Children, some as young as four years old, are bearing the brunt of the prolonged instability and election-related violence in Burundi, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned today, confirming reports of an additional three deaths of children over the last five days.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, UNICEF spokesperson Christophe Boulierac said one of the children died because of a grenade explosion in the Muyinga province, becoming the first child victim of the violence outside of the capital city of Bujumbura.
In total, since the beginning of the confrontations in April, eight children have been killed in the violence, he continued, noting also that a child of only four years old had been killed by a stray bullet to the stomach, becoming the youngest victim of the election-related violence so far.
UNICEF has also confirmed that a second grenade attack took place on a school ground on 29 June before the proceeding of the voting in the Bururi province. There were no victims, but the children fled from the school and upon return reportedly found military in the school.
“Preventing children from experiencing and witnessing violence was everyone's responsibility,” said Mr. Boulierac, stressing that UNICEF called all levels of Burundian society, including the authorities, security forces and families, as well as the Government of Burundi, to use all influence to protect children and to ensure they were not exposed to violence, arbitrary arrest or unlawful detention.
He said that most schools in Bujumbura are still closed, but schools inside the country are still open. Movement across borders had accelerated as people sought refuge in neighbouring countries, with thousands of women and children crossing in the three days preceding the 29 June elections.
“Burundi is one of the poorest countries in the world, with one of the highest child malnutrition rates and figures on the top of the Global Hunger index. Prolonged insecurity that provokes repetitive displacement of people is likely to have a massive impact on an already vulnerable population, Mr. Boulierac concluded.
According to the UN refugee agency, civil unrest erupted on 26 April in Bujumbura after the ruling CNDD-FDD party elected President Pierre Nkurunziza on 25 April as its candidate for then-scheduled 26 June presidential election. Mr. Nkurunziza has been in office for two terms since 2005, and a broad array of actors warned that an attempt to seek a third term was unconstitutional and contrary to the spirit of the 2000 Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi that ended a decade of civil war in the country.