 children are still with armed groups in the DRC.
Ms Johnson, who currently is also co-chairing UN Action against sexual violence and rape in conflict, met with high-ranking government officials, members of the donor community and partners to discuss recent developments. “The testimonies of survivors of sexual violence show the urgency. I call for concerted action among all actors to end these atrocities. The government needs to break the culture of impunity and expedite legal proceedings against all perpetrators’, said Ms Johnson. “The recent developments in the East are a window to take action. With the integration of other armed groups into the armed forces and police, this is the moment to establish a policy on the prevention of sexual violence and ensure its implementation.”
The UNICEF Deputy Executive Director expressed concern about the situation of children over the whole of the country. “There are disturbing child mortality rates and indicators for health, nutrition, and access to water – which still remain well above the emergency thresholds in the Central and Western regions of DRC. In these areas, development assistance lags behind. There is a humanitarian imperative to meet basic social needs. Currently there is an imbalance in donor funding to DRC. This threatens to distort the overall wellbeing of children in the country.”
Ms Hilde F. Johnson highlighted that an even greater challenge now is the negative impact of the fall of commodity prices in Congo caused by the global economic crisis. The country relies heavily on production and export of raw materials. “It is a matter of urgency to alleviate the impact of the current crisis on children in DRC. I call on the government and donors to protect social budgets and put basic social services as a top priority. UNICEF’s programme in DRC is one of the largest in the world. We are committed to support the DRC and its government in this difficult period to realize the rights of children,’ said the Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.
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