Source: UNICEF
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake today visited Goma in the east of Democratic Republic of Congo to advocate for greater protection of children as conflict continues to undermine their well-being.

Children in the DRC face multiple challenges to their survival, health, and welfare.  The effects of ongoing conflict are of profound concern to UNICEF and to the global community.   This is especially true regarding sexual violence and the use of children by armed groups.  In 2010, 14,591 new cases of sexual violence were reported in DRC, including thousands of children.

“What can be more repulsive than sexual violence against children, whether in the DRC or elsewhere?  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 Lake.

While there has been progress in releasing and reintegrating children who have been associated with armed forces, (in 2010, nearly 5,000 children were reintegrated into the community) recruitment of children remains a serious problem in DRC, with renewed insecurities in unstable areas.  “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,” Lake said.

The impact of conflict on children is far-reaching.  Around 1.7 million adults and children have been displaced in recent years, with nearly half a million refugees seeking shelter in other countries.  Many of them have lost everything.

“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,” underlined Pierrette Vu Thi, UNICEF Representative in DRC.

According to the 2010 Multi Indicator Cluster Survey in the DRC, one in seven children in DRC dies before reaching the age of five.  Almost half of all children under five suffer from stunted growth, a direct result of nutrient deficiency.  Less than half the population has access to safe drinking water.  Two thirds of children have no birth certificate.  Yet progress is being made: since the survey of 2001, more children are in school, many more are sleeping under insecticide treated bed nets, and more are receiving life-saving vaccines.  “Since such progress can be made,” said Lake, “more progress must be made.”

Over the past 12 months, the country has registered 120 new cases of polio, after only three cases were reported in 2009.  In response, new immunization campaigns aim to vaccinate more than 14 million children by the end of May.

“Eradicating polio in DRC requires an absolute commitment by the government and its partners,” stressed Lake.  “UNICEF will do everything it can to support the effort to make polio a shadow of DRC’s past, and to help build a brighter future for all the children of DRC.”

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