Children risk bearing the brunt of an escalation in violence in Burundi, UNICEF warned today, noting that the crisis has already left 17 children dead and many more injured.
Since the crisis began in April, child rights violations have multiplied, with children being caught up in violent clashes and raids, schools being hit by grenade blasts and more than 100 children being arbitrarily detained, at times for long periods alongside adult prisoners.
“Children must not pay the price for the crisis in Burundi,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director in Eastern & Southern Africa, Leila Gharagozloo-Pakkala. “Burundian law establishes clear respect for children’s rights, and the protection of children from violence. Such laws must be respected.”
"I saw a young man lying on the ground who was hit by a bullet in the shoulder. I ran home. I was scared and I thought, I have to save my life,” said Jamel, 12, whose father was killed by a gunshot wound. “Sometimes I have dreams and I see my father coming back and everything is okay again, and we are all together in a nice place." One in five children in Burundi have witnessed someone be put to a violent death. © UNICEF/PFPG2015-3714/Luthi
UNICEF said it is deeply concerned on the impact on children from both violence and increasing poverty and vulnerability. Food prices are rising sharply, and with more than 4 out of 5 Burundians already living on less than $1.25 a day, more and more families will find it difficult to adequately feed their children. In addition, the IMF predicts that Burundi’s economy will shrink by 7.2 per cent this year, putting even greater strain on the government budget, and the country’s social services. Worryingly, Burundi is already seeing shortages of essential medicines for children and mothers.
UNICEF said it is imperative that at this time there is continued investment in children, from protection to education to healthcare. “There is a strong case for support, now in these troubled times more than ever,” said UNICEF’s Gharagozloo-Pakkala.
Beyond Burundi’s borders, more than 200,000 people have fled into neighbouring Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Among these are around 6,000 unaccompanied or separated children. In fleeing Burundi, these children faced mountainous terrain and security checkpoints, as well as dangers of sexual abuse, trafficking or further violence.
Joanne, 15, survived rape during Burundi's crisis. "I prefer not to walk out of the house so that people don’t see me. Whenever I see men with arms, I have flashes of what happened. I'm afraid it might happen again, or that it might happen to my sister or my friends." © UNICEF/PFPG2015-3722/Luthi
Border provinces in Burundi are also reporting large numbers of internally displaced, with around 15,000 people currently residing in Makamba province on the border of Tanzania. United Nations agencies and partners in neighbouring country refugee camps are poised for an influx in the near future which would further stretch existing humanitarian support, such as healthcare, schooling and clean water.
UNICEF is appealing for US$25 million to support its humanitarian response for children and families affected by the crisis in Burundi. This funding will facilitate lifesaving services and supplies for children in Burundi as well as Burundian refugees in Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Currently this appeal is barely one-quarter funded.