press conference on liberian children
With the conclusion of the Security Council visit to
West Africatoday, members of a broad-based network of non-governmental organizations called on Council members to take immediate action to protect Liberian children from violence, abuse and sexual exploitation, at a Headquarters press conference this morning.
Launching a report entitled “Nothing Left to Lose: The Legacy of Armed Conflict and Liberia’s children”, a representative of the Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, Julia Freedson, urged the Council to use the recommendations contained in the Watchlist report to implement the Council’s five resolutions on the issue of children and armed conflict.
While there had been a slight improvement in the humanitarian, human rights and political situation in
, much more attention needed to be focused on the forgotten Liberian children, she said. The report documented the ongoing dangers facing Liberian children, as well as violations they had suffered during some 14 years of civil war. Liberia
Also covered in the report was the decimation of Liberia’s health and educational systems, the threat of an HIV/AIDS explosion, the recruitment of child soldiers, problems facing youth as the process of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration got underway, the use of rape and sexual violence during the war and the continued threat of sexual exploitation.
Describing the grave future facing
’s children, Bendu Holder of the New Liberia Foundation, Inc., said too many children had died due to lack of proper health care. Liberia ’s children had been forgotten and left to suffer. They needed to be children -- not prostitutes, soldiers or caretakers. Stressing the need for the full resumption of education, she said the first priority should be free and compulsory education for all, beginning with the resumption of teachers’ salaries and the elimination of school fees. Liberia ’s educational system was in dire need of help. Liberia
Before the escalation of violence in 2003, the state of health care for Liberian children had been the worst in the world, she said. Malaria, diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections were among the major causes of death. Polio had also resurfaced.
was definitely in a state of crisis. Many people were contracting HIV/AIDS and many were dying from the disease. HIV clinics in Liberia had run out of medication and patients had been placed on waiting lists for treatment. Time was against them. Monrovia Opportunityknocked but once, and she encouraged all parties to take advantage of the opportunity while it still existed.
Liberian children continued to face abuse and neglect, said Ellen Jorgensen of the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children. It was extremely dangerous to be an adolescent girl in
. Sexual violence, rape and other forms of abuse had been rampant throughout the civil war and continued today. Statistics on gender-based bias had been difficult to track due to the stigma regarding reporting and the lack of recourse. Liberia
According to a survey of Liberian refugee women and girls, two thirds had experienced sexual violence, she said. Social workers had reported that some 75 per cent of girls had suffered sexual abuse or exploitation. Refugee and internally displaced girls were still exposed to rape. Internally displaced girls were often forced to trade sex for protection, food and services.
Listing a series of recommendations, she called on operational agencies, the transition Government and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to provide a full range of appropriate health and psychological treatment for girls. Such programmes should be accessible inside the camps and should include HIV testing. Economic resources were needed to reduce the vulnerability of women and girls. She urged the Council to call on the
to ensure that child protection advisers were in place. The Council should call on the transition Government to focus on the issue of impunity and to establish systems to ensure the prosecution of crimes. Troops must be properly trained to protect the rights of children. Mission
The special protection needs of women and girls had not been systematically addressed, she added. Visiting a cantonment site in April, she had noted numerous examples of the inadequate protection afforded to women and girls. Another problem with the demobilization and reintegration process was the decision to include child ex-combatants in the cash allowance programme. The dangers of cash payments were clear, including the creation of financial incentives for the recruitment or re-recruitment of child soldiers and the susceptibility to theft. Urging all parties to ensure the eligibility of children in the process, she called for nationwide efforts to clarify rules and procedures.
Strongly urging UNMIL to reconsider the cash payment system, she asked the Council to call on
’s transitional Government to plan for long-term rehabilitation of child soldiers, including measures to ensure that they were not re-recruited. As Liberian women and girls would be bringing up the next generation of children, they should be made a priority, she said. Liberia
Kathleen Hunt of CARE International said it was critical for the Council to harness the momentum it had achieved following the West Africa trip and focus attention on improving the lives of children in Liberia as part of its agenda item on children in armed conflict. It could do that by working to ensure implementation of its recently adopted resolution 1539, which called for the establishment of United Nations focal points to ensure dialogue and the creation of time-bound action plans.
She also recommended the identification of a contact person within the Council’s delegation to
West Africato ensure that follow-up information from the field was considered by the Council. As a lynchpin in the region, and in keeping with the thrust of resolution 1539, she encouraged the Council to take a regional approach to . Liberia
On the issue of monitoring and reporting, she recommended that the Council mandate the various United Nations agencies in
to improve the collection and dissemination of data on violence against Liberian children, with special attention on the issue of gender-based violence. Liberia
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