A U.N. report paints a bleak picture of life for children in Sudan's western Darfur region. The U.N. Children's Fund suggests the luckiest are living in camps for displaced people, where they still face disease and malnutrition. More than a million children live in areas beyond the reach of aid.
Three years of bloodshed in Darfur have put three million children in harm's way, says a new U.N. Children's Fund report. Children struggle under the burden of disease, malnutrition, rape, and attacks by armed militias.
An influx of aid agencies into the region in 2004 brought services like education, health care, and food. But refugee camps are not healthy places for children. Disease combined with emotional trauma and confinement; contribute to physical and psychological illness.
What's more, says UNICEF representative Ted Chaiban, more than one-million Darfuri children are beyond the reach of aid agencies. He says due to an upsurge in violence in recent months UNICEF and other groups cannot get to those kids.
"The factor that limits our access to the greatest degree is insecurity, " said Ted Chaiban. "What we are seeing is an increase in the atomization of violence. Meaning violence is becoming more local, more between different groups that are not centrally commanded. And we are also seeing an increase in banditry. And as a result our access is severely curtailed. Four or five months ago we had much better access in Darfur."
Without access, it is not possible to tell how dire the situation is for children in remote areas.
Warring parties in Darfur have long been characterized by a refusal to recognize children as civilians who should not be harmed. Arab militias and government forces have been accused in independent reports of raping girls as young as 12-years-old. The girls are then shamed into keeping the rapes a secret.
Boys face a different threat, as they volunteer to fight with rebels or militias or are forced to become soldiers.
Mr. Chaiban says an unknown number of youth are being exposed to combat.
"From what we can tell from observation, all the different parties have youth, and perhaps even children below the age of 16 with them," he said. "In the case of rebel movements the bar is 18. You cannot have a child under any circumstances in a rebel movement. And so that is a standard we have to work with the parties on the ground to make sure is respected in Sudan."
The 2.5-year conflict began when Darfuris rebelled against the Sudanese government, complaining of political and economic marginalization. The government armed Arab militias known as janjaweed to crush the rebellion.
A scorched earth campaign by the janjaweed resulted in 180,000 deaths, with two million more Darfuris displaced.
A seventh round of peace talks between the Sudan government and rebels is underway in Abuja, Nigeria.