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UNICEF Raises Funds To Help Sudanese Child Soldiers Return Home - 2001-11-19

The U.N. Children's Fund is issuing an emergency appeal to raise nearly $200 million for Sudan.

Martin Dawes of the U.N. Children's Fund says it has been working since last August to return more than 3,000 Sudanese child soldiers from military service to their homes. He says the demobilization is probably the best known of UNICEF's programs in Southern Sudan, and he adds the task continues.

"I am very happy to tell you that two weeks ago the rebel army demobilized 200, and I was told that another 160 children have been demobilized from the rebel army, including two girls. We are beginning to see girls for the first time," he said

Sudan's mostly Christian and animist south has been fighting for 18 years for greater autonomy from the mainly Muslim north.

Mr. Dawes says the development needs in Southern Sudan are staggering. He points to education of the country's children as being one of the most important of UNICEF's tasks. "Education is their key priority. If you talk to anyone in South Sudan, they say, 'We need education.' They know they are going backwards, they know you can have a William Shakespeare in your village and he is never going to be able to prove it. It is a terrible state," he said. "Maybe 30 percent attendance in schools. For girls, it is chronic, maybe one or two years and then they are out. Lack of access, they are asked to do routine domestic chores instead of going to school. Education for girls is not rated. In some cases, there is even a lack of clothing, it is as simple that," Mr. Dawes explained.

Meanwhile, UNICEF is celebrating the 12 year anniversary of the adoption of the Rights of the Child Convention. It sets the standards of rights that every child should be entitled to, including education, basic health and welfare, and special protection.

The Rights of the Child is the most widely signed U.N. convention, adopted by 191 countries. The convention recently ratified two protocols directly related to the threats faced by Sudanese children, freedom from both armed conflict and child prostitution.