UNICEF campaigns to get 750,000 Liberian children into school

Carol Bellamy

3 November 2003 – Tens of thousands of children will go to school, thousands for the first time in their lives, during the United Nations Children's Fund's (UNICEF) "Back-to-School" campaign in Liberia, the UN agency working for the protection and development of youngsters said today.

On the first day of the campaign, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said: "This is a brave campaign, launched at a fragile time in the peace process. It's a courageous step, agreed to by the peace signatories, and a significant seal on the peace agreement."

She said UNICEF expected some 750,000 children to go to school.

Continuing insecurity and crippled infrastructure had led UNICEF and local teachers to use unusual methods to distribute school supplies, UNICEF said. Teachers were using wheelbarrows to push supplies into some areas and travelling in canoes to reach schools in riverine villages.

Almost 20,000 teachers had to be trained and 3,700 schools rehabilitated through a cooperative effort with other UN programmes, it said, while school fees had been waived and uniforms were no longer required.

The United States had funded a project to provide clean water and hygiene facilities to hundreds of schools, it said.

Liberia has had civil strife for 14 years, "which means that children under 14 have no idea what it means to live in peace," and it has an 85 per cent unemployment rate, UNICEF said in a separate release. "Some 81 per cent of Liberian children aged 6 to 12 are not in school" and 42 per cent of those in school learn little "because they are hungry and distracted."

"UNICEF is framing plans for the demobilization and re-integration of thousands of Liberian child-soldiers," it added.

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