July 25, 2006
With elections in DR Congo less than a week away, UNICEF issued a report yesterday stating 1,200 people are killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) every day because of violence, disease or malnutrition.
The report, Child Alert: DRC, also states that more children under age five die each year in the African country than in China – a country with 23 times the population. It draws attention to the to the appalling fact that the total countrywide death toll every six months is similar to that for the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 230,000 people in 12 countries.
This analogy is similar to the one made in the blog My Heart’s in Accra on how Western coverage is disproportionate to the Middle East conflict’s causalities in relation to Africa.
Nonetheless, UNICEF UK Ambassador for Humanitarian Emergencies Martin Bell, who wrote the report, said Sunday’s landmark elections could be a turning point.
“It is easy to be overwhelmed by what has happened in DRC because of the sheer scale of it. But we owe it to the children to give them the future they deserve and these elections may be the opportunity of their lifetime,” said Bell.
June 19, 2006
Another item to share that hasn’t received coverage in the press. Human Rights Watch has reported in A Long Way from Home that the Burundi government is detaining former child soldiers associated with the rebel National Liberation Forces. HRW previously reported on Rwandan children being detained as well.
Dozens of former FNL child soldiers are being held in prisons, jails, and a detention center without any clarity of their legal status or knowledge of when they might be returned to their families.
The human rights group has documented that the children in the prisons are kept in overcrowded cells and are not being properly feed. They are also housed with convicted adult criminals or seasoned combatants. This is in violation of national and international law.
“The lack of a consistent government policy for former FNL child soldiers has compounded their suffering. Government ministries must coordinate their policies to ensure equal treatment, assistance and rehabilitation to these children,” said Alison Des Forges, senior Africa advisor at Human Rights Watch.
Burundi is one of the poorest and most conflict-ridden countries in Africa and in the world with a GDP per capita of US $106 for last year and 68% of the population below the poverty level. The country’s economy is sustained by Western foreign aid.
Burundi has ended a civil was in recent years where Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader of the Hutu National Council was elected unopposed as president in 2005.
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June 16, 2006
Today marks Day of the African Child. UNICEF issued a press release asking the international community to recognize that young people are Africa’s greatest resource and to help them overcome the challenged they face.
The Day of the African Child is celebrated every year since 1991 in honor of South African children killed by their government in 1976. Thousands of black school children in Soweto, South Africa, protested the sub-standard quality of their education under apartheid and demanded to be taught in their own language. Hundreds of boys and girls were shot and in the two weeks of protests that followed, more than 100 people were killed and 1,000 injured.
“This landmark event was a demonstration of great courage and conviction by the children of South Africa, who stood up for what they believed. It is a powerful reminder of the decisive role that children can have in bringing about change and of the importance of ensuring a quality basic education for all.” — UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman
The good thing about this release it that it shows us how violence is inter-related to other issues that marginalize the young. Violence against children is a serious threat in particular because of the continent’s disproportionate burden of conflict, extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS. Children living in conflict areas are at risk of gender-based violence because of the lack of family and community protection.
Women and children fleeing their homes because of armed conflict are more vulnerable to violence, abuse and exploitation. This exploitation increases their risk of HIV infection. In turn, HIV/AIDS has left many African children orphans. In sub-Saharan Africa, 12 million children under the age of 18 have lost one or both parents to AIDS. In turn, losing the people who would’ve protected them from violence.
May 20, 2006
Human Rights Watch released a report last week on children in Rwanda being held in horrible living conditions in a detention center in the Gikondo neighborhood of the capital Kigali. The paper, “Swept Away,” documents how thousands of Rwandan children live on the streets of
Kigali and other urban areas.
Many of these children are orphans as a result of the genocide or AIDS pandemic and have no homes or adult supervision. City workers have been rounding up these kids since the late 1990s and since 2005 they are being detained in a former warehouse in Gikondo.
The report also states that Gikondo is a short distance away from some of the luxury hotels popular with Western tourists or international staffers. I imagine these hotel conference rooms being used by bureaucrats for their meetings on poverty erradication or refugee resettlement. Meanwhile a few kilometers away, the youngest citizens who most need protection are housed like animals with little if any access to education or nutrition/health care. Oh, all right, I’ll get off my soapbox.
Some detainees spend weeks or months living in these detention centers where they receive inadequate food, water, and medical care. They sleep on the floor without blankets or mattresses. Supposedly the detainees are charged as “vagrants” but there is no due process or formal judicial proceedings.
“Kigali city officials who are running the detention center recognize that it must be closed,” said Alison Des Forges, senior adviser to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. “Detaining children just because they are poor, dirty, and have no one to care for them violates their rights. Under international and Rwandan law, the state must protect these children, not just sweep them out of sight.”
The Institute of War and Reporting also prepared a paper on street children in Rwanda last August. It is available on ReliefWeb. While Rwandan government officials have pledged to do more to help street children and those living in detention, what is needed is more financial support for local communities in Kigali, so that they have social services in place to help those marginalized.
April 25, 2006
I wanted to use this space to draw attention to ongoing human rights abuses that get little mention in the press. Uganda–is what some human rights activists have come to call the “Unforgotten Tragedy.” Though, in fairness the UN’s News Centre website, those have the conflict in Uganda listed as part of its “Ten Untold Stories.”
To excerpt a bit of the article and give you more context, it says:
“United Nations relief officials have repeatedly expressed concern about the neglected humanitarian crisis in northern Uganda, where up to 1.6 million people have been displaced by the conflict with the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), notorious for its campaigns of lootings, murders, mutilations and abduction of children to serve its militia. To provide context, the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the area is close to that of Darfur, Sudan, but the plight of Ugandan children is especially troubling.”
This Saturday in over 130 cities across the country, there will be overnight rallies to demand that pressure is put on government officials in Uganda to end child abduction in the North. The overnight rallies at urban centers are to show solidarity for the thousands of families whose lives have been disrupted because of a civil war in Northern Uganda. Since 1996, roughly 8,000 children from Gulu, Kitgum and neighboring districts in northern Uganda have been abducted by the LRA and forced to become child soldiers. This armed opposition movement is fighting the Ugandan government.