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Saving Children from the Tragedy of Landmines

On First Global Mine Awareness Day, UNICEF says Mine-Free World is in Sight

NEW YORK, 4 April 2006 – Ridding the world of landmines and other explosive remnants of war could be accomplished in years instead of decades, saving thousands of children from devastating injuries and death, UNICEF said today on the first International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action.

The agency said explosive remnants of war, including landmines and unexploded ordnance, pose a huge threat to children and their communities in more than 80 countries, most of which are no longer in conflict. At least 20 per cent of the estimated 15,000-20,000 people who are killed or disabled each year by these deadly weapons of war are children.

But UNICEF said recent progress has renewed hope that the threat of explosive devices can be eliminated sooner than previously thought. The number of new victims has been decreasing over the last decade, due largely to increasing efforts by governments and NGOs to destroy and clear mines and to educate communities about their dangers. UNICEF said the continued support of donors and the public is vital to these initiatives.

“Wars are not truly over until children can play safely and walk to school without fear of landmines and other explosive remnants of war,” UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said in New York. “We cannot afford to reverse the gains that have brought us closer to making the battle against landmines a success story.”

Landmines are designed to disable, immobilize or kill people travelling by foot or in motor vehicles. Other explosive remnants of war include unexploded ordnance – weapons such as grenades and cluster bombs that did not explode on impact but can still detonate – and weapons that are discarded in civilian areas by combatants, known as abandoned ordnance. These munitions outlast the conflicts during which they were planted and become hazards for innocent civilians, particularly for unsuspecting children who often make the fatal mistake of playing with the unfamiliar objects.

Children face the daily threat of explosion in every region of the world. Landmines are buried in nearly half of all villages in Cambodia, and in Lao PDR nearly one-quarter of all villages are contaminated with explosive remnants of war. Other countries that are among the most contaminated include Colombia, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Russian Federation (Chechnya), Iraq, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Children suffer debilitating physical injuries from mine explosions, often losing fingers, toes and limbs. Some are left blind or deaf. An estimated 85 per cent of child victims die before they can get medical attention. Many disabled victims lose opportunities to go to school, and often cannot afford rehabilitative care. The persisting threat of mines takes its toll on entire societies, perpetuating poverty and underdevelopment.

Progress in the battle against mines

More than three-quarters of the world’s nations have ratified the Mine Ban Treaty since it came into force in 1999, outlawing the production, stockpiling and use of antipersonnel landmines. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, the number of countries thought to be producing, stockpiling and using landmines has dropped significantly over the last decade.

Antivehicle mines, unexploded ordnance and other types of explosive remnants of war are addressed in a new protocol to the Convention on Conventional Weapons. Approved three years ago, Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War is the first international agreement obligating parties to conflict to clear explosive munitions that threaten civilians after war has ended. The Protocol will enter into force once it has been ratified by four more countries.

According to UNICEF, an increasing number of mine-affected countries have been involved in mine action over the last decade, which includes a range of efforts to find and destroy explosive remnants of war, assist victims, and raise awareness about their dangers.

UNICEF supports and implements mine action activities in over 30 countries, and believes that mine-risk education is key to preventing the death and disabling of children. Through programmes brought to their schools and communities, children are taught how to live safely in areas contaminated with landmines and other explosive remnants of war.

“The tragedy of children being wounded or killed in landmine explosions is preventable,” Veneman said.  “We must work together to help ensure that children do not face these horrors in the future.”

For 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 155 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.

Note to Broadcasters: B-roll on landmines is available at www.thenewsmarket.com/unicef.

Note to editors:  The International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action was declared by the UN General Assembly to help raise awareness about landmines and efforts to eradicate them. UNICEF is one of 14 UN entities working together on mine action services. Activities to commemorate the day are happening in 29 mine-affected countries. In New York, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover will join UN experts and mine activists for a panel discussion on landmines and UXO. Find out more at http://www.mineaction.org/

For further information, please contact:

Allison Hickling, UNICEF Media, Tel: 212-326-7224, ahickling@unicef.org





4 April 2006:
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Danny Glover talks about the devastating effects of landmines on children.

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4 April 2006:
On the first International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action, UNICEF correspondent Rachel Bonham Carter reports on progress in landmine eradication.

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