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Child Alert: Democratic Republic of Congo

Children caught in war

LONDON, 24 July 2006 - The conflict and violence that has consumed the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for nearly a decade has killed more people every six months than were killed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.  Estimates place the total deaths at four million, although some experts say the figure is far higher.  In a report released today in London, UNICEF said that as victims, children have defined this often forgotten, but world’s deadliest, humanitarian crisis in the heart of Africa.

Child Alert: DRC, written by UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies Martin Bell, describes the effects of war on children and their families as armies and militia groups rampaged across mostly eastern Congo.  As a direct or indirect result of conflict, 1,200 people die every day in DRC and more than half of those are children.  Many tens of thousands are believed to have been the victims of direct violence, but the death toll was mostly exacted by disease and malnutrition as fighting repeatedly drives civilians from their homes and instability prevents their access to aid and health services. 
UNICEF Representative Tony Bloomberg joined Bell in London today to release the report, just days before the first free elections in over forty years are scheduled to begin in DRC. The report, based in part on Martin Bell’s own observations in DRC and his past experience in war-torn countries, suggests there is hope for an end to conflict through successful elections.
“It is easy to be overwhelmed by what has happened in DRC because the sheer scale of it,” said Bell.  “But we owe it to the children to give them the future they deserve and these elections may be the opportunity of their lifetime.”
UNICEF reports that these grim statistics make DRC one of the top three deadliest places to be born.  In fact, more children under age five die each year in DRC than in China, a country with 23 times the population. 

“Children bear the brunt of conflict, disease and death, but not only as casualties,” said UNICEF DRC Representative Tony Bloomberg, who attended the launch in London.  “They are also witnesses to, and sometimes forced participants in, atrocities and crimes that inflict physical and psychological harm.”

Some of the most serious effects include:

• Sexual assaults, used as a weapon of war against women and children, have reached epidemic proportions.  Last year alone, 25,000 reported cases of rape occurred in eastern DRC. 
• Children are caught up in war as refugees and internally displaced people.  In eastern DRC, as many as 120,000 people every month are being displaced from their homes and 1.66 million remain displaced.  Constant migration robs children of schooling, health care and the chance for a normal life.
• As many as 30,000 children may be associated with armed forces or groups as fighters, sexual slaves and camp-followers.
• Almost half of all primary age school children are not in school and one out of three children under age one are not vaccinated against measles. An alarming 31 per cent of children under five are underweight.

UNICEF and its partners provide substantial emergency aid including psychological counseling, transit centres for the demobilization of child soldiers, vaccinations, temporary schools in IDP camps, access to clean water and sanitation and non-food items such as cooking utensils and jerry cans and plastic sheeting for emergency shelter.  But long term development - free universal primary education, free basic health care for children under five, mosquito bed nets for pregnant women and children under five, rehabilitation of water sources, more counseling and support for women and children - cannot be maintained until there is sustained peace.

In order to continue providing emergency assistance, including support to children living on the street in urban centres and working in the mines throughout DRC, UNICEF has requested US $93.67 million dollars through a consolidated appeal for programmes in 2006.  Currently, UNICEF is under funded by 62 per cent.  Relative stability has allowed more access in eastern parts of the country, but more resources are necessary to meet the growing need.

“While DRC has experienced death rates like that of the tsunami every six months, it has not received the attention it deserves, either from the media or the public,” said Bloomberg.  “UNICEF issued this report to call attention to this hidden emergency and its impact on children.  We stand ready to work with the elected government and all other actors to begin immediately improving the lives of Congo’s children.”

To download the report, view videos, photos and for more from Martin Bell on the DRC, please visit www.unicef.org/childalert/drc.  More information on UNICEF’s work in DRC and funding requirements are also available online.

Attention broadcasters:  Video footage will be available free of charge from The Newsmarket at http://www.thenewsmarket.com.

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.

For more information please contact:
Susan Lagana, UNICEF Media, +1-212-326-7516, slagana@unicef.org
Joyce Brandful, UNICEF Media, DRC, (243) (0) 81519 8142, jbrandful@unicef.org
Shima Islam, UNICEF UK, +44 (0)20 7312 7614, shimai@unicef.org.uk




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