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UNICEF calls for full resumption of services for children in Zimbabwe

NAIROBI, 13 June 2008 – On the eve of The Day of the African Child, UNICEF today expressed its deep concern at the Zimbabwe Government’s suspension of access for non-governmental organization (NGO) workers, who are now prevented from reaching the country’s most vulnerable children. The UN Children’s Fund called for a full and immediate resumption of programmes run by NGOs that are critical for the country’s children.

While many countries across the continent prepare for Monday’s celebrations for The Day of the African Child, hundreds of thousands of Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable children are today being prevented from accessing the care they desperately require.

Last week all NGOs were instructed to stop their field work in Zimbabwe until further notice. The net effect is as many as 500,000 children are now not receiving the health care, HIV/AIDS support, education assistance and food that they require. Many of these children are orphans.

“Zimbabwe’s children cannot endure a winter without support,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern & Southern Africa, Mr. Per Engebak. “The level of suffering for these children increases daily.”

UNICEF also used the symbolism of Monday’s Day of the African Child to vigorously condemn continued violence against children. Zimbabwe’s current wave of politically-motivated violence has resulted in the destruction of thousands of people’s homes, thousands of children not returning to school after the 29 April restart of classes, and scores of children beaten, some as young as two years old. It has seen children turned away from schools, and in some cases schools used as centres of torture. In one interview with UNICEF staff, a 10-year-old boy recounted: “They started beating me, others were kicking me in the ribs. One of them continuously beat me with a big stick on my head. After beating me they held me down and used plastic to burn my chest.”

“This appalling violence damages children, their potential, and Zimbabwe as a whole. It must stop and it must stop now”, said Engebak. “All authorities have a legal obligation to protect children; and as a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child there is an international obligation.”

UNICEF has programmes for children in Zimbabwe in HIV/AIDS, health and nutrition, child protection, education, water & sanitation, and child rights. As of last week one UNICEF orphan programme – reaching 185,000 orphans through 25 NGOs – no longer operates.

“The frustration is that we know the needs of Zimbabwe’s children and the grandmothers and extended families who do all they can to provide for them – and we have excellent programmes to assist them. But today these programmes serve no one because of the current suspension of NGOs.”

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 4 703941; Mobile + 263 912 276120; Email jelder@unicef.org
Patrick McCormick, UNICEF New York, Tel: +1 212 326 7426, pmccormick@unicef.org

Notes on UNICEF in Zimbabwe
In 2007 the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) responded to Zimbabwe’s 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.




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