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UNICEF highlights deteriorating situation of children and women in eastern DRC

KINSHASA, 31 December 2008 - The escalation of conflict and upheaval of people from their homes and shelters have led to further violations of children's and women’s rights in eastern DRC, UNICEF said today. The children’s agency warned that the situation is deteriorating, and urged the world not to turn a blind eye to the plight of children and women in the DRC.

Since fighting intensified in North Kivu in late August, humanitarian access has been limited and sporadic. Continuous fleeing is increasing children’s vulnerability to a multitude of child protection problems, including separation from families, recruitment into armed groups, sexual violence and exploitation, forced labour and abuse, and interruption of schooling.

“UNICEF is calling on all armed groups to end the recruitment and use of children, to immediately release the children within their ranks, and to refrain from any intimidation of children reunited with their families and communities,” said Ms. Pierrette Vu Thi, UNICEF Representative in the DRC.

UNICEF is responding to reports of widespread recruitment and exploitation of children by all parties to the conflict, including mass recruitment campaigns. Since September, some 200 children have been abducted in the Dungu district in north-eastern Oriental province by the Ugandan rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). UNICEF and its partners are prepared to provide protection and assistance for children who escape or are released, and are currently assisting 31 children who have fled the LRA ranks. The rebel movement has also recently attacked and killed a high number of civilians in the area. UNICEF is providing supplies to assist displaced people. 

Of particular concern are children formerly associated with armed groups that have been reintegrated into their communities and are now being targeted and re-recruited. This puts the approximate 10,000 children in North Kivu whom UNICEF has assisted in community reintegration at particular risk and reverses gains made over the last four years.

Rampant sexual violence and exploitation are taking place with impunity in villages and sites for internally displaced persons. In Kanyabayonga, Kayna, and Kirumba, the rape of women and girls of all ages in the fields and in their homes has been reported. Women and girls report attacks both within the camps and when venturing out for firewood, water, and food. In the Kibati camp, soldiers abducted and attempted to rape two girls; as they tried to escape one was shot dead and the other fled into hiding. Both girls participated in the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space programme offering protection to thousands of children; their peers have since received psycho-social counseling to help them cope with their loss.

Out-of-school children are exposed to a greater risk of exploitation, abuse, and consequently HIV and AIDS, and unwanted pregnancies. An estimated one million children were not attending school in North Kivu before the crisis and tens of thousands more have had their schooling interrupted. 

In Rutshuru territory, 85 per cent of schools serving an estimated 150,000 students were closed due to active combat and widespread insecurity. Today, the majority of schools are again functioning, however many parents fear sending their children to school due to continuing killings, disappearances, forced recruitment and the threat of conflict. In November, in areas of displacement such as Kibati, all schools were occupied by either armed groups or displaced persons. Through successful negotiation in Kibati, all but one school are now operational.

“UNICEF urges the authorities to protect all children and adults from sexual violence, whether perpetrated by parties to the conflict or civilians,” said Vu Thi. “Prevention of sexual violence requires the commitment of the government, armed forces and groups, and community leaders to reduce the risks that girls and women face and to proactively promote a zero tolerance position toward sexual exploitation and abuse.”

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:

Pierrette Vu Thi, UNICEF DRC, + 243 81 3330202, pvuthi@unicef.org,
Joyce Brandful, UNICEF DRC, + 243 81 8846746, jbrandful@unicef.org,
Miriam Azar, UNICEF Media New York, + 1 212 326 6949, miazar@unicef.org




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