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Clashes over land result in increased viotations against chidren

Children report witnessing beatings, killings and the destruction of their homes

NAIROBI, 22 March 2007 - UNICEF is concerned that the land crisis, which has persisted for more than 30 years, continues to cause violence and suffering. UNICEF has expressed deep concern about the continuing violence in Mt. Elgon District. 

“The violence and climate of intimidation in Mount Elgon District, as a result of a land crisis that has persisted since 1971, is taking a terrible toll on children,” said UNICEF Representative Heimo Laakkonen, when he visited scores of displaced families camped at Kaptoboi Primary School in Cheptai division.

Presenting the families with UNICEF’s donation of shelter material and household items, Laakkonen observed that more than 100 people have lost their lives, “including children who have died as a result of  appalling living conditions that have exposed them to disease and poverty.”

He continued: “Attendance in primary schools has plumeted to unacceptable levels. A month ago, there were eight schools reported closed, but as I speak here today, we have reports that in Kopsiro division only, 27 schools have now closed. This has put a strain on the few remaining schools, which are grappling with shortage of teachers, classrooms, desks and learning materials. Some health centres are also reported to have closed down, while the few that remain open are overstretched.”

The clashes have also interrupted immunization, brought a sharp drop in attendance at Ante Natal clinics and the VCT centres in Kopsiro and Cheptais. The loss of shelter, clothing and bed nets, overcorwding and poorer nutrition are all contributing to an increase in pnuemonia, malaria, enteric fever and sexually transmitted infections.

UNICEF also expressed concern at the wanton destruction of crops. “Mount Elgon is one of the richest food producing areas in the country, yet the destruction of crops and deserted farms means that even this fertile district could suffer food shortages!” said Laakkonen.

More than 30,000 have fled from the violence since the conflict between rival clans and ethnic groups flared up in the second half of 2006, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society, which has been active on the ground throughout. Many of the displaced are living in temporary shelters in compounds of churches, schools, mosques and markets – with little or no access to basic sanitation and hygiene facilities.

There are also reports that rape of women and children has been used as a weapon to force families out of their homes. Little action has been taken against the perpetrators of rape. UNICEF is especially appalled that security forces, deployed to the area to restore peace, are among those being accused of defilement and rape.

Climate of intimidation
The Country Representative’s visit is a follow-up to a recent Government of Kenya/UNICEF, Ministry of Education Emergency Education Committee, mission to Mt Elgon District. The committee was concerned by the disruption of education activities in the district, which denies children their right to education as enshrined in the Children Act. The mission observed that although the Government has deployed security forces to the district to restore peace, a climate of intimidation still prevails, where violated families and individuals cannot report their attackers for fear of further violence.

The team visited a health centre where three cases of rape had recently been reported. One case involved a schoolgirl who was reported to have been raped by a police officer on the night of Wednesday 14 February 2007. The girl was taken to the hospital early the next morning where she was attended to and put on anti-retroviral drugs. The team was informed that incidents of rape started in December 2006 and escalated in January and February 2007.  Most victims opted to remain silent due to threats of death issued against them by the perpetrators.

Children informed the UNICEF team that they had seen their houses burned, their harvested food destroyed, and relatives and other people getting beaten and killed.  They said the main perpetrators of violence were the security officers and members of a militia group – which had also been recruiting children into their ranks.

UNICEF’s intervention
UNICEF is working with the Ministries of Health, Education, and the Children’s Department as well as the Kenya Red Cross by providing drugs to health facilities, plastic sheeting, jerry cans, blankets, and soap.  UNICEF’s education team will dispatch 110 education kits, that can assist over 5,000 children – as well as 100 desks for overcrowded schools.  The agency is also helping the Children’s Department to improve monitoring and reporting of abuse. UNICEF support to the Kenya Red Cross is also helping to improve family tracing and the dissemination of information on where families can go to seek help.

The United Kingdom government, through DFID, is providing UNICEF with an additional USD400,000 (nearly KShs28 million) for further support to families affected by the violence.
UNICEF calls on the Government to act swiftly and decisively to protect the residents of Mt Elgon and offer support for peaceful negotiations between all the parties involved and urges all personnel deployed to the district to carry out their duties with professionalism to protect the rights of all those affected by the conflict.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 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:
Sara Cameron, Chief Communication, Partnerships and Participation, UNICEF Kenya: Tel +254(0)207622977; +254(0)722585262




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