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UNICEF Deputy Executive Director sees Burundi's progress in education and demobilization of child soldiers

© UNICEF Burundi/2006/Brenda Kariuki
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah meets children at the Maison Shalom Centre in Ruyigi province. There UNICEF is providing assistance to help reintegrate child soldiers back into their communities.

By Brenda Kariuki

BUJUMBURA, Burundi, 7 February 2006 – During her visit to Burundi, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah praised the country’s effort in providing free primary education for all children, and the success in demobilizing more than 3,000 child soldiers.

Accompanied by French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, Ms. Salah is in Burundi for a two-day visit – the first by a top UNICEF official since the country’s democratically elected government took office in August 2005.

Ms. Salah expressed her deep appreciation towards the country’s free primary education policy, which was declared by President Pierre Nkurunziza and took effective right after his inauguration. Ms. Salah said President Nkurunziza’s decision is a “bold step in the right direction for the children of Burundi.”

At the same time Ms. Salah noted that while one million children are already benefiting from the new policy, another one million are still outside the school gates. She called on partners and donors to continue their support for this initiative, ensuring all children – every boy and every girl – are in school.

© UNICEF Burundi/2006/Brenda Kariuki
Ms. Salah and French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy (holding flowers) meet with children in Ruyigi province. Also looking on is Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF Representative in Burundi (left).

Child protection a top agenda

Ms. Salah also met with Carolyn McAskie, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Burundi. They discussed implementation of Security Council resolution 1612. Adopted in July 2005, resolution 1612 established the first comprehensive system of monitoring and reporting on the use of children in armed conflict. Burundi is one of the first five countries selected to implement the resolution.

Ms. Salah urged partners to support the Government’s Child Protection Network, which helps to ensure the rights of children monitored and any violations reported – as part of fulfilment of the Security Council resolution 1612.

Meeting with demobilized child soldiers

In Ruyigi, a province in eastern Burundi bordering Tanzania, Ms. Salah and the French delegation visited a vocational training centre for demobilized child soldiers.

Working with Maison Shalom, a non-governmental organization, UNICEF has helped demobilize more than 3,000 child soldiers since July 2004. The rehabilitation programme is consisting of family based assistance, a back-to-school scheme, vocational training, primary health care, HIV/AIDS prevention and psychosocial assistance.

Eighteen-year-old Lestor braved the front lines for five years, but now he and his friends are being given the opportunity to start a new life. “Now I feel better. Life is much better than when I was in the rebellion,” remarked Lestor. “Then I often spent nights in the bush, and went without food. Now I am learning a new skill and I will try to find a job.”

To date at least 700 former child soldiers are back to school, while 1,300 are enrolled in vocational training.

© UNICEF Burundi/2006/Brenda Kariuki
Ms. Salah meets with Carolyn McAskie, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Burundi (centre), and Catherine Mbengue, UNICEF Representative in Burundi.

Meeting children affected by HIV/AIDS

At a community nursery Ms. Salah interacted with children and women and was delighted to see the efforts being made for children affected by conflict and HIV/AIDS. “By granting children access to free anti-retrovirals and comprehensive care packages, you will play an important role in the implementation of the Global Campaign on Children and AIDS,” said Ms. Salah to Dr. Triphonie Nkurunziza, the top government official in charge of HIV/AIDS. She pledged UNICEF’s support in helping Burundi take care of children affected by the disease and prevent mother-to-child transmission.

During her short but packed visit Ms Salah also met with the First Vice President of the Republic, Mr. Martin Nduwimana; the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms. Antoinette Batumubwira; and the Minister of Education, Mr. Saidi Kibeya.

At a press conference held at end of her trip Ms. Salah once again thanked the President for his visionary declaration of abolishing school fees, and his support for the UNITE FOR CHILDREN  UNITE AGAINST AIDS campaign. Ms. Salah reaffirmed UNICEF’s support in helping rebuild Burundi and ensuring peace and development in the country.

“What I have seen here is hope. It is really happening and it’s changing their lives for the better. You see that all the children have taken back their childhood – and that’s so important,” concluded Ms. Salah.

Olalekan Ajia, Barbara Jamar and Kun Li  also contributed to the story.




7 February 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Arnold Temple reports on Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah’s visit to Burundi.

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