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UN Concerned About Children as Death Toll Mounts in DRC


The United Nations Children's Fund says more people in the Democratic Republic of Congo are killed every six months than were killed by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. UNICEF says more than half of those who die are children.

War in the Democratic Republic of Congo ended with a peace deal in 2003, but fighting continues. The total number of deaths is estimated at four million, though some experts put the figure much higher. UNICEF says children are the greatest victims of this humanitarian crisis in the heart of Africa, a crisis it calls the world's deadliest since World War II.

UNICEF Spokeswoman, Wivina Belmonte, says every day 1200 people die as a direct or indirect result of conflict. And more than one half of the victims are children. She says many more are injured as a direct consequence of war.

"But, they have also lost parents, they have lost families, they have lost access to education," she said. "Malnutrition is a severe and has been a chronic problem there for years. It is one of the three deadliest places for a child to be born. More children under the age of five die in the Democratic Republic of Congo than in China which is 23 times the size of that country in terms of population."

UNICEF is releasing its report on the humanitarian conditions in DRC to coincide with the country's first free elections in more than 40 years. It hopes that world attention on this important event will serve to shine a spotlight on the misery in which the Congo's children live.

Belmonte says the world must not turn its eyes away from the horrors of daily life in DRC.

"The snapshot of what it is like to be a child in this country is dark. Sexual assaults are used as a weapon of war against young women and children. Last year alone, 25,000 cases were reported…Every month as many as 120,000 people are displaced from their homes…As many as 30,000 children have been associated with the armed forces or rebel groups as fighters, as sexual slaves or as camp followers."

UNICEF reports almost half of all primary age school children are not in school and one out of three children under age one are not vaccinated against measles. It says 31 percent of children under five are underweight.

UNICEF says aid agencies are providing substantial emergency assistance, including psychological counseling. But, it says life will not get significantly better until there is peace.

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