DR Congo: UNICEF Ambassador Lucy Liu urges protection of women and children

19 June 2007

Having recently returned from a visit to eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Ambassador Lucy Liu called on the nation’s Government to bolster its efforts to protect women and children caught in the continuing violence.

On her mission to Ituri and North Kivu province, Ms. Liu, an American actress, met with former child soldiers, survivors of sexual violence and communities of people forced to flee their homes by the ongoing hostilities.

“I had the opportunity to meet with children and women who have faced unspeakable horrors, and who continue to live in an unstable environment,” she said.

“Yet it is clear to me that the people of DRC are still very much hopeful for change which can only happen if the international community continues to support the work of agencies like UNICEF and its partners.”

The deadly civil war which mired the DRC between 1998 and 2003 claimed the lives of roughly 3.8 million people, and is the most lethal conflict worldwide since World War II. Furthermore, approximately 1,200 people die daily in the Central African nation, with children comprising half of these victims.

Children suffer disproportionately, whether from disease or witnessing and participating in conflict. Nearly 30,000 child soldiers have laid down their arms thus far and are being reintegrated into their communities, while thousands more are still active in armed groups, according to UNICEF.

Since the start of this year, more than 50,000 have been displaced from their homes and lack basic services and shelter. UNICEF has supplied assistance to these people by providing clean water and emergency education and household supplies.

UNICEF, in conjunction with its partners, has also aided 100,000 to return to their communities by providing them with survival kits and equipping schools with supplies so children’s educations can resume.

In a related development, UN agencies and their partners yesterday asserted that education offers promise in responding to the HIV/AIDS epidemic ravaging sub-Saharan Africa in a summary of a new report set to be issued later this year.

“Education is essential to preventing HIV infection among young people, especially girls,” according to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), UNICEF, the UN Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Bank and the Partnership for Child Development.

“It helps them live free from HIV and AIDS by imparting knowledge, skills and values to help them protect themselves as they grow up,” it added. “At the same time, preventing HIV infection is essential for ensuring the sup ply, demand and quality of education.”

The study, entitled “Accelerating the Education Sector Response to HIV and AIDS: Five Years On,” highlights the achievements made by the agencies in the past five years in propelling the education sector’s response to the epidemic.

Adolescents and young people, the report said, are not given enough information on HIV/AIDS. Life skills must be taught to supplement facts about sex and the virus to truly be effective in reducing vulnerability and curtailing risky behaviour.

The report also underscored the necessity of empowering young girls to alter the course of the epidemic, as gender disparities still result in women being at increased risk of infection and bearing the greater burden of the disease.

This new study is a result of the work of the UNAIDS Inter-Agency Task Team on Education. Since its establishment in 2002, the education sectors of 37 countries – representing mover 200 million school-age children in sub-Saharan Africa and 2.6 million school teachers – have participated in the programme, known as “Accelerate Initiative.”

 

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