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UNICEF: Thousands of Children Traumatized in Darfur - 2004-07-04


The United Nations children's fund, UNICEF, says at least half-a-million children have been traumatized by the violence and brutality of the war in Sudan's western region of Darfur.

UNICEF says a significant number of these children have either been direct victims of violence or have witnessed violent acts.

UNICEF spokesman Damien Personnaz says many of these children have been interviewed by aid workers in internally displaced camps in Darfur and in refugee camps in neighboring Chad. He says the tales they tell are horrific.

"Many have seen their mothers, sisters or aunts being raped and killed," said Mr. Personnaz. "Some of them have been themselves sexually harassed or abused. They had to run away from the looted villages, and were wandering around during three days and nights without proper food and shelter, with a lot of fears."

Mr. Personnaz says there are some inescapable parallels between what is happening to children in Darfur and what happened in Rwanda 10 years ago. About 300,000 children were among the nearly one million people killed during that three-month genocide.

Mr. Personnaz says UNICEF set up counseling centers in Rwanda to help children deal with their post-traumatic stress, and the experience showed that children have amazing powers of recuperation.

"Ninety percent of the children recover," he said. "Ten percent will need very long individual post-trauma counseling. This 10 percent are actually a kind of lost generation. This 90 percent of the remaining children will come back to a normal life, provided that there is a stability around them."

Mr. Personnaz says UNICEF has started basic schooling for children in some of the makeshift camps for internally displaced people in Darfur. This is being done in an effort to restore some semblance of stability to children uprooted by war.

So far, he says, UNICEF has built enough classrooms to accommodate 32,000 children, and hopes to expand this program to around 60,000 children by September.

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