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Press release

UNICEF hails new research on missing children in Sudan

NEW YORK, 28 May 2003 – UNICEF praised new research released today by the Rift Valley Institute that shows that over 10,000 children and adults abducted by militia groups in Sudan over the past 20 years are still missing.

UNICEF said the new information would make the ongoing search for those still missing “far more effective, far more meaningful, and far more hopeful.”

“This has been an absolutely vital initiative,” said JoAnna van Gerpen, the UNICEF Representative in Sudan, speaking of the Rift Valley Institute’s efforts. “For the first time since 1983 the true extent of the abductions has been documented. It’s a huge step in helping us search for the missing children and women. It drives home the fact that they are real people with real names and stories – not just statistics.”

The children’s agency called on the Government of Sudan, as well as major international donors and friends of Sudan’s peace process, to seize the new data as an opportunity to make headway in finding those still missing.

The findings are the result of over 18 months of work by the Rift Valley Institute to identify the names and details of individuals who were abducted in southern Sudan over the last 20 years.

The number of children and adults whose families do not know where they are – some 10,380 according to the data released today by the Institute – demonstrates how serious the problem of abduction remains, even though the incidence of abduction has fallen over the past two years, UNICEF said.

Since the formation of the Government of Sudan’s Committee for the Eradication of the Abduction of Women and Children in May 1999, UNICEF has supported work by the authorities and tribal communities in western Sudan to find abducted children and women and to reunify them with their families.

Over the past four years, over 700 people have been reunified with their families in southern and western Sudan. The most recent family reunifications took place in mid-May, when UNICEF and Save the Children UK flew 62 children across the cease-fire lines to their families in parts of northern Bahr al-Ghazal held by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

However, UNICEF has become increasingly concerned about lack of progress and wants to see significantly more effective work on abduction by the Sudanese authorities. “In our view, empowering local governments and genuine community leaders – people who know their area and feel a responsibility toward it – is essential to progress,” van Gerpen said. “Knowledge of the names, clans and villages of nearly every missing child is an extraordinary tool. It should now be possible to search for every individual by name – although it will be a massive task.”

UNICEF believes donors and friends of Sudan’s peace process have a responsibility to keep the issue of abduction alive in their relations with both the Sudanese government and the SPLA. This means taking a rigorous look at how effective action against abduction can best be encouraged and implemented, setting benchmarks for progress and providing financial support.
“We are grateful to our fellow humanitarian organizations for the tremendous work they have done in carrying out this research and giving these abducted women and children their names back,” van Gerpen said. “We hope it will be a major step toward giving them their lives back.”

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For further information, please contact:

Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York: (1-212) 326-7261





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