Tuesday, July 25, 2006

More than 600 children die every day

VIA: CNN World

Report: Congolese children bear brunt of war LONDON, England (AP) -- More than 600 children die every day in war-ravaged Congo and even more are displaced, sexually abused and swept up into the camps of combatant groups, according to a UNICEF report released Monday.
Martin Bell, a former war correspondent and UNICEF ambassador, wrote "Child Alert: Democratic Republic of Congo." The report was released less than a week before the country's elections, the first democratic ballot in more than 40 years.
"It is easy to be overwhelmed by what has happened in DRC [Congo] because of the sheer scale of it," Bell said. "But we owe it to the children to give them the future they deserve. ... These elections may be the opportunity of their lifetime." The United Nations is helping organize the July 30 vote, the biggest elections the world organization has ever undertaken. Its biggest peacekeeping force of 17,600 troops and a recently arrived European Union force of 1,000 soldiers are deployed to maintain calm at 50,000 ballot stations, scattered across a country the size of Western Europe with only a few hundred miles (kilometers) of paved roads.
Thirty-three candidates are running for president and 9,000 for legislative seats, but many are asking to have the campaign suspended until charges of campaign cheating, backed by several human rights groups, are investigated.
Bell presented the report in central London with Tony Bloomberg, UNICEF representative for Congo, at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.
The two discussed bolstering support for education and schools, which UNICEF sees as a path to reintegrate child soldiers and molestation victims as young as 6 back into a stable community.
"The role of the school here is very important -- a normalized school environment not only helps the child in terms of trauma, but it also gives them a tool for the future," Bloomberg said.
"It gives them hope."
UNICEF estimates Congolese rape and sexual assault victims number in the hundreds of thousands -- epidemic proportions because of combatant groups deploying sexual violence as a weapon of war.
"They [children] are caught up in war as refugees and internally displaced people: Constant migration robs them of schooling, health care and the chance for a normal life," the report says. "And they are caught up in combat as soldiers and camp followers."
Young girls are singled out for sexual crimes, the report states, due to false beliefs that having sex with them will cure HIV/AIDS.
An estimated 1.1 million people now live with the disease in the Congo -- a number UNICEF says will only climb as war, gang rape, genital mutilation and community displacement continue to wrack the country.
The report also states that
more children under the age of 5 die every year in Congo than in either China -- a country with 23 times the population -- or in all the Latin American countries combined.
"Children bear the brunt of conflict, disease and death, but not only as casualties," Bloomberg said. "They are also witnesses to, and sometimes forced participants in, atrocities and crimes that inflict physical and psychological harm."

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