UNICEF chief urges better protection from violence for DR Congo's children
(UN News Centre) - The head of the United Nations Children's Fund ( UNICEF) today condemned violence against children in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where youngsters face multiple challenges, including sexual abuse, conscription into armed groups and lack of education and health services.
"What can be more repulsive than sexual violence against children, whether in the DRC or elsewhere?" posed Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of UNICEF, speaking in Goma, the capital of North Kivu province.
"We all should be alarmed by the most recent allegations of rape by soldiers in North and South Kivu, and especially by reports that children are among the victims of these atrocities. This is a crime for which there can be no impunity. Perpetrators must be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law," said Mr. Lake.
Last year, 14,591 new cases of sexual violence were reported in DRC, including thousands of child victims, according to UNICEF.
While there has been progress in releasing and reintegrating back into society children who have been associated with armed forces, recruitment of children remains a serious problem in the country, mostly in the more insecure parts of the east.
"Children who become involved with armed forces are at grave risk of physical injury and lasting psychological harm, and they are deprived of a most basic right - to be children, to have a childhood," said Mr. Lake.
Internal displacement also continues to blight the lives of children in DRC. An estimated 1.7 million adults and children have been displaced in recent years, with nearly half a million refugees seeking safety in other countries.
"Cut off from basic services - clean water, adequate sanitation, sufficient nutrition, education and basic health care - children affected by armed conflict are among the most vulnerable in DRC. Yet, they have the same right to social services as children elsewhere," said Pierrette Vu Thi, the UNICEF Representative in DRC.
Progress has, however, been made. An increasing number of children are going to school and many more are sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets for protection against malaria, and life-saving vaccines are increasingly available. "Since such progress can be made, more progress must be made," said Mr. Lake.
In a related development, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Valerie Amos, announced today that she will make a three-day visit to DRC beginning on Tuesday to assess the humanitarian situation in the country.
Protection of civilians and ensuring better access to people in need of humanitarian assistance will be one of her main priorities during the visit, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs ( OCHA), which she heads.
Ms. Amos, who is also UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, will visit the provinces of North Kivu and Orientale, the areas most affected by conflict. She is also scheduled to meet government representatives and local officials, UN staff and humanitarian partners, as well as residents of the areas affected by strife.