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Violence in Zimbabwe affecting children and relief effort

NAIROBI / JOHANNESBURG, 28 May 2008 – UNICEF today strongly denounced the political violence that has displaced at least 10,000 children in Zimbabwe, and that is affecting the continued delivery of humanitarian relief to children and their families in parts of the country.

Zimbabwe’s politically-motivated violence has resulted in the destruction of hundreds of people’s homes, thousands of children not returning to school after the 29 April restart of classes, and scores of children beaten. It has seen children turned away from schools, and in some cases schools used as centres of torture.

Adding to the volatility of the situation for thousands of Zimbabweans who have fled to South Africa are the recent attacks on foreigners in that country. As many as 20,000 Zimbabwean children and women were forced to flee their homes during these recent attacks in and around Johannesburg. Recent reports suggest that up to 80,000 people have been displaced, Zimbabweans the most affected. There are thought to be as many as three million Zimbabweans who have fled their country’s economic and political turmoil, a majority of whom now live in neighboring South Africa.

“Today many who fled violence and economic turmoil in their own country, and have sought refuge in South Africa, now find themselves under attack,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern & Southern Africa, Mr Per Engebak. “As always, it is children who are caught in the middle of this – those frightened and now homeless in South Africa, or the thousands in Zimbabwe who have seen their homes burnt and parents beaten, others who have been beaten themselves. This cannot continue.”

UNICEF is also greatly concerned over the continuity of programmes for hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable children and orphans who benefit from those programmes in Zimbabwe because of violence and restrictions. Of the dozens of NGOs contacted by UNICEF, who help implement programmes for children, more than half have restricted their activities for children due to threats, requests to do so by authorities or general ‘concern at current uncertainties’.

“It is vital that our UNICEF programme in Zimbabwe continues to reach all the children who require assistance,” said Mr Engebak. “Presently this is not the case, and it is exacerbated by the fact that so many have been forced into hiding with their parents, away from the education and health care that is their right.”

In the past two weeks UNICEF in Zimbabwe has increased its emergency support to more than 25,000 individuals, and continues to supply blankets, soap and clean water to new cases. However, it is vital that security be restored and violence ended so that all vulnerable children who are in need of assistance receive it. Also, if action is not urgently taken in the education sector, Zimbabwe’s second term of school will be badly compromised as teachers flee violence.

One in four Zimbabwean children is orphaned and while 90% are absorbed into the extended family, those families are suffering unbearable stress as inflation rises beyond 350,000 percent.  In response, in 2007 the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) responded to the crisis by reaching more than 2.5million Zimbabwean children and women with programmes in HIV, health and nutrition, child protection, education, water & sanitation, and child rights.

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 further information, please contact:

James Elder, UNICEF Zimbabwe, Chief of Communications, Tel +263 912 276120, E-mail jelder@unicef.org

Patricia Lone, Regional Director of Communications, UNICEF Eastern and Southern Africa Regional Office, NAIROBI, Tel +  254-20-7622214, Mobile +  254-722-520595, E-mail: plone@unicef.org

Patrick McCormick, Emergencies Communication Officer, Media Section, UNICEF New York, Tel + 1 212 326 7426, Mobile + 1 917 582 7546

Veronique Taveau, Porte-Parole, UNICEF Geneva Regional Office, Tel + 41 22 909 5716, Mobile + 41 79 216 9401, Email: vtaveau@unicef.org





UNICEF Zimbabwe Chief of Communication James Elder discusses the effect of post-election violence on children.
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