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UNICEF welcomes the release of 232 child soldiers in Burundi

Children’s agency reports young people safe in demobilization centre

BUJUMBURA, BURUNDI/GENEVA, 2 May 2008 – UNICEF praised the release of 232 child soldiers on April 25,  following eight months of negotiations between the government, civil society, UN agencies and other players with the dissident faction of the Palipehutu-FNL. The release occurred despite ongoing clashes.  The young people are now out of harm’s way in a demobilization centre.

A team including government officials and child protection experts received the children, whose ages range from 15 to 20, and include one girl, in Bujumbura.

Once the children are identified, family reunification will start through a demobilization and reintegration program, including sensitization of the families and communities. The government of Burundi pledged that the children will also receive vocational training or assistance in returning to school, as appropriate.

UNICEF will monitor the well-being of the children at the demobilization center and in their homes of return, and has also offered to provide assistance for family reunification, psychosocial care, health assistance, HIV/AIDS counseling and testing, and additional support for back-to-school and vocational training. UNICEF is addressing the impact of violence through medical, legal, psychosocial and rehabilitation support.

Advocacy is on-going for the immediate release and demobilization of the unknown number of children that remain with the rebel group.

Between 2004 and 2006, 3,000 former child soldiers in Burundi were demobilized.  The majority of them have been reintegrated into their former homes and communities and many of them are receiving other services to assist them.

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:
Geoffery Keele, UNICEF New York tel: +1 212 326 7583, gkeele@unicef.org
Miriam Azar, UNICEF New York, tel: +1 212 824 6949, miazar@unicef.org




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