COTE D'IVOIRE: Sexual crimes against children continue with “alarming frequency” - UN

Saturday, September 15, 2007

As politicians bicker in Côte d’Ivoire, children are dying from a breakdown of health care and other basic services or falling victim to violent crimes that go unpunished.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on authorities to step up efforts to protect children whose welfare, he said, was threatened as long as the conflict continued.

A UN report in that connection was published on 30 August just prior to a 4-7 September mission to Cote d'Ivoire by a UN special envoy on children in armed conflict.

As Côte d’Ivoire inches towards stability five years after an armed rebellion, the UN is urging political actors to give due attention to the needs of children.

“Many children lose their lives as a result of the acute deterioration of health services in most parts of the country… Ultimately the timely resolution of the conflict is critical to securing the well-being of children [in Côte d’Ivoire],” Ban said in the report.

The report said while sexual violence against children - particularly girls - is lower than during all-out fighting in 2002 and 2004, it still occurs “with alarming frequency”. From October 2006 to September 2007 there was an upsurge in rapes against children, according to the report.

“I remain deeply concerned about the prevailing culture of impunity for violations against children,” Ban said, adding, “Greater commitment and efforts are still required to redress the culture of impunity for such crimes.”

The report said while conflict-related deaths of children are declining, children continue to die “as a direct consequence of the environment of high insecurity and the breakdown of law and order and of institutions”.

Government promises to do more

The UN special representative for children in armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, told reporters at the close of her mission on 7 September in the commercial capital, Abidjan, that the Ivorian government has committed to improving children’s conditions.

She said the government had committed to creating an inter-ministerial commission to ensure the protection of children, and that negotiations were under way with the government over judicial reforms to that end.

UN officials say there has been some progress in Côte d’Ivoire, notably efforts to rescue child soldiers and stop recruitment of children.

Coomaraswamy said no case of child recruiting had been registered in the past year in Côte d’Ivoire. “We now need to ensure reintegration and proper follow-up on children in their communities.”

While Côte d’Ivoire’s conflict has not created masses of child combatants as in other wars in the region, at least hundreds of children have been recruited by armed groups - rebels and pro-government militia - UN officials say.

The UN does not have an official number of how many children are working for armed groups, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) protection officer Sie Kambou told IRIN. UNICEF officials plan to meet former rebel forces in Bouake in early October to discuss how to determine the number and identify those needing help, he said.

To date UNICEF has assisted some 1,300 children who had worked for armed groups, Kambou said.

Envoy Coomaraswamy will present a report on her mission to the UN Security Council’s working group on children and armed conflict at its 18 September session, which will assess the situation in Côte d’Ivoire.

Source: IRIN