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In DRC, unprecedented opportunity to release all children from armed groups

Deputy Executive Director in DRC calls for release of all children

KINSHASA, 27 February 2009 – UNICEF today urged the release of all children currently associated with armed groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ms. Hilde F. Johnson, Deputy Executive Director for UNICEF visited the East of the country where the joint military operations between DRC and Rwanda took place and where years of conflict have caused massive suffering and gross violations of the rights of children.

“The recent developments in Eastern DRC provide an unprecedented opportunity to free all children from armed groups,” said Ms. Johnson. “Not one child should be integrated into the Congolese armed forces or police units in the process. We call for a clear timetable for the voluntary release of all children.”

Over 30,000 children across the country have been demobilized and reintegrated since 2004 with assistance from UNCEF. It is estimated that around 3,500 children are still with armed groups in the DRC.

Ms Johnson, who currently is also co-chairing UN Action against Sexual Violence and Rape in Conflict, met with high-ranking government officials, members of the donor community and partners to discuss recent developments. “The testimonies of survivors of sexual violence show the urgency. I call for concerted action among all actors to end these atrocities. The government needs to break the culture of impunity and expedite legal proceedings against all perpetrators,” said Ms Johnson. “The recent developments in the East are a window to take action. With the integration of other armed groups into the armed forces and police, this is the moment to establish a policy on the prevention of sexual violence and ensure its implementation.”

The UNICEF Deputy Executive Director expressed concern about the situation of children over the whole of the country. “There are disturbing child mortality rates and indicators for health, nutrition, and access to water – which still remain well above the emergency thresholds in the Central and Western regions of DRC.  In these areas, development assistance lags behind. There is a humanitarian imperative to meet basic social needs. Currently there is an imbalance in donor funding to DRC. This threatens to distort the overall wellbeing of children in the country.”

Ms Hilde F. Johnson highlighted that an even greater challenge now is the negative impact of the fall of commodity prices in Congo caused by the global economic crisis. The country relies heavily on production and export of raw materials. “It is a matter of urgency to alleviate the impact of the current crisis on children in DRC. I call on the government and donors to protect social budgets and put basic social services as a top priority.  UNICEF’s programme in DRC is one of the largest in the world. We are committed to support the DRC and its government in this difficult period to realize the rights of children,” said Ms. Johnson.

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:
Joyce Brandful, UNICEF DRC, + 243 81 8846746 jbrandful@unicef.org,
Robert Lussier, UNICEF Goma, +243 81 8305933, rluissier@uniceg.org
Kate Donovan, UNICEF New York, + 212 326 7452 kdonovan@unicef.org





26 Februry 2009:
UNICEF correspondent Guy Hubbard reports on UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde F. Johnson’s visit to DR Congo.
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