Arriving for a four-day visit to Uganda, the head of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) today called on both the Government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) to protect the youngest victims of the fighting, which has left more than 1.6 million people displaced in just the past 24 months.
"The world needs to wake up to the enormity of the crisis in northern Uganda," Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. This is one of the most serious humanitarian emergencies in the world."
"Many hundreds of thousands of children are living in conditions of fear and violence," she added. "They are being denied their basic rights to health, protection and education."
Some 80 per cent of the 1.6 million displaced people in northern Uganda are women and children, according to UNICEF. Homeless and struggling to survive, many are subjected to sexual violence and other forms of exploitation.
Ms. Bellamy is scheduled to travel to Lira District to meet children and families living in camps for the internally displaced, where UNICEF is providing shelter, water and sanitation facilities and helping construct temporary classrooms.
In Gulu District she will visit a reception centre for children formerly abducted by the LRA, where UNICEF is training local volunteers to provide counselling.
Ms. Bellamy called on the rebel group, which has kidnapped an estimated 12,000 children since June 2002, to immediately release all remaining child soldiers and abductees.
The UNICEF chief is also expected to meet with children "night commuters" - up to 44,000 children who travel into towns from outlying areas at night to escape abduction or attack by the LRA. They are also vulnerable to sexual violence.
"The Government of Uganda has a responsibility to protect these children, and the rest of the world must play its part," Ms. Bellamy said. But she called the global community's response so far "woefully inadequate," noting that governments have pledged just 20 per cent of this year's UN appeal for $127 million in humanitarian aid for the region.