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Day of African Child spotlights continental children's many emergencies

Day of African Child spotlights continental children's many emergencies

On the Day of the African Child today, marking the South African apartheid Government's shooting of children marching for improved education in 1976, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) highlighted the deprivation still suffered by African children as funding lags far behind need.

"The worst funding gaps affect countries that are recovering from or in the midst of civil conflict. None of these countries are in the headlines, but their situations are dire and require urgent attention," Dan Toole, UNICEF's Director of Emergency Programmes, said. "In every one of these countries women and children suffer first and suffer the longest."

In addition, some countries in East Africa have suffered from years of drought and crop failure, leading to under-nourishment in children, UNICEF said.

The five countries with the least funded recurring emergencies are Angola, with 14 per cent of need funded, Liberia (18 per cent), Burundi (19 per cent), Guinea (20 per cent) and Eritrea (24 per cent), it said.

Although rich in natural resources, Angola, in the aftermath of a 27-year civil war, has the third worst child mortality rate in the world and almost one-third of its children are malnourished, UNICEF said.

After 15 years of civil conflict in Liberia, over 11,800 child soldiers have been disarmed in the last two years, "but there is a chronic shortfall in funds to effectively reintegrate them to society. The most acute need in money for schooling," UNICEF said.

The half a million Liberian children who missed years of schooling need accelerated learning programmes, it added.

The eight-year conflict in Burundi entailed recruiting child soldiers. Now malnutrition among children hovers above 50 per cent and only half the country's children are enrolled in school, UNICEF said.

Guinea is suffering from the spill-over effects of armed conflicts in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and Sierra Leone, forcing large numbers of Guineans to flee their homes for under-resourced camps for internally displaced people (IDPs).

Five years of widespread drought and crop failures in Eritrea have left 2.3 million people in need of food aid, including 300,000 pregnant women and children. "Natural disasters tend to be better-funded than countries undermined by long standing civil unrest, but the exception to this rule is Eritrea," Mr. Toole said.

Ethiopia, similarly hit by drought, has so far only reached 32 per cent of its target for this year, UNICEF said.

Despite making headlines around the world for the almost 2 million people who have fled to IDP camps offering little protection from further attack and who have missed two successive planting seasons, Sudan's Darfur crisis has only reached 30 per cent of its emergency target for this year, it added.

Other African countries that have failed to garner 50 per cent of the target for emergency funding this year are Central African Republic (17 per cent), Congo-Brazzaville (7), Côte d'Ivoire (18), Malawi (0), Uganda (48) and Tanzania (16), UNICEF said.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict (CAAC), Olara Otunnu, said that at a special Day of the African Child meeting on Saturday of the UN African Mothers Association (UNAMA) he particularly addressed the children of African diplomats and UN employees, telling them that everywhere he had travelled across the continent, parents wanted peace and education for their children.

He challenged the children to use their privileged status in the United States to educate themselves as extensively as possible, to learn subjects of which African children on the continent often only dreamed, and to become ambassadors for the continent, answering questions about any culture and any country.

Only a few hands went up when he asked how many could speak their parents’ languages, Mr. Otunnu said. He advised the children to take seriously their parents’ appeals to learn those languages, in addition to the national official languages, so as not to be excluded from their own societies when they returned home.