Inter Press Service » Children on the Frontline http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 18 Dec 2014 08:22:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Children in Aleppo Forced Underground to Go to Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/children-in-aleppo-forced-underground-to-go-to-school/#comments Thu, 06 Nov 2014 11:05:25 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137618 Children in Aleppo forced underground to go to school, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Children in Aleppo forced underground to go to school, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Nov 6 2014 (IPS)

Winter has not yet hit this nearly besieged city, but children are already attending classes in winter coats and stocking hats.

Cold, damp underground education facilities are less exposed to regime barrel bombs and airstrikes but necessitate greater bundling to prevent common seasonal viruses from taking hold in a city from which most doctors have fled or been killed.

Only one perilous route leads out of the city and northwards to the Turkish border and better medical care, if required.A few of the children in the co-ed primary school seem shell-shocked, but many smile and laugh readily on the crowded wooden benches stuffed into the cramped, cold spaces.

On the way to an underground school IPS visited in late October, the children must necessarily pass by shop fronts blown out by airstrikes, a few remaining signs advertising what used to be clothing, hairdressers’ or wedding apparel shops with the ‘idolatrous’ images spray-painted black by the Islamic State (IS) when they briefly controlled the area, before being pushed out by rebel groups.

The jihadist group is still battling to retake terrain in the area, with the closest frontline against them being in Marea, an estimated 30 kilometres away from opposition-held areas of eastern Aleppo.

They must also witness the destruction wrought by the regime, which is trying to impose a total siege on opposition areas and which would need to take only a few kilometres more of terrain to do so.

Even if they only live a block away, the children are forced to walk by buildings entirely defaced by barrel bombs, floors hanging down precariously above the heads of fruit, vegetable and sweets street vendors. A pink toilet and part of a couch are still visibly wedged between the upper, mutilated and dangling levels of one such building on their way.

A few of the children in the co-ed primary school seem shell-shocked, but many smile and laugh readily on the crowded wooden benches stuffed into the cramped, cold spaces. Two boys at the front of one of the rooms sway back and forth with their arms around each other’s shoulders, singing boisterously.

Some of the rough walls have been painted sky blue or festooned with holiday-type decorations to ‘’brighten the children’s spirits’’, one of teachers says. A few comic-strip posters have been pasted in the corridor.

Children signing in underground school in Aleppo, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Children singing in underground school in Aleppo, October 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

The classes run from 9 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon during the week, one of the instructors – Zakra, a former fifth-year university student in engineering – told IPS.

Zakra, who now teaches mathematics, English and science at the school, said that she gets paid about 50 dollars a month. All of the school’s 15 teachers are women wearing all-covering black garments. Some cover their faces as well, some do not. IPS was told not to photograph them in any case, because many still have family members in regime areas.

‘’The school opened last year,’’ Zakra said, ‘’but then stopped between October 2013 and July 2014, as the barrel-bombing campaign made it too dangerous for parents to send their children to school,’’ even to underground ones.

The young teacher said that she plans on leaving at some point to continue her studies in Turkey but was not sure when, primarily due to economic reasons.

Older students are mostly left to their own devices, because this school and others like it only provide for those ages 6 to 13.

The head of the education department of the Aleppo City Council – who goes by the name of Mahmoud Al-Qudsi – told IPS that some 115 schools were still operating in the area, but that most of them were former ground-level flats, basements or other structures.

Only about 20 original school buildings were still operating, he said, from some 750 in the area prior to the uprising.

Syrian government forces have targeted educational and medical facilities in opposition areas throughout the conflict, and efforts are made to keep the locations secret.

Those preparing for the baccalaureate – the Syrian secondary school diploma – study at home, he said. They then come to centres on established dates to actually take the exams in late June and early July. Word is spread of where they will be held via the Aleppo Today television channel, which broadcasts out of Gaziantep, and posters are put up around the city to announce the times and places.

Turkey, Libya and France currently recognise the baccalaureate exams, Qudsi noted, but ‘’French universities only accepted five of our students last year.’’

Most of the curriculum remains that approved by the regime, but ‘nationalistic’ parts praising the Assad family have been cut and religion classes now teach that ‘’fighting against the Assad regime is a religious duty.’’

‘’We also want to change the curricula, but we can’t right now. We want it to be a Syrian-chosen one – one designed and wanted by all Syrians – but we can’t do that now, given the situation,’’ said Qudsi, ‘’and we obviously don’t have the money to print new books.’’

Most of the low salaries the teachers receive are necessarily funded by various international and private associations because the city council just does not have the funds, he noted.

The council, ‘’was only able to pay the equivalent of 70 dollars each for the entire academic year but the teachers were happy about it nonetheless, since it shows that we appreciate what they are doing.’’

Qudsi was also adamant that even the most fundamentalist parents had not interfered with their teaching.  ‘’We are all in this together. Their children attend our schools, too.’’

The barrel bombs stopped entirely for a number of days earlier this autumn after rebel forces closed in on the Aleppo air defence factories where the crude bombs made of scrap metal and explosives are assembled by regime forces. The bombing has since resumed following regime gains.

On arriving at the scene of one such attack in late October, IPS saw a body pulled from the rubble by the civil defence forces before they rushed with flashlights around the block to get to the other side of the collapsed building, where three young children had been trapped underneath the rubble. All were later found dead.

Families were crowded on the steps outside of other buildings down the street, and flashlight beams illuminated the faces of clutches of frightened children, an adult or two nearby in the dust raised by the concrete slabs brought down in the impact.

The schools at least give the children a chance to focus on something other than the destruction and death surrounding them, Qudsi told IPS, and ‘’are the only chance of Syria having any future at all.’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Growing Up Among the Deadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/growing-up-among-the-dead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=growing-up-among-the-dead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/growing-up-among-the-dead/#comments Mon, 03 Nov 2014 07:53:10 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137536 Ali Khalil and his son, Diar, pose by the coffins they have just arranged  for burial. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Ali Khalil and his son, Diar, pose by the coffins they have just arranged for burial. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
SEREKANIYE, Syria, Nov 3 2014 (IPS)

The walls of the Association for the Martyrs of Serekaniye are covered with the portraits of those fallen in combat in this northern Syrian town. Ali Khalil has buried everyone and each of them with the help of Diar, his 13-year-old son.

Inside this building west of Serekaniye, 680 kilometres northeast of Damascus, Khalil invites IPS to hear some of the stories behind the myriad of pictures. The first one is that of his brother, Abid.

“He dreamed of being a journalist but he was hit by a sniper in November 2012. He was the first one I buried, and I have done the same with the rest ever since,” recalls this former merchant in his late thirties, before resuming his account.

“These three arrived completely charred; this one was beheaded, the same as those two further up” … Khalil points with his finger at just half a dozen among more than a hundred portraits staring at infinity.“5.5 million children have been directly affected by the war [in Syria], one in ten has become a refugee in a neighbouring country and around 8,000 of the latter crossed the border without their parents” – UNICEF

It was precisely the death of his brother which led him to set up this committee to support the families of the deceased. He is one of the ten members in charge.

“Other than arranging the burial, we assist families with money, food or blankets for the winter,” explains Khalil. The aid, he adds, comes from the Kurdish provisional government in northern Syria

After the uprising of 2011 against the Syrian government, the country’s Kurds opted for a neutrality that has forced them into clashes with both government and opposition forces.

In July 2012 they took over the areas where they form a majority, in Syria’s north. Today they rule over three enclaves in the north: Afrin, Jazeera and Kobani, the latter being known worldwide for the brutal and still on-going six-week siege at the hands of the Islamic State.

Redur Xelil, spokesman for the YPG (Kurdish acronym for People’s Protection Units), the militia defending the territory, told IPS that after Kobani, the battle in Serekaniye has been the bloodiest front for the Kurds in Syria.

A burial in Serekaniye for fighters fallen in combat against ISIS. Credit: Qadir Agid

A burial in Serekaniye for fighters fallen in combat against ISIS. Credit: Qadir Agid

Mahmud Rashid, 37, also volunteers at the martyrs´ house. He has two sisters and nine brothers, “all of them fighting, including a 60-year-old one.” He adds, however, that one of them, Brahim, fell into the hands of the Islamic State five months ago, and that they have had no news from him ever since.

“His wife showed up four days ago to get help. We handed her clothes for her seven children, blankets and 10,000 Syrian pounds [about 48 euros],” Rashid told IPS.

“I will be a soldier”

The conversation is interrupted by the arrival of the truck carrying the last two coffins commissioned by the association. After they are taken into the room, Khalil and his son start to wrap them in the regular red cloth, to which they will add the yellow banner of the YPG and a crown of plastic flowers.

They proceed with the precision conferred by a two-year routine so it barely takes them more than ten minutes. Shrouding the bodies, Khalil explains, is “much more laborious.” But he´s not alone.

“Diar helps me with everything and does whatever is needed. We are hand in glove,” the volunteer explains proudly, posing his hand over his son’s shoulders. Khalil has another son, Rojdar, who is 11 but cannot join them because he suffers from chronic hepatitis and never leaves the house.

In a report on the impact of three years of war on the health of Syria’s children released this year, Save the Children warns of the serious deterioration of sanitary conditions in the country. According to Save the Children, 60 percent of hospitals in the country have been destroyed and the production of drugs has decreased by 70 percent.

To these figures has to be added the fact that half of the doctors in the country have left. Of the 2,500 that a city like Aleppo needs, only 36 remain, says Save the Children. With representation in 120 countries, it is calling for “urgent action” so that children receive basic vaccination.

Meanwhile, it is far from easy to get a word from Diar. “Why don´t you want to talk now,” Khalil asks his son. “Tell him how much you loved your uncle; tell him you would spend the day together at the Internet café.”

Diar admits he has not much to do other than helping his father. “A majority of the children have left the city and the few remaining don´t dare to leave home because of the fighting,” explains the boy, without looking up from the ground.

For those who left, reality is far from bearable either. As noted by UNICEF in its 2014 report titled Under Siege: The devastating impact on children of three years of conflict in Syria, 5.5 million children have been directly affected by the war, one in ten has become a refugee in a neighbouring country and around 8,000 of the latter crossed the border without their parents.

Other than the most visible effects, the psychological sequels are equally devastating: “Many Syrian children are in pure survival mode”, says UNICEF child protection specialist Jane MacPhail, who spends her days working with child refugees in Jordan. “They have seen the most terrible things and forget normal social and emotional responses.”

“Tell the journalist what you used to say during the days when the shelling lasted day and night: ‘You can throw as many bombs as you want but we will never leave’,” Khalil insists with his son, while the boy concentrates on carefully centring the crown of flowers on the second coffin.

Diar stands up only to say that he will join the ranks of the YPG as soon as he is 18. The war in Syria may be over after five years but that does not seem to matter to him.

“I will be a soldier,” Diar repeats, with his eyes still fixed on the ground. Until then, he says, he will help his father.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Keeping All Girls in School is One Way to Curb Child Marriage in Tanzaniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-keeping-all-girls-in-school-is-one-way-to-curb-child-marriage-in-tanzania/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-keeping-all-girls-in-school-is-one-way-to-curb-child-marriage-in-tanzania http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-keeping-all-girls-in-school-is-one-way-to-curb-child-marriage-in-tanzania/#comments Wed, 29 Oct 2014 08:00:58 +0000 AgnesOdhiambo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137436 Tigisi (not her real name), now 12, was forced to marry at age 9, but now attends a boarding school with the support of NAFGEM, a local organisation. Simanjiro, Tanzania. Courtesy: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch

Tigisi (not her real name), now 12, was forced to marry at age 9, but now attends a boarding school with the support of NAFGEM, a local organisation. Simanjiro, Tanzania. Courtesy: Marcus Bleasdale/VII for Human Rights Watch

By Agnes Odhiambo
DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania, Oct 29 2014 (IPS)

“You cannot continue with your education. You have to get married because this man has already paid dowry for you,” Matilda H’s father told her. Matilda, from Tanzania, was 14 and had just passed her primary school exams and had been admitted to secondary school. She pleaded with her father to allow her to continue her education, but he refused.  

She was forced to marry a 34-year-old man who already had one wife. Her family had received a dowry of four cows and 700,000 Tanzanian Shillings (about 435 dollars).

“I felt very sad. I couldn’t go to school,” she told Human Rights Watch (HRW). Matilda said her mother tried to seek help from the village elders to stop the marriage but “the village elders supported my father’s decision for me to get married.” Matilda’s husband physically and sexually abused her and could not afford to support her.

A new HRW report, ‘No Way Out: Child Marriage and Human Rights Abuses in Tanzania’, takes a hard look at child marriage in the Tanzania mainland. Four out of 10 girls in Tanzania are married before their 18th birthday. The United Nations ranks Tanzania as one of 41 countries with the highest rates of child marriage.

In the report, HRW documents how child marriage exposes girls and women to exploitation and violence – including marital rape and female genital mutilation – and reproductive health risks. It pays particular attention to the ways in which limited access to education contributes to, and results from, child marriage.

In Tanzania, girls face several significant obstacles to education. In addition to gender stereotypes about the value of educating girls — such as Matilda faced — discriminatory government policies and practices undermining girls’ access to education and facilitate underage marriage.

Marriage usually ends a girl’s education in Tanzania. Married or pregnant pupils are routinely expelled or excluded from school.

Tanzanian schools also routinely conduct mandatory pregnancy tests and expel pregnant girls. Human Rights Watch interviewed several girls who were expelled from school because they were pregnant. Others said they stopped attending school after finding out they were pregnant because they feared expulsion.

One such girl, 19-year-old Sharon J., said she was expelled when she was in her final year of primary school.

“When the head teacher found out that I was pregnant, he called me to his office and told me, ‘You have to leave our school immediately because you are pregnant.’”

A 2013 Tanzanian Ministry of Education and Vocational Training Tool Kit continues to recommend conducting periodic pregnancy tests as a way of curbing teenage pregnancies in schools. The new Education and Training Policy passed by Cabinet in June 2014 is regrettably silent on whether married students can continue with school, although it does make provisions for the readmission of girls after they have given birth and “for other reasons”.

Government use of the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) has a disproportionate impact on children from poor backgrounds and exposes girls to child marriage. The government of Tanzania does not use the PSLE as an assessment tool, but rather as a selection tool to determine which pupils proceed to secondary school. Pupils who fail their exam cannot retake it or be admitted to a government secondary school.

Parents who are financially able can take their children to private schools. But parents whose daughters have failed the exam and who cannot afford private school fees, see marriage as the next viable alternative for girls.

Nineteen-year-old Salia J. was forced to marry at 15 after failing the PSLE.

“My only option was to join a private secondary school, but my parents are poor. My father decided to get me a man to marry me because I was staying at home doing nothing,” she told HRW.

A lost chance for education limits girls’ opportunities and their ability to make informed decisions about their lives. Ultimately their families and communities suffer too.

The Tanzanian government needs to urgently develop and implement a comprehensive plan to curb high rates of child marriage and mitigate its impact. Such a plan should include targeted policy and programmatic measures to address challenges in the education system that put girls at risk of child marriage.

The government should immediately stop the mandatory pregnancy testing of school girls and exclusion of married pupils and of pregnant girls from school. It should develop programs to encourage communities to send girls to school, and to enable married and pregnant girls to stay in school.

In the long run, Tanzania should take measures to increase access to post-primary education by taking all possible measures to ensure that all children can access secondary education irrespective of their PSLE results.

Many girls HRW interviewed regretted not being able to complete their education and asked that the government take steps to ensure girls who become pregnant or marry while in school are not denied an education. Tanzania should listen to the insights of those who know best what is wrong with the system: the girls themselves.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

 

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OPINION: The Fight Against the Long-Term Effects of Child Hunger Reaches Fever Pitchhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-the-fight-against-the-long-term-effects-of-child-hunger-reaches-fever-pitch/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-fight-against-the-long-term-effects-of-child-hunger-reaches-fever-pitch http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-the-fight-against-the-long-term-effects-of-child-hunger-reaches-fever-pitch/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 08:18:42 +0000 Dr Noel Marie Zagre and Ambassador Gary Quince http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136847 A nutritionist assesses the health of a child in the Sahel. Red indicates severe malnutrition. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

A nutritionist assesses the health of a child in the Sahel. Red indicates severe malnutrition. Credit: Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Noel Marie Zagre and Gary Quince
JOHANNESBURG, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

Eric Turyasingura chases after a ball made from plastic bags outside his mud-brick home in the mountains of southern Uganda.

Yelling in his tribal tongue, Nkore, “Arsenal with the ball! Arsenal with the ball!” he jostles with his younger brothers for possession. 

The fame of the English soccer club has reached even his little ears. Pretending to be a sports star offers a moment of escape from his daily struggles.

At five years old, Eric’s tiny body already tells a story of poverty and lost opportunity. He is six inches shorter than he should be for his age. His arms and legs are pencil-thin and his head is out of proportion to his body.

Because he is stunted, experts say his chances growing up healthy, learning at full potential, and getting a job, let alone play professional soccer, have been greatly diminished.

In 2013, a United Nations Report said one in four children under five years, across the world – a total of 165 million – were stunted, while last year The Lancet estimated that undernutrition contributed 45 percent of all under-5 deaths.

Often beginning in the womb as poverty-stricken mothers live hand-to-mouth, stunting can be a lifelong affliction. Studies show it is linked to poor cognition and educational performance, low adult wages and lost productivity. A stunted child is nearly five times more likely to die from diarrhoea than a non-stunted child because of the physiological changes in a stunted body.

Development agencies say significant progress has been made in ensuring children are properly nourished, and as a result, the incidence of stunting is declining.

However, huge challenges remain and in sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion of stunted under-fives is two in five. With crises in South Sudan, the Central African Republic, Syria and now Iraq displacing millions of people, combating hunger and ensuring stunting rates don’t creep back up has become a top priority.

“We will not eliminate extreme poverty or achieve sustainable development without adequate food and nutrition for all,” said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon at a meeting of global hunger agencies in Rome.

“We cannot know peace or security if one in eight people are hungry.”

As such, the first “pillar” of Secretary General’s “Zero Hunger Challenge” aims to eliminate stunting in children under two years old.

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is also a partner in the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, another major global push, bringing together more than 50 countries in an effort put national policies in place and implement programme with shared nutrition goals.

One innovative programme – the Africa Nutrition Security Partnership, being implemented by UNICEF and funded by the European Union since 2011- is combating stunting both at the community level and the institution level.

Acutely malnourished children at risk of death are directed to health clinics, and at the same time health institutions and partners are given the tools they need to improve infant and young child feeding practices and hygiene, and better fight hunger and disease. The four-year programme focuses on Ethiopia (with a stunting rate of 44 percent), Uganda (33 percent), Mali (38 percent) and Burkina Faso (35 percent).

The aim is to change behaviour among households, set up systems for effective multisectoral approaches and increase government capacity, enabling these countries to battle against the effects of hunger long after the programme is complete.

In Uganda, for example, community workers have been provided with smart phones, programmed with information about hygiene, postnatal care and proper infant and maternal diet. The workers share the information with household members and then log their location on the smart phone’s GPS to prove they were there.

In Mali’s capital, Bamako, funding has been provided to broaden a master’s degree to provide advanced training to healthcare professionals about how to best design and implements nutrition programmes.

In Ethiopia, schoolgirls are being encouraged to delay marriage and pregnancy until they are at least 18, as a way of preventing intergenerational undernutrition. Older women are better able to carry a baby and rear children with stronger bodies and minds.

The increased focus on stunting by the humanitarian community is telling: its prevalence has become a kind of litmus test for the well being of children in general. A child who has grown to a normal height is more likely to live in a household where they wash their hands and have a toilet; is more likely to eat fruit and vegetables, is more likely to be going to school; is more likely to get a good job; and is less likely to die from disease.

Moreover, tipping the balance in favour of a child’s future isn’t as hard as some might think. The simple act of reinforcing the importance of exclusively breastfeeding a baby for the first six months of his or her life, for example, increases an infant’s chances of survival by six times.

Most of the regions where the partnership is being run have ample food to go around. It is other factors, such as failing to properly wash and dry utensils after meals, selling nutritious homegrown foods at market rather than eating them, and cultural sensitivities to things like vegetables and eggs that are causing problems. As such, simply education programmes can make a real difference and save countless lives.

The other challenge is ensuring there is enough political will to keep those programmes running. If the international community remains focused, the downward trend in stunting will continue. It could only be a few short years before children from modest African communities like the mountains of southern Uganda get to really play for teams like Arsenal. Children just need to be allowed to grow to their full potential and good things will follow.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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War Over but Not Gaza’s Housing Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/war-over-but-not-gazas-housing-crisis/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 08:12:19 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136527 Members of Abu Sheira's family in front of the tent they set up in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Members of Abu Sheira's family in front of the tent they set up in the grounds of Al-Shifa hospital, Gaza. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

“When the [Israeli] shelling started, I gathered up my family and headed for what I though was a safe place, like a school, but then that became overcrowded and lacked sanitation, so we ended up in the grounds of the hospital.”

Islam Abu Sheira from Beit Hanoun, a city on the north-eastern edge of the Gaza Strip, was speaking to IPS in front of what has been his family’s makeshift ‘home’ at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City for the last two months. His eyes misted over as he recalled his devastated home and his efforts to find a safe refuge for his family."I found no other safe place to shelter in but Al-Shifa Hospital. Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families" – Islam Abu Sheira, a refugee from Beit Hanoun, Gaza Strip

In his forties, Islam described his family’s ordeal after Israeli shelling left them homeless and they first sought refuge in a school run by UNRWA, the U.N. relief and development agency for Palestinian refugees, and were then forced by overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions to move out and seek shelter elsewhere.

“I found no other safe place to shelter in but Al-Shifa Hospital. Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families, ” said Islam,  adding that “during the war, the only thing we were looking for was a place that could protect us from the shelling.”

Like the majority of Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed, they have lost their belongings and, for the time being, their chances of living a life of dignity. Most families in the Gaza Strip were forced to leave their homes so quickly that they had no time to take anything with them.

“We simply have no livelihood and my children sleep every night on the ground without even a blanket to cover them,” lamented Islam. “We have been living a primitive life since we fled our home without even taking the clothes we need.”

As the numbers of people escaping the shelling mounted, so did the difficulty of sheltering them. Schools did their best, but there were insufficient basic necessities and medical supplies, and they were housing four or five persons, if not more, in each classroom.

Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling of Gaza sheltering in a UNRWA school. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Palestinian families whose homes were destroyed by Israeli shelling of Gaza sheltering in a UNRWA school. Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Jamila Saad, a housewife who is taking care of her 12-member family and also fled to one of the UNRWA schools, told IPS: “The school was receiving more and more refugees, and we and the other refugee families were sharing one toilet. We need a better life for our children and we hope that our home will soon be rebuilt so that we can begin a new life there in our new home.”

The complex and harsh conditions that the Palestinian refugees are suffering in schools and other shelter centres has pushed most international organisations to provide the refugees with as much aid as possible, but this is far from finding a final solution for the refugees’ suffering.

The conditions of the thousands of refugees who have lost their homes has placed the new Palestinian government before an enormous challenge and a huge responsibility to provide these refugee families with care and a secure environment, as well take on the responsibility of implementing the reconstruction programmes financially aided by the European Union and donor states in accordance with ceasefire agreement brokered in Cairo between Israel and Hamas, especially in terms of the reconstruction of Gaza.

Mufid al-Hasayna, Minister of Public Works and Housing in the new Palestinian unity government, told IPS that “the amount of destruction of houses and economic facilities is massive, and the population of Gaza is living under hard conditions, so we are working hard to improve the living conditions of people. We are working on programmes to start reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and rebuild destroyed houses and

Al-Hasayna believes that the blurred vision Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have of their future after 50 days of war and their constant fear of being retargeted by the Israeli occupation forces have only added to a worsening of their situation.

Amjad Shawa, Director of the Palestinian NGO Network, told IPS: “The harsh circumstances that the Gaza Strip underwent over the 50 days of the Israeli occupation’s war reduced the population’s access to water and food and threatened people’s security, while the bombing of residential high ‘towers’ housing dozens of families has left serious impacts on civilians.

According to Shawa, the housing situation is now all the more dramatic because, even before Israel’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’, the Gaza Strip was already suffering from the deficit of 70,000 housing units that had been destroyed in the 2009 and 2012 wars.

“Following the two wars, scheduled housing projects to rebuild the infrastructure were not implemented, and the deficit of housing units has reached a state that has put the population in a situation of real disaster,” Shawa told IPS.

He called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to form an independent body of Palestinian civil society organisations to create a plan for reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

According to a report prepared by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), in June 2014 the Gaza Strip was home to an estimated population of 1.76 million living in a coastal area that extends along the Mediterranean Sea and covers approximately 365 square kilometres with a maximum width of 12 kilometres.

The PCBS believes that Gaza Strip’s narrow surface area and high population has contributed to some extent to the distribution of people in large blocks and increased its population density, turning the Strip into one the most densely populated areas in the world.

Population density in the Gaza Strip has reached 2,744 per square kilometre, and experts say this means that food, health and education should be the top priorities for the future development agenda of decision-makers.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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No Easy Choices for Syrians with Small Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/no-easy-choices-for-syrians-with-small-children/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 12:24:01 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136492 What remains of a street in Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

What remains of a street in Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The woman who walked into the Islamic Front (IF) media office near the Turkish border was on the verge of fainting under the hot Syrian sun, but all she cared about was her infant son.

With over half of the country’s population displaced, she was just one of the parents among the more than three million UN-registered Syrian refugees grappling with how to keep their children safe and healthy while dealing with the innumerable dangers inherent in war zones, refugee camps and statelessness.

When IPS met the young woman in early August, she was living in the nearby Bab Al-Salama camp in northern Syria after having been displaced from an area of heavy fighting.Over 200,000 Syrians are living outside the camps in Gaziantep and rent prices have roughly tripled since the massive influx of refugees starting. Protests broke out in mid-August against their presence, and they are increasingly being targeted by violence.

The infant was only a few weeks old and needed to be breastfed, but there was nowhere out of the sight of men. And so, wearing a stifling niqab, she asked to use the room that now serves to ‘register’ foreign journalists crossing the border.

The room afforded some shade and privacy in which to breastfeed and, once the twenty-two-year-old former fighter in charge of the office had stepped out, she started feeding her child.

As she blew gently his sweaty forehead, the woman told IPS that she had kidney problems and could not sit – she could only lie down or stand up. She said that she was also having problems accessing medical care, for both herself and her feverish son. And even if the black abaya covering her body and the niqab over her face were hot, ‘’it’s better to use them,’’ she said, ‘’it’s war”.

The area around the Bab Al-Salama camp just across the border from the Turkish town of Kilis has been bombed several times, including a car bomb in May that killed dozens.

On the other side of the border, the camps that the Turkish government has set up for the over 800,000 Syrian refugees registered with the United Nations are said to be able to accommodate fewer than 300,000 of them.

In formal and informal refugee camps throughout the world, women are notoriously at risk of sexual crimes. Alongside economic issues, many parents on both sides of the border cite this as a reason to marry off their daughters earlier, in the attempt to ‘’protect their honour’’ and find someone to provide for them.

The children resulting from these unions are almost always unable to be registered and are thus stateless, joining the ranks of the many Syrian Kurds and others denied citizenship under Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad’s regime.

Mohamed was an officer in the Syrian regime’s army. From a fairly large tribe in Idlib, his family was targeted by the regime once the conflict began and he has fought with different Free Syrian Army brigades over the past few years.

Soon after a number of women were reportedly raped by ’shabiha’ in his area, he moved his young wife, mother and sisters across the border. He now crosses illegally into Turkey to see them when not fighting.

Street scene in rebel-held Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Street scene in rebel-held Aleppo, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Mohamed is seeking ways to reach Europe. When IPS first met him in autumn of 2013, he had no intention of leaving. However, since then, his first son has been born, stateless.  The Syrian regime did not issue passports to officers in order to prevent them from defecting even prior to the 2011 uprising, and none of his family possesses one.

As a professional soldier without a salary and with no moderate rebel groups providing adequate wages to support a family, as well as no desire to join extremist groups – many of which would pay better – he feels does not know how else he can provide for his family.

‘’There’ s no future here,’’ he said.

On the Turkish side of the border, Ahmad – originally from Aleppo, Syria’s industrial capital – says he does not want to leave the region.

“I once asked my wife what country in the world she would go to if she could, and she answered ‘Syria’,’’ he told IPS proudly.

However, he added that he had stopped going backwards and forwards as a fixer and media activist as the day approached for his wife to give birth and the situation in Aleppo worsened.

When children approached a table as IPS was having tea with him in a Turkish border town, he somewhat gruffly told a little girl begging that she should ‘’work, even if that means selling packets of tissues on the streets.’’

‘’They have to learn to work and not just ask for money. Turks are starting to get angry that we are here,’’ he said.

Over 200,000 Syrians are living outside the camps in Gaziantep and rent prices have roughly tripled since the massive influx of refugees starting. Protests broke out in mid-August against their presence, and they are increasingly being targeted by violence.

Meanwhile, some attempts are being made to raise money for schools inside Syria that would be virtual ‘bunkers’, as Assad’s regime continues to target both schools and medical facilities.

In rebel-held Aleppo, IPS stayed with a Syrian family for a number of days in August as the regime barrel bombing campaign continued and as the danger of an impending siege by government forces or a takeover by the extremist Islamic State (IS) became more likely.

The eldest of the family’s four girls – only eight-years-old – had recently been hit by a sniper’s bullet while crossing the road to one of the few schools still functioning. Although it was healing, the exit wound will leave a very ugly scar on her arm.

Whenever the bombs fell during the night, the occupants of the room would move about restlessly, while the eight-year-old was always already awake, staring into the dark, utterly motionless.

Her father was adamant, however, that – come what may – the family would not leave.

In the late afternoon, little boys could be seen playing outside in the street with scant protection from snipers, only the nylon tarp of a former UNHCR tent hung across the street in an attempt to shield them. Large gaping holes marked the buildings, or what was left of them, in the street around them.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Mass Deportations Don’t Squelch Migration Dreams of Honduranshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mass-deportations-dont-squelch-hondurans-migration-dreams/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 08:09:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136463 Red Cross volunteers board a bus bringing back deported child and adult migrants at the Honduran border in Corinto, to check how they are and provide them with a bag of essentials. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

Red Cross volunteers board a bus bringing back deported child and adult migrants at the Honduran border in Corinto, to check how they are and provide them with a bag of essentials. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
CORINTO, Honduras , Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

The clock marks 9 AM when a bus coming from the Mexican city of Tapachula reaches Corinto, on the border between Honduras and Guatemala. It is the first bus of the day, carrying children and their families sent back from a failed attempt at making it across the border into the United States.

The bus is carrying 19 children between the ages of five and 12, six women and seven men, all of them families. The trip took 10 hours. A team of volunteers from Red Cross Honduras, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), meets them and climbs aboard to provide them with bags of essentials.

It is the first stop the bus will make in Honduras, in the northwestern department or province of Cortés.

Its destination is the nearby city of San Pedro Sula, where they will be censused in a government shelter and given a bag of food and a small amount of money to help them return to their homes. The authorities don’t allow journalists to interview, photograph or film the minors.“It’s awful to see people killed or just left lying there, people from your country. Things are really ugly there, I’m relieved to be back because I’m alive, others aren’t, they were killed by the criminals and some were thrown off the train. I saw all that and it feels really bad.” -- Daniela Díaz

But this IPS reporter is allowed to get on the bus, where I see the sad, exhausted faces of the children. Their parents or other relatives look down into their laps, to hide their pain, defeat and sense of impotence.

Today, four busloads of deported immigrants – two of which carry children as well as adults – totaling 152 people come through customs at Corinto. The flow is steady, although minors only arrive, alone or accompanied, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

“The buses bring an average of 30 to 38 people,” Yahely Milla, a volunteer with the Red Cross team, explains to IPS. She says “the mass deportation of minors started in April,” and in May and June, when the crisis of unaccompanied Central American child immigrants broke out in the United States, up to 15 buses a day were arriving.

“Children from the age of three months to 10 years, some of them alone and others accompanied by their parents, came one time; it had a big impact on us because we hadn’t seen so many deportations since we have been here at the border,” she said.

Corinto is 362 km from the capital, Tegucigalpa. It is one of the main areas along the border used by Hondurans heading north on the migration route to the United States. There are at least 80 “blind spots” used by migrants to cross the border into Guatemala before continuing on to Mexico and, if they’re lucky, to the United States.

The authorities have beefed up controls along the border, which has slightly curbed the exodus.

Institutions are practically nonexistent here and the only support for deported migrants comes from the Red Cross and the ICRC, which has been operating in this town for about two years.

The only time the government made an appearance, people here say, was in July, when the deportations spiked and Ana Hernández, the wife of president Juan Orlando Hernández, came to receive a group of children.

Over a month later, the promised camps have not yet been built, and there isn’t even a toilet at the bus stop for the deportees to use.

Between buses, Mauricio Paredes, the head of the Red Cross at the Corinto post, explained to IPS how the reception centre works. The magnitude of the humanitarian crisis has made it necessary to ration the aid.

For children there are disposable diapers, water, baby bottles and IV saline solution, while the adults are given water, toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, sanitary pads for women and razors for men. They are also allowed a three-minute call to phone their families.

At the crowded government shelter in San Pedro Sula, deported families with children receive instructions for being censused and for the return to their home villages and towns. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

At the crowded government shelter in San Pedro Sula, deported families with children receive instructions for being censused and for the return to their home villages and towns. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The sun is beating down five hours later when the next bus comes, from the Mexican town of Acayuca. It brings 38 immigrants, including adolescents and adults.

One of them, 19-year-old Daniela Díaz, calls her mother to tell her that she is back from her second attempt to reach the United States. She then tells IPS about her odyssey.

“I set out on this journey nine months ago and although it’s my second try, I was still shocked by what I saw,” she says.

“This time I managed to get up on The Beast [the Mexican cargo train used by migrants, who ride on top of the wagons], but horrible things happen there. I saw women raped, I saw how the coyotes [migrant smugglers] sell people to criminal bands,” she says, speaking with long pauses.

“It’s awful to see people killed or just left lying there, people from your country. Things are really ugly there, I’m relieved to be back because I’m alive, others aren’t, they were killed by the criminals and some were thrown off the train. I saw all that and it feels really bad,” she says with a broken voice.

“What you go through is so tough that I almost have no tears left. I went out of need, because there’s no work here, my family is very poor, sometimes we eat, sometimes we don’t, we are five brothers and sisters, I’m the youngest and the most rebellious, my mom says,” adds the young woman who is from Miramesí, a poor neighbourhood in the capital.

But despite her experiences, she says she’s going to try it again. “Going to the United States is my dream, and I’ll do it even if I die in the attempt,” she says, while getting ready to hitchhike – or walk – back to the capital, because she came back without a cent.

The deportees return like Díaz – without money and with a broken dream.

Poverty and violent crime are the main factors driving Hondurans to attempt the dangerous trek to the United States, experts say. Between October 2013 and May 2014, an estimated 13,000 unaccompanied Honduran minors reached the United States.

In the first six months of this year, some 30,000 Hondurans were deported by the United States and Mexico, according to the governmental Centro de Atención al Migrante Retornado (Reception Centre for Returned Migrants).

David López, 18, comes from Copán Ruinas in the western department of Copán, one of the “hot spots” in the country, where organised crime flourishes.

That is what he was fleeing. But he came back frightened, defeated and frustrated. He was assaulted twice by criminal bands that operate along the migration route. “I left because it’s not safe to live here anymore, you see things that it’s better not to talk about. I told myself, it’s time to leave the countryside, and I came back defeated, yes alive!…but defeated,” he tells IPS with a pained voice.

His aquiline features crumple as he remembers the assaults, the abuse, the drought and the hunger he survived.

“I thought the paths life took you on were different, but this is really tough,” he says. “I’m ashamed to go home because I failed this time. But I’ll try again, when things have calmed down along the border.”

In August alone some 19,000 deportees were brought back to the country through Corinto – as many as arrived in all of 2013, Paredes said.

This Central American nation of 8.4 million, where 65 percent of households are poor, is also one of the most violent countries in the world, with a homicide rate of 79.7 per 100,000 population, according to the Honduran Observatory on Violence.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Mexico’s Orphanages – Black Holes for Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 21:35:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136195 Children taken in by the Villa Infantil Irapuato, which has high standards of care – unlike many other orphanages in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy Laura Martínez

Children taken in by the Villa Infantil Irapuato, which has high standards of care – unlike many other orphanages in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy Laura Martínez

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Homes for orphans or children in vulnerable situations in Mexico lack the necessary state regulation and supervision, which leads to scandalous human rights violations.

“The situation is very serious,” said Laura Martínez, director of the non-governmental Patronato Pro Hogar del Niño, in the city of Irapuato in the central state of Guanajuato, some 300 km north of Mexico City. “The higher interests of the children aren’t taken into account. Their rights are violated.

“There is no national census on where they are, who takes care of them, under which methodology. We should be well-regulated, well-supervised. The regulations are not followed and there is no legislation on this,” she told IPS.

Her shelter, known as the Villa Infantil Irapuato, has been taking in children since 1969 and has a capacity to house 40 orphans or children in an at-risk situation, between the ages of six and 20. Since 2003 it has applied its own care protocol.

The children are referred by the state office of the National System for Integral Development of the Family (DIF), and the shelter receives public and private financing.

Orphanages in Mexico operate in a vacuum of legislation, official records and supervision, with widespread problems of noncompliance and a lack of professionalism and funding – a situation that experts say is in violation of international treaties signed by Mexico.

In this country of 118 million people, with some 45 million children under the age of 18, there are around 700 public and private homes providing shelter to 30,000 children. But the Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar (Latin American Foster Care Network) estimates that there are roughly 400,000 children in Mexico without parental care, including 100,000 who live on the streets.

The latest scandal over how these institutions are run broke out on Jul. 15, when the attorney general’s office announced that 596 people, including 458 children, were rescued from the “La Gran Familia” shelter in Zamora, a city in the western state of Michoacán. They were living in squalid conditions, in rooms infested with cockroaches and rats, according to the authorities.

Residents said they were raped, beaten, held against their will, and forced to beg. “We believe it is necessary to avoid institutionalisation and to have a general law on alternative care, and we urgently need clear, detailed information on children in institutions.” Martin Pérez

The home, which was founded in 1947, was run by Rosa del Carmen Verduzco, known as “Mamá Rosa”. She was deemed unfit to face prosecution because of her age and health problems, but six of her collaborators have been charged with kidnapping, child abuse and sexual abuse. The centre was shut down permanently on Jul. 30.

“The state is 30 years behind in terms of guaranteeing the rights of children in public policies,” said Martín Pérez, executive director of the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children. “The state has never supervised these establishments; every once in a while something comes to light and it remembers them and turns its attention to them.”

Since the state does not provide funds, it does not exercise oversight either. “And that leaves children in a vulnerable position. The shelters become a black hole; no one knows what educational method they’re using…what damage is caused,” Pérez told IPS.

Although the “Mamá Rosa” case was the highest profile scandal, whenever one of the orphanages or children’s homes makes it into the news, they all have one thing in common: irregularities in the way they are run.

On Jun. 17, the authorities rescued 33 children ages five to 17 and 10 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 from the Casa Hogar Domingo Savio in the central city of Puebla, in response to signs of abuse by the director of the home.

In 2011, 19 children were freed from the Instituto Casa Hogar Nuestro Señor de la Misericordia y Nuestra Señora de la Salette in Mexico City. The victims of abuse had received death threats to keep them from reporting the conditions they were held in.

Two years earlier, the authorities removed 126 mistreated youngsters from the “Casitas del Sur” shelters run by the non-governmental organisation Reintegración Social. They also found that 15 had gone missing, three of whom are still lost.

The Social Assistance Law requires the health ministry to monitor the homes for children. But the supervision is practically nonexistent.

International concern

For over a decade, Mexico has been in the sights of international bodies for these practices.

In its recommendations to the Mexican state in 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the large number of children placed in private institutions without any supervision, and suggested the creation of a directory and database of children in private homes.

“The Committee is concerned about lack of information (number, conditions of living, etc.) on children separated from their parents who are living in institutions. The Committee notes the large number of children in institutions managed by the private sector, and regrets the lack of information and oversight by the state on these institutions,” the document says.

The Committee, which monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, recommended that the state establish regulations based on children’s rights and introduce effective legislation, reinforcing existing structures such as the extended family, improving training of staff and allocating increased resources to the relevant bodies.

In the February 2014 report “The Right of Boys and Girls to a Family. Alternative Care. Ending Institutionalization in the Americas”, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Organisation of American States (OAS) member countries to “properly regulate the operation of residential care facilities and carry out proper oversight, investigating them and, where appropriate, punishing any violations of children’s rights that take place in these facilities.”

“Institutionalising children continues to be a common response to these situations in the countries of the region, although evidence shows that the way many residential institutions currently operate does not guarantee that the rights of the children who are put in them are protected, and exposes them to situations of violence, abuse, and neglect,” the IACHR concluded.

Civil society groups in Mexico plan to launch an offensive to pressure the state to fulfill its obligations.

During the 69th session of the pre-sessional Working Group of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to be held Sept. 22-26, a delegation of children, along with UNICEF – the U.N. chidren’s fund – and non-governmental organisations, will present a report in Geneva on the situation of children, including minors without parental care.

In May-June 2015, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, made up of 18 independent experts, will evaluate Mexico.

And the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Children, Rosa María Ortiz, will visit Mexico in October to draw up a report on the situation here.

“We believe it is necessary to avoid institutionalisaton and to have a general law on alternative care, and we urgently need clear, detailed information on children in institutions,” said Pérez of the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children.

Martínez, the head of the Patronato Pro Hogar del Niño de Irapuato children’s home, said it is important to take a close look at what kind of care each organisation provides. “The current model is too welfare-oriented. And who can guarantee monitoring of the cases? There is another approach that should be followed – working for a child’s development.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Burning the Future of Gaza’s Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/burning-the-future-of-gazas-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burning-the-future-of-gazas-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/burning-the-future-of-gazas-children/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 16:34:22 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136164 Soundus, a young girl being treated in hospital for injuries from Israeli shelling of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Soundus, a young girl being treated in hospital for injuries from Israeli shelling of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

“My child became blind and lost the ability to speak, his dad died and his three brothers are seriously wounded. He still has not been told about the loss of his dad,” says the mother of 7-year-old Mohamad Badran. 

Mohamad is in hospital for treatment after being seriously injured in Israel shelling of Gaza. “My only way to communicate with him is by hugging him,” his mother adds.

Israeli air attacks and shelling in Gaza have left more than 1,870 dead and thousands injured. They have caused damage to infrastructure and hundreds of homes, forcing a large number of families to seek shelter in schools run by the U.N. agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).Some of the children have suffered serious injuries which cannot be treated in Gaza due to the limited medical infrastructure and capacities caused by the Israeli blockade.

In a news note, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that Israeli airstrikes and shelling have taken a “devastating toll … on Gaza’s youngest and most vulnerable.” It said that at least 429 children had been killed and 2,744 severely injured.

Some of the children injured have suffered serious injuries which cannot be treated in Gaza due to the limited medical capacities caused by the Israeli blockade.

According to UNICEF, about 400,000 children – half of Gaza’s 1.8 million people are children under the age of 18 – are showing symptoms of psychological problems, including stress and depression, clinging to parents and nightmares.

Monika Awad, spokesperson for UNICEF in Jerusalem, told IPS that 30 percent of dead as a result of the Israeli military attacks are children, and “UNICEF and its local partners have been implementing psychosocial support programmes in Gaza schools where refugee families are sheltering.”

”We have a moral responsibility to protect the right of children to live in safety and dignity in accordance with U.N. charter for children’s rights,” she added.

However, the acute psychological effects of the Israeli attacks Gaza that have emerged among children, such as loss of speech, are among the biggest challenges that face psychotherapists.

Dr Sami Eweda, a consultant and psychiatrist with the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (a local civil society organisation working on trauma and healing issues), told IPS: “When the Israeli war against Gaza ends, psychotherapists will grapple with many expected dilemmas such as the cases of the murder of entire families and the murder of the parents who represent the central protection and tenderness for the children. Such terrible cases put children in a state of loss and shock.”

According to Eweda, “we first need to stop the main cause of these traumas and psychological problems, which is the Israeli war against Gaza, and then begin an emergency intervention to support children’s health and treat traumas and severe psychological effects, including the loss of speech, which is considered as one of the self-defence mechanisms for overcoming traumas.”

Throughout the Gaza Strip, where entire neighbourhoods such as Shujaiyeh and Khuza’a have been destroyed by the Israeli invasion and heavy bombardment, access to basic services is practically impossible.

Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

People in these areas have been suffering difficulties in accessing drinking water and have been living in an almost complete blackout since the Israeli shelling of the power station which was the sole source of electricity in besieged Gaza.

Social Watch– a network of civil society organisations from around the world monitoring their governments’ commitments to end poverty and achieve gender justice – Thursday called on the international community to declare the Gaza Strip an “international humanitarian disaster zone”, as requested by Palestinian NGOs.

“The unrestricted violation of international law and humanitarian principles adds to the instability in the region and further fuels the arms race and the marginalisation of the issues of poverty eradication and social justice that should be the main common priority,” said Social Watch.

“The recurrence of these episodes in Gaza is the result of not having acted before on similar war crimes and of not having pursued with good faith negotiations towards a lasting peace,” it added.

In a press release, Save the Children, the world’s leading independent organisation for promoting children’s rights, said: “Children never start wars, yet they are the ones that are killed, maimed, traumatised and left homeless, terrified and permanently scarred.”

“Save the Children will not stop until innocent children are no longer under fire and the root causes of this conflict are addressed. If the international community does not take action now, the violence against children in Gaza will haunt our generation forever.”

In an interview with IPS, Save the Children’s spokesperson in Gaza, Asama Damo, said: ”We call for a permanent ceasefire and for lifting the siege on Gaza to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid and basic services to children.”

“We also need the international community to intervene to end the catastrophic humanitarian situation and fight the skin diseases that are widely spreading among the refugees at UNRWA schools due to overcrowding and congestion.”

According to UNRWA, 87 of their schools are being used as shelters by the refugees, half of whom are children under the age of 18. Ziad Thabet, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education in Gaza, told IPS:

“Israel deliberately targeted educational institutions and the education sector in general; large proportion of those killed and wounded are children and school students. Many schools and kindergartens were attacked.”

In the current disastrous situation in Gaza, it seems not only that the burnt bodies of Gaza’s children are the heritage of war, but also that their educational and health future is being burned.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Kenya’s Own ‘Erin Brokovich’ Changes Lives of Girl Survivors of Sexual Abusehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/kenyas-own-erin-brockovitch-changes-lives-of-girl-survivors-of-sexual-abuse/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-own-erin-brockovitch-changes-lives-of-girl-survivors-of-sexual-abuse http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/kenyas-own-erin-brockovitch-changes-lives-of-girl-survivors-of-sexual-abuse/#comments Mon, 11 Aug 2014 08:20:24 +0000 Adam Bemma http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136048 The Equality Effect brought together legal experts to pursue a class action lawsuit, which came to be known as the 160 Girls case, of girls who faced discriminatory police treatment, including police rape. The court ruled police must enforce the laws under the constitution, and properly investigate cases of defilement and rape. Courtesy: Fiona Sampson/Equality Effect

The Equality Effect brought together legal experts to pursue a class action lawsuit, which came to be known as the 160 Girls case, of girls who faced discriminatory police treatment, including police rape. The court ruled police must enforce the laws under the constitution, and properly investigate cases of defilement and rape. Courtesy: Fiona Sampson/Equality Effect

By Adam Bemma
MERU, Kenya, Aug 11 2014 (IPS)

Surrounded by endless rows of green tea plants, Mary carefully picked a leaf and placed it into a basket next to her. It seemed like an ordinary day at work for the 13-year-old girl from Meru, in central Kenya. After work she escaped to the adjacent farm for privacy, but was instead attacked and raped by a middle aged man. 

“My grandmother took me to the police to make a report, but they didn’t arrest him. I was told he bribed the police,” Mary* tells IPS as her 11-month-old baby girl sits on her lap.

Mary, now 14 years of age, and her daughter live at Ripples International’s Tumaini Girls’ Rescue Centre in Meru, Kenya. It houses 15 other girls like Mary, three of whom have babies of their own, all born out of the sexual violence perpetrated against them.

“Sexual abuse is known as defilement under Kenyan law. All of our girls here have been defiled by either family members, neighbours or employers. One girl was even defiled by a police officer,” Mercy Chidi, founder and director of Ripples International, the organisation which established Tumaini Girls Rescue Centre, tells IPS.

Chidi is a social worker, not a lawyer, but her human rights advocacy makes her a respected figure in Kenya and beyond. She has provided shelter to survivors of sexual abuse, female genital mutilation and child marriage at Ripples International. The organisation’s faith-based approach makes creating fundamental change in the livelihoods of Kenyan girls its mission.

“It started over 10 years ago with abandoned babies and orphans. We gave them a home,” Chidi says. “We also provide HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention.”

A 14-year-old girl named Grace*, looking much younger than her stated age, takes a seat on the couch in front of the television at Tumaini Girls’ Rescue Centre. She is HIV-positive.

“I was raped by my father,” she tells IPS as her voice quivers. Grace has been living at the shelter for the past year, trying to keep up court appearances and her anti-retroviral medications. She’s also trying to get back into school.

Fiona Sampson is a Canadian lawyer and the executive director of Equality Effect, a human rights organisation working to advance the rights of women and girls in Kenya.

Sampson met Chidi in 2010 during a human rights course in Toronto, Canada. She calls Chidi the “Erin Brokovich of Kenya” due to her relentless pursuit of justice for Kenyan girls.

“Mercy asked if the Equality Effect would help her develop a legal advocacy solution to the defilement problem, and the failure of police to enforce existing laws, and we said ‘yes.’  The Equality Effect was already working in Kenya on other projects,” Sampson tells IPS.

Sampson brought together legal experts from Canada, Kenya, Ghana and Malawi to pursue a class action lawsuit, which came to be known as the 160 Girls case. The 160 refers to the number of girls selected, even though only 11 petitioners were named in the claim. These girls faced discriminatory police treatment, including police rape.

“We argued that the police treatment of the girls’ defilement claims was discriminatory and violated their human rights in contradiction of the equality guarantees in the Kenyan constitution and regional and international human rights law,” she says.

In 2013, the 160 Girls went from victims to victors. The judge read the verdict in a Meru, Kenya courtroom: “By failing to enforce existing defilement laws, the police have contributed to the development of a culture of tolerance for pervasive sexual violence against girl children and impunity.”

Muthomi Thiankolu is a constitutional lawyer and lead counsel on the 160 Girls case at the High Court of Kenya.

“In Kenyan law, defilement is sex with a minor. Someone under the age of 18,” Thiankolu tells IPS. “The court ruled police must enforce the laws under the constitution, and properly investigate cases of defilement and rape.”

Mary bounces the baby on her lap. She now feels the law will protect the both of them. The child starts to giggle and a smile comes over Mary’s face.

“At the time it happened, I was working to make money to pay school fees,” she says. “Now, living here at the centre, I’m arranging to go back to school.”

*Name changed to protect their identity

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

The writer can be contacted on twitter @adambemma

 

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Child Malnutrition Doesn’t Take Vacation in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/child-malnutrition-doesnt-take-vacation-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-malnutrition-doesnt-take-vacation-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/child-malnutrition-doesnt-take-vacation-in-spain/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 19:45:12 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135969 Children in the cafeteria of the Manuel Altolaguirre public school in the poor neighbourhood of La Palma-Palmilla, in the southern city of Málaga, Spain, which provides meals to the poorest students in the summertime. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Children in the cafeteria of the Manuel Altolaguirre public school in the poor neighbourhood of La Palma-Palmilla, in the southern city of Málaga, Spain, which provides meals to the poorest students in the summertime. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Aug 6 2014 (IPS)

It’s two in the afternoon, and María stirs tomato sauce into a huge pot of pasta. School is out for the summer in Spain, but the lunchroom in this public school in the southern city of Málaga is still open, serving meals to more than 100 children from poor families.

“My son has had to take my grandson to summer school because he doesn’t have enough money to feed him.” -- Mercedes Arroyo
“The kitchen is always operating, winter and summer,” Miguel Ángel Muñoz, the prinicipal of the Manuel Altolaguirre school, told IPS. “There are families in situations of extreme need. For many children, the only hot meals they eat are what they are served at school.”

The school is in La Palma-Palmilla, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in this city in the southern autonomous community or region of Andalusia.

A number of reports have described the dire economic situation faced by many families with children in Spain, and the resultant problems of poor quality diets and child malnutrition.

There are 2.3 million children in Spain – 27.5 percent of the total – living under the poverty line, according to a study by UNICEF, the United Nations children’s fund.

The report, “La Infancia en España 2014” (Childhood in Spain 2014), released Jun. 24, found that the number of households with children where no adult is working increased 290 percent since 2007, the year before the global financial crisis broke out. Between 2007 and 2013 the total climbed from 325,000 to 943,000 families.

The unemployment rate in this country of 46.7 million people stands at 25.9 percent, according to the National Statistics Institute. Then there is the “working poor” who earn wages too low to cover mortgage payments or rent, utility bills and food.

“My mother sells lottery tickets and my father is at home,” Rafa told IPS just after eating pasta, salad and watermelon for lunch in the Manuel Altolaguirre school lunchroom. The eight-year-old has siblings aged four, 10 and 12.

Sitting next to him, 11-year-old Yeray said he and his brother Antonio have lunch at the school every day while his father works “carrying luggage in the airport.”

“The food is good,” said Yeray, who wants to “fix cars or be a policeman” when he grows up.

Daniel Fernández, with the local non-governmental organisation Animación Malacitana, who has been responsible for summertime activities in the school for 13 years, told IPS that “there are entire strata of society in emergency situations” and in need of help in Spain.

Since 2013 the government of Andalusia, the most populous autonomous community in Spain, has extended through the summer vacation period the aid it provides during the school year, and subsidises summer school in institutions like Manuel Altolaguirre in cities throughout the region.

In summer school, the poorest children are served breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack at no cost, while they participate in recreational and educational activities run by social organisations.

“My son has had to take my grandson to summer school because he doesn’t have enough money to feed him,” Mercedes Arroyo, who has three children – aged 18, 24 and 28 – and three grandchildren – two seven-year-olds and a 10-year-old – told IPS.

“And many of us are in that situation,” said her husband, Enrique Sánchez, outside the “25 Mujeres” “economato social” – government shops that sell basic foodstuffs and cleaning and hygiene products at cost to poor families – in La Palma-Palmilla.

It is now common to see grandparents supporting their children and grandchildren – and even great-grandchildren – on their small pensions. Rosario Ruíz, 67, draws a disability pension of 365 euros (500 dollars) and lives with her 26-year-old unemployed granddaughter who is a single mother of two children, aged two and five.

“Are you going to write about how I need help? Are you going to tell?” Ruíz asked IPS after shopping in the ‘economato’.

The families of some 200,000 children in Spain can’t afford a meal based on beef, chicken or fish every two days, the NGO Educo reported on its website.

Poor nutrition in childhood can have irreversible effects on children’s health, abilities and development, experts say.

“Parents need school lunchrooms to be open in the summertime too,” said Muñoz, who stressed the vulnerability of the children who attend schools in La Palma-Palmilla.

The children mainly come from gypsy (Roma) or other immigrant families, most of them from Romania. They are served breakfast and lunch, and are given an afternoon snack in a bag to take home, year-round as part of an anti-poverty plan run by the socialist government of Andalusia, one of the regions with the highest unemployment rates in Spain.

Different NGOs in Málaga also organise summer activities for poor children. For example, Málaga Acoge runs ¡Queremos montar un circo! (We Want to Mount a Circus!) for 120 immigrant children, financed through microdonations, while Prodiversa ran a summer camp in July for 23 children between the ages of six and 11, subsidised by the Obra Social la Caixa Proinfancia and offering meals, tutoring and counseling.

Spain is the European Union country with the second highest level of child poverty, following Romania, according to a report by Caritas Europa on the social impact of the austerity policies applied in the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis, released Mar. 27.

Caritas, a Catholic social assistance organisation, put the proportion of children under 18 in Spain living on the edge of social exclusion at 29.9 percent.

And the report Child Poverty and Social Exclusion in Europe published by Save the Children in June put the proportion at 33.8 percent.

“It’s a chronicle of impoverishment foretold,” economist Juan Torres López told IPS. He said the “policies involving steep cutbacks have dismantled the social services and basic collective assets,” turning Spain into “the country with the worst inequalities in Europe.”

According to the economist, the government of right-wing Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has adopted “inadequate, unfair and ineffective” measures to combat the economic crisis, instead of opting for “alternatives that could bring good results such as tax reforms aimed at greater equality and financing that is not set up to benefit the banks.”

The budget earmarked for children in Spain fell 14.6 percent from 2010 to 2013, UNICEF reported.

Cuts in public spending began during the administration of socialist Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero (2004-2011). But the biggest cutbacks in social expenditure in democracy in Spain have been applied since Rajoy took office.

Teachers and members of social organisations told IPS that some students ask to fill their plates three times in the school lunchrooms. Many don’t even have hot water at home to take showers in the winter, because they live in broken homes or come from extremely poor families.

“Good thing the summer comes. Then I don’t mind taking a shower with cold water,” a boy whose family could not afford a water heater or gas cylinder every month told Fernández.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Children, the Biggest Losers in Senegal’s Fight Against AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/children-the-biggest-losers-in-senegals-fight-against-aids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=children-the-biggest-losers-in-senegals-fight-against-aids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/children-the-biggest-losers-in-senegals-fight-against-aids/#comments Sat, 02 Aug 2014 08:20:14 +0000 Mathilde Cru http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135886 Senegal has low HIV prevalence but high stigma, and children living with HIV suffer the consequences. Courtesy: Mercedes Sayagues

Senegal has low HIV prevalence but high stigma, and children living with HIV suffer the consequences. Courtesy: Mercedes Sayagues

By Mathilde Cru
DAKAR, Aug 2 2014 (IPS)

Children living with HIV in Senegal suffer because of the taboo associated with this disease in a country which is, however, praised for its fight against the pandemic.

“I don’t want my son’s HIV status to be known, my family would not take it well,” explains Fanta (39), who is herself HIV positive.

“The word AIDS is too loaded,” says this mother of three children, one of whom was born HIV positive 14 years ago, and who fears that both she and her teenage son would be disowned by the family if the secret was revealed.

“My mother doesn’t know, she wouldn’t be able to keep it to herself, I am suspicious of everyone,” she told IPS, adding that her other two children do not know her and their brother’s HIV status.

According to a survey conducted on 626 HIV positive people in Senegal by the National Network for People Living with HIV/AIDS (RNP+), less than half of them have told their partners about their HIV status and only 28 percent have told at least one member of their family.

“I  had to talk about it [my HIV status] with my father, because if I die one day, I don’t want people to think it is because of voodoo,” Fanta told IPS, referring to the practice of witchcraft which, according to some, brings sudden death.

As a result of reacting swiftly to the first cases of AIDS, Senegal’s HIV prevalence rate is estimated at 0.7 percent of the population, compared to 4.7 percent in Ivory Coast and 3.2 percent in Nigeria, the worst hit West African countries according to the United Nations.

Left high and dry

The stigma attached to the disease, however, has an adverse effect on continuity of care for the child living with HIV.

Mbaye Mboye, programme head at Synergy for Childhood, an organisation which manages a paediatric AIDS unit in Guediwaye, in Dakar Region, explains that when the parent of an infected child dies or when the guardian remarries or moves, it is rare for anyone to take over responsibility for care.

“We have problems with guardians, sometimes they forget to give medication, sometimes they are preoccupied with other issues,” Mbaye Mboye told IPS.

“But we prefer the child’s HIV status to be disclosed to a very limited few to maintain confidentiality,” he adds.

This concern with confidentiality requires some creativity from both social workers and guardians, who may have to fabricate visits to imaginary relatives in order to go for appointments.

“Our social workers pretend to be family friends when they do home visits and they must verify that the person who answers the phone is the guardian on file at the hospital,” says Mbaye Mboye.

According to the National Council for the Fight against AIDS (CNLS), some 6,500 children under the age of 15 were living with HIV in Senegal in 2013 and almost 8,000 are orphans or vulnerable children because of AIDS.

One of the consequences of the silence weighing on these children is that their access to antiretroviral treatment is more limited than adults.  Despite free treatment since 1997, three quarters of adults in need benefited in 2011 in contrast to only one third of children, according to CNLS.

Since 2010, reimbursement of transport expenses for guardians taking children to medical appointments has reduced the number of children “falling off the radar,” says Mbaye Mboye.

“Children tend to be neglected compared with the global approach to caring for adults,” he laments.

HIV positive children have specific needs of school and nutrition support.  Absenteeism as a result of recurrent illness results in critical educational delays and malnourishment is higher among them.

Ibrahima Ba, secretary general of RNP+, points to the economic situation, the lack of co-ordination between health staff and social workers, and the absence of a national programme specifically for children.

“Children are left high and dry,” he says. “It is the mother’s responsibility to take the child to hospital, and she only goes when the child is ill.  If it is a minor problem, she downplays it.”

Senegal has only 59 paediatric units providing care for HIV positive children compared to 97 for adults.

“There is no follow up on children who do not come regularly to hospital, no one calls the guardian,” adds Ba. “The state needs to focus more on children living with HIV because they are becoming sexually active teenagers.”

The reduction in international funding for AIDS is of concern to the National Alliance against AIDS (ANCS).

“We are concerned that the state is no longer taking charge and we are afraid the gains achieved in 25 years of fighting AIDS may be reversed,” says Massogui Thiandoum, head of programmes at ANCS.

Edited by: Mercedes Sayagues

Translated by: Runyararo Bertha Faranisi 

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If You Cut One, Plant Twohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/135576/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=135576 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/135576/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 10:18:44 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135576 Students from Kisule Primary School in Kampala at the International Children’s Climate Change Conference (ICCCC), July 2014, Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Students from Kisule Primary School in Kampala at the International Children’s Climate Change Conference (ICCCC), July 2014, Uganda. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Jul 15 2014 (IPS)

Olga Mugisa, 11-years-old, takes to the microphone in front of her peers, the Ugandan flag proudly draped behind her and green plants framing the stage. She has an important message to share with her fellow students: “If you cut one, plant two.”

“I tell all of you here you to plant trees at school, at home, everywhere,” she says in a loud and confident voice to participants at Africa’s first International Children’s Climate Change Conference held in the Ugandan capital at the weekend.

“If you plant those trees you will get air that you breathe in and (you) will breathe in oxygen as you produce carbon dioxide,” adds the Primary 5 student at Mirembe Junior, an international school in Namuwongo, traditionally a slum area of Kampala.“Children are the future generation, but at the moment we are in this climate change quagmire because adults cut trees with impunity. We do not think twice … we didn’t plant them” – Joseph Masembe, founder of Uganda’s Little Green Hands

Joining forces with Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Uganda’s Little Green Hands NGO organised the International Children’s Climate Change Conference, which brought together about 280 “child delegates”, aged between five and 12, from 23 schools in four Ugandan districts, at Kampala’s GEMS Cambridge International School. There were also students representing 35 countries including Spain, France and the United States.

Students performed skits, sang and recited poems, as well as posing questions and giving PowerPoint presentations in their own style. Everything revolved around the causes and effects of, and solutions for, climate change.

Children can bring hope, especially when it comes to climate change, says lawyer turned social entrepreneur, environmentalist and founder of Little Green Hands, Joseph Masembe. He is showcasing a “new form of environmental stewardship” in Uganda involving young people.

According to The State of Uganda’s Population Report, released in February 2013, the east African nation has the world’s youngest population, with over 78 percent aged under 30.

“A wise man once told me a child’s mind is like wet cement -when you write on it, it’s permanent,” Masembe tells IPS. “So involving children at such a tender age in environment conservation means the future is ensured and it’s guaranteed.

“Children are the future generation, but at the moment we are in this climate change quagmire because adults cut trees with impunity. We do not think twice … we didn’t plant them.

“But if we get these children to start planting trees at a tender age, by the time they grow up they will have sentimental value attached to these trees, so they won’t chop them down,” Masembe explains.

It’s getting thumbs green that was the focus of the Little Hands Go Green Festival, an annual eventcreated by Masembe in 2012. In December that year, more than 16,000 children flocked to Kampala’s Kololo Airstrip, where they were given seedlings to take home and plant fruit trees. Masembe says “Africa’s only green festival” was even “gate-crashed” by Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, after he heard about the large gathering of children. Out of it, sprang the ICCCC.

As highlighted in the The State of Uganda’s Population Report2013, Uganda has been identified as one of the world’s least prepared and most vulnerable countries when it comes to the climate change. The study stressed that Global Climate Change models project the nation will experience an increase in average temperatures up by up to 1.5 oC in the next 20 years.

Hot days are increasing, cold days decreasing; glaciers on the Rwenzori Mountains are continuing to melt and almost all regions of the country are experiencing “intense, frequent and prolonged droughts,” the report said.

“You find that now the rains do not come as they used to come, the seasons are changing and it’s a lot hotter,” Masembe tells IPS. “The dry season takes a lot longer. Farmers are telling you their crops are being affected a lot. You have mudslides in Bududa (eastern Uganda) almost every other year.”

Despite her age, Olga is all too aware of the impact of climate change on her country, which she notes is called the “Pearl of Africa” but which, because of climate change, “will no longer be the Pearl of Africa. Lake Victoria and (Lake) Albert will dry up… climate (change) is something that can destroy a country.”

“The ozone layer is the layer that protects from the direct sunshine, so when it’s spoilt we shall get the direct sunshine and the plants will dry up, drought will be there,” she adds.

As she plants a tree at the end of the ICCCC, Olga says that she will encourage her mother, father and two siblings to do the same. “I’ll keep encouraging people to plant trees … They have a responsibility.”

Olga is fortunate that she attends an international school where the study of climate change is on the curriculum. “In the international schools they teach it, in the local schools, which is the majority, they don’t,” says Masembe. “So we have to find other ways to sneak it in, through extracurricular activities for instance.”

“The Green Festival (to be held on August 24) is one opportunity. And this conference, which will become annual, will become part of the way whereby children can use their voices and hopefully adults can start to listen.”

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Future of Rwanda’s Orphans Still Uncertainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/future-of-rwandas-orphans-still-uncertain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=future-of-rwandas-orphans-still-uncertain http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/future-of-rwandas-orphans-still-uncertain/#comments Fri, 11 Jul 2014 15:24:15 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135504 Deborah (in red), a 14-year-old Rwandan girl who lost her parents when she was young, at Gisimba Memorial Centre orphanage in Kigali. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Deborah (in red), a 14-year-old Rwandan girl who lost her parents when she was young, at Gisimba Memorial Centre orphanage in Kigali. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KIGALI, Jul 11 2014 (IPS)

Every day, 14-year-old Deborah wakes up in an orphanage, goes to school, and comes home to an orphanage. It does not matter when or for how long she leaves the orphanage, she always knows she’ll be back.

“This is where I live, this is my home,” says the teen, sitting at a wooden desk with other children at the Gisimba Memorial Centre orphanage. She has been intensely colouring in a nativity scene of one famous family – Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus.

Deborah had both her parents for only three years, before her mother died. Her father passed away two years later. Both had AIDS. Her four sisters and brothers also live at Gisimba Memorial Centre, in the Nyamirambo quarter of the Rwandan capital.“Decades of research show that orphanages cannot provide the care children to develop to their full potential, leading to attachment disorders and developmental delays that can be physical, intellectual, communication, social and emotional” – communications consultant Annet Birungi

The original Gisimba orphanage was founded by Peter Gisimba and wife Dancilla, and began taking in children, orphaned through a variety of circumstances, in the 1980s. The couple died in the late 1980s. When the orphanage was renamed the Gisimba Memorial Centre in 1990, it was home to 50 children and had reached its capacity.

That was until the 1994 genocide when up to 700 people took shelter in Gisimba. “People were sleeping in the dormitories, outside, everywhere, as long as they were together,” coordinator Elie Munezero tells IPS.

Close to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed during those bloody 100 days.

Today there are about 125 young people living at the orphanage. “All generations,” explains 50-year-old Munezero. “Babies, infants, adolescents, young adults.” The youngest is two years old. The two eldest are 30. About 40 percent are aged under 16.

Deborah and the other siblings are just some of the estimated 2,171 children today languishing in 29 orphanages across the east African country, says Annet Birungi, a communications consultant for Rwanda’s National Commission for Children (NCC) and UNICEF.

Nine years in an orphanage, in Deborah’s case, does not shock Birungi. She points out the alarming results of the National Survey on Institutional Care, conducted in 2011-2012 by Rwanda’s Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) and groundbreaking NGO Hopes and Homes for Children (HHC). It found thatabout 13.6 percent children living in institutions had been there for more than 15 years.

Staying in institutional care can scar children for a lifetime, with those aged between 0-3 years especially vulnerable.

“Decades of research show that orphanages cannot provide the care children to develop to their full potential, leading to attachment disorders and developmental delays that can be physical, intellectual, communication, social and emotional,” says Birungi, adding that “abuse, neglect, physical and sexual violence, isolation and marginalization are common in orphanages.”

Before colonial rule, there was a culture of treating “every child as your own”, notes Birungi. “Children were for the community and when a mother died, it was a responsibility of aunties and grandparents, family friends to take care of the orphan (s).”

The atrocities of 1994 are said to have left at least half a million children without parents. During and after the genocide,women informally took in children from the opposite ethnic group. Mothers were encouraged to be a “malayika mulinzi” (“guardian angel”). Systems of “kinship and foster care” operated, even if informally.

At the same, this was when most of the orphanages that exist today appeared but most of them lack exit plans for children who have grown up in them.

Meanwhile, the belief that children are better off in institutions than in families has also kept some children in care, says Birungi, and while there is no denying that some centres are able to provide shelter, food, clothing, health and education, they cannot offer the love of a family.

Today, there is no power and no water in Gisimba. Both have been cut off because the bills have remained unpaid, says Munezero. “Nothing is good,” he adds in despair.

A major issue with children being cared for in institutions is that some may still have living members of their family.  “You could be calling a child an orphan but he’s not,” Munezero admits.

The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF), an independent, not-for-profit, institution has reported that the majority of so-called “orphans” adopted from Africa by foreigners have at least one parent still alive.

International adoption was temporarily suspended by Rwanda in August 2010, to allow the country work on implementation of the 1993 Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption, which calls on states to consider national solutions before international adoption.

Birungi says the government wants to revive the culture of “treating every child as your own”. NCC is currently working with HHC to reintegrate those living at Gisimba back into families.

An NCC-trained psycho-social team is in the final stages of the reintegration process and Gisimba will be transformed into a primary school to benefit children in the surrounding area, according to Birungi. On July 10, HHC announced that the first of five children had been moved out of Home of Hope, another Kigali institution.

HHC’s country director in Rwanda, Claudine Nyinawagaga, says a number of alternative care services are available for children in the country, including “kinship care”, when a young person is placed with extended family, neighbours or friends.

But national adoption is yet to be fully implemented and since HCC started the closure of the first Rwandan institution in 2011, only one child has fully undergone the domestic adoption process. NCC-drafted guidelines on domestic and international adoption are awaiting approval by Rwanda’s Cabinet.

“Several meetings with local authorities revealed that the general population and local authorities do not have enough information about adoption,” Nyinawagaga tells IPS. “This is likely to be addressed through the approval of the adoption guidelines, and the sensitisation of the community.”

So, for the time being, Deborah remains in an institution.

“I like singing and drumming,” she says, when asked what she likes doing in her spare time. “We have a small choir that I’m in.”

Despite her plight, she is ambitious and looking forward to her future: “to work in an industry, and make fruit juice and yoghurt.”

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OP-ED: Why Ending Child Marriage in Africa Can No Longer Waithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/op-ed-ending-child-marriage-africa-can-longer-wait/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-ending-child-marriage-africa-can-longer-wait http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/op-ed-ending-child-marriage-africa-can-longer-wait/#comments Wed, 28 May 2014 08:19:35 +0000 Dr. Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134599 Seven month pregnant Debritu, 14, escaped from her husband after months of abuse. She is now homeless and is uncertain of the future for her and her baby. Several social, cultural, religious and traditional beliefs and norms are known to fuel the continuation of child marriage in Africa. Courtesy: Stephanie Sinclair/United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Seven month pregnant Debritu, 14, escaped from her husband after months of abuse. She is now homeless and is uncertain of the future for her and her baby. Several social, cultural, religious and traditional beliefs and norms are known to fuel the continuation of child marriage in Africa. Courtesy: Stephanie Sinclair/United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

By Julitta Onabanjo, Benoit Kalasa, and Mohamed Abdel-Ahad
JOHANNESBURG, May 28 2014 (IPS)

Just 17 years old, Clarisse is already a mother of two, who lives with her husband and his four other wives in rural southern Chad. Three years earlier, she had watched her mom and sisters preparing food for a party one day. At first she celebrated along with everyone else, not realising it was her own wedding ceremony. When she discovered this, she was frantic.

“I tried to escape but I was caught. I found myself with a husband three times older than me… School was over, just like that. Ten months later, I found myself with a baby in my arms,” she says.The African continent has tolerated child marriage for too long, based on a host of ill-conceived justifications and arguments... Child marriage should not be allowed to continue. Not one day longer.

Clarisse is one of millions of girls around the world, and especially in Africa, who are married off each year. Many of them become wives as early as eight years old, often to much older men.

Globally, one in three girls from low and middle income countries is married before the age of 18, and one in nine by age 15. It is estimated that every year, over 15.1 million girls will become brides, if this trend continues.

Of the 41 countries worldwide with a child marriage prevalence rate of 30 percent or more, 30 countries are located in Africa. The practice is most severe in West Africa, where two women out of five are married before age 18; and one woman out of six is married by the  time she turns 15.

Several social, cultural, religious and traditional beliefs and norms are known to fuel the continuation of child marriage in Africa.

In addition, the economic dimension is a driving force of the practice. To many families living in poverty, child marriage is a source of income and therefore an economic survival strategy.

The impact of child marriage

Regardless of the contributing factors and justifications cited for the practice, child marriage has a severe and harmful impact on our girls, and on society at large. It compromises the girl child’s health, education and opportunities to realise her potential.

Many ‘child wives’ are exposed to repeated pregnancies and childbirth before they are physically and psychologically ready.

In Sudan, Awatif, now 24, was married off at age 14 while still in school. Against her will, she dropped out of school in the fifth grade and immediately  became pregnant. “I went through days of obstructed labour at home; it was painful and I thought I would die. My family took me to the hospital for assistance. I survived but my son didn’t and I contracted obstetric fistula,” she says. As a consequence, her husband abandoned and divorced her.

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) executive director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin says that “no society can afford the lost opportunity, waste of talent or personal exploitation that child marriage causes.”

Alphonsine Zara, 35, was married off traditionally at the age 16. She is still suffering from the harsh consequences of her early marriage. Courtesy: United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Alphonsine Zara, 35, was married off traditionally at the age 16. She is still suffering from the harsh consequences of her early marriage. Courtesy: United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)

Child marriage can be challenged

Child marriage is a human rights and public health issue, which cannot be left unchallenged. First and foremost, it is a violation of  human rights instruments, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.

It is therefore an obligation of policy makers on the continent to protect the rights of the girl child that their governments have committed themselves to uphold. This includes putting an end to child marriage.

If the practice of child marriage is to be halted, action is needed at all levels to change harmful social norms and to empower girls. Specifically, governments, civil society, community leaders and families that are serious about ending child marriage should consider promulgating, enforcing and building community support for laws on the minimum age of marriage.

Ending child marriage would not only help protect girls’ rights but would go a long way towards reducing the prevalence of adolescent pregnancy. Zero tolerance of child marriage should be our goal. Enacting laws that ban child marriage is a good first step – but unless laws are enforced and communities support these laws, there will be little impact.

Great efforts yielding promising results are being undertaken across the continent to challenge the status quo of this harmful practice. We have witnessed good practices such as the Schools of Husbands in Niger and the Adolescent Girls Initiatives in many African countries.

In Mozambique, the initiative known as “Girls’ Forum” has provided a platform for girls to improve their decision-making powers; to increase their sense of empowerment; and to build their understanding regarding questions of marriage and sexual and reproductive health.

Education is not only the key to unlocking girls’ potential; but it also contributes to girls delaying marriage across the continent. Studies have established that girls with low levels of education are more likely to be married early, while those with secondary education are up to six times less likely to marry as children.

Compulsory education for all, especially girls, is therefore a key intervention for policy makers to put into practice.

The African Union and the End Child Marriage campaign

The continent has witnessed renewed political commitment to addressing the problem of child marriage by African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. “We must do away with child marriage,” she says. “Girls who end up as brides at a tender age are coerced into having children while they are children themselves.” This commitment is being taken into practice through the launch of a new campaign to end child marriage in Africa.

The overall aims of the campaign are to:

  • end child marriage by supporting policy and action in the protection and promotion of human rights,
  • mobilise continental awareness of child marriage,
  • remove barriers to and bottlenecks in law enforcement,
  • determine the socio-economic impact of child marriage, and
  • increase the capacity of non-state actors to undertake evidence-based policy dialogue  and advocacy.

Joining forces to commit to girls’ achieving their potential

UNFPA believes the AU campaign to end child marriage represents a turning point in the fight to end child marriage in Africa. It is time that we no longer tolerate children becoming brides. The time has come to commit to ensuring our girls are able to achieve their full potential.

The African continent has tolerated child marriage for too long, based on a host of ill-conceived justifications and arguments. But our young girls, who have borne the brunt of this detrimental practice to date, cannot wait to see it banished forever. Child marriage should not be allowed to continue. Not one day longer.

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Villages in Ghana that No Longer Have Child Deaths to Recordhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ghanas-rural-villages-longer-record-child-deaths/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ghanas-rural-villages-longer-record-child-deaths http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ghanas-rural-villages-longer-record-child-deaths/#comments Tue, 29 Apr 2014 13:34:33 +0000 Albert Oppong-Ansah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133937 Community-based volunteer Zainab Abubakar (r) administers the first dose of amodiaqune to one-year-old Inusa as he sits on his mother, Ayishetu Hamdellah. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

Community-based volunteer Zainab Abubakar (r) administers the first dose of amodiaqune to one-year-old Inusa as he sits on his mother, Ayishetu Hamdellah. Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS

By Albert Oppong-Ansah
ZANDUA, Ghana, Apr 29 2014 (IPS)

Zainab Abubakar saves children’s lives. A few years ago she was just an ordinary woman with no medical training living in rural Kpilo in Ghana’s Northern Region. 

Here the nearest medical clinic is a 12-km walk away and serves the 20 to 40 communities within this electoral area. Across Northern Region, less than 10 percent of communities have a local clinic. However, in the region’s capital, Tamale, 19.4 percent of communities have local clinics.

Now, instead of making the long journey to a crowded health centre, mothers bring their sick children to Abubakar. When she sees children with symptoms of sweating, weakness and a high temperature she’s able to differentiate between a case of pneumonia and malaria. She’s also able to correctly treat and provide medication for these illnesses. “Since these CBVs started working in this community the health of children here has improved. We no longer record deaths.” -- chief of Kpilo, Mahama Abdullah

“In a situation like that I bathe the child and then I dissolve one tablet of amodiaquine in a small clean cup and give it to the child to drink,” Abubakar tells IPS.

She then provides the mother with medication. “In order that the medication is administered at the right time, I do a follow-up to ensure that the child is given the drug,” she adds.

Abubakar is one of 16,500 community-based volunteers (CBVs) trained by the Ghana Health Service (GHS) to manage common childhood diseases in their communities which lack access to healthcare facilities. GHS also supplies them with medication to treat these illnesses. While medication is free, most people pay about 20 cents as a token payment for the drug administered.

This rural health initiative, called the Integrated Community Case Management (ICCM), is supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and is funded by the United States Agency for International Development.

Since 2007, volunteers from the four provinces here that have limited healthcare facilities — Northern, Upper East, Upper West and Central Regions — have been trained to reduce the high rate of child mortality. Pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria account for two out of five child mortality cases.

Alhassan Abukari, ICCM assistant project coordinator in GHS’s Northern Regional Health Directorate, says they are unable to provide medical care to most communities due to lack of resources and personnel.

In Ghana’s Northern Region it was harder to provide services, Abukari says, because communities are hard to reach and usually are cut off because of flooding during the rainy season.

“A sizeable number of people in peri-urban communities of the region do not have access to health facilities so these volunteers are really bridging the very wide gap that existed,” he tells IPS.

“We seriously lack personnel; for instance in the case of a community in Saboba district in the Northern Region of Ghana, there is only one community health nurse taking care of 20 communities and she is supposed to visit these communities,” he says. 

The CBVs promote health literacy and behaviour during house-to-house visits. During the visits Abubakar explains the importance of exclusive breastfeeding, sleeping under a mosquito net, and washing one’s hands with soap. She refers all severe or complicated cases to the nearest health facility.

Abubakar and the other volunteers are not paid for their work. But, she says, she feels happy saving lives. She says she is motivated by the fact that every child belongs to the community and it’s her passion to serve the community.

According to UNICEF, community management of childhood pneumonia could result in a 70 percent reduction in under-five mortality.

ICCM believes that malaria can also be reduced through the initiative. It is estimated that malaria-specific under-five mortality can be brought down by 40 to 60 percent, and severe malaria morbidity by 53 percent.

Abukari says that the timely intervention of these volunteers, who serve as “doctors” in their various communities, has helped prevent cases of child deaths.

Ayishetu Hamdellah, a widow and mother of four, from Kpilo says having Abubakar around is a huge assistance. It means she no longer has to walk long distances to get treatment for her one-year-old son, Inusa, who used to contract malaria frequently.

Now, Inusa is able to receive immediate treatment if he gets malaria.

The chief of Kpilo, Mahama Abdullah, tells IPS that initiative is so successful he would like it extended to include treatment for adults as well.

“Since these CBVs started working in this community the health of children here has improved.

“We no longer record deaths.”

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To Tell or Not to Tell? Ugandan Teens Grapple with HIV Disclosurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tell-tell-ugandan-teens-grapple-hiv-disclosure/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tell-tell-ugandan-teens-grapple-hiv-disclosure http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/tell-tell-ugandan-teens-grapple-hiv-disclosure/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 08:07:34 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133502 Many HIV positive teenagers struggle to disclose their status to their sexual partners. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Many HIV positive teenagers struggle to disclose their status to their sexual partners. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

Silence is golden, it is said. But not for Constance Nansamba* from Uganda, who paid a dear price for keeping silent about being HIV positive and pregnant at age 18.  

“I was terrified. I ran away from my brother’s home. I could not follow the PMTCT [prevention of mother-to-child transmission] guidelines, so the baby is HIV positive,” she told IPS.“There are few designated adolescent-friendly outpatient health care facilities, while in-patient paediatric wards care for children up to age 12." -- Dr. Sabrina Kitaka, an adolescent health specialist

Nansamba knew she was born with the virus but, afraid of rejection, she did not tell her boyfriend. “We used a condom, he always complained, we abandoned the condom, I got pregnant.” Although he did not contract HIV from her, they broke up.

Nansamba, now 20, has found the courage to tell her story to help others. She is a member of Uganda Young Positives (UYP), an organisation that offers HIV counselling, testing and treatment adherence advice.

She told IPS that many teenagers born with HIV do not know their status when they start having sex, or they know but don’t tell their sex partners.

A survey by Uganda’s Mildmay Health Centre involving 200 adolescents receiving antiretroviral treatment found that 75 percent were not willing to disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners and 30 percent did not want to have protected sex.

“They simply don’t have information to guide them in negotiating disclosure, dual protection and consistent condom use,” said Nansamba. “I faced the same challenge because I would not discuss issues about sex with my elder brother, who was like my father.”

Nansamba’s parents died when she was a baby and her brother raised her.

HIV among the young

Uganda is a young country; nearly 80 percent of its 34 million people are below the age of 30.

National seroprevalence is 7.2 percent and, worryingly, is slowly rising. Among youth aged 15-24, five percent of women and two percent of men are HIV-positive, according to the Uganda AIDS Indicator Survey 2011.

The United Nations Children’s Fund’s Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS 2013 estimates that Uganda has some 110,000 adolescents aged 10-19 living with HIV, of whom 64,000 are girls and 48,000 boys.

Emmanuel Elwanu was 14 years old when he learned that he had been born HIV positive. Fearing discrimination, he struggled with telling his HIV negative friends. “I had to go through a lot of counselling before I could open up,” he told IPS.

Elwanu was lucky: his school had weekly counselling sessions around HIV and he joined the Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS initiative.

“Many of my HIV positive colleagues out there are going through really difficult times with relationships,” explained the 18-year-old Elwanu. “I think about sex, but it is not my biggest priority.”

Elwanu, whose parents died while he was a child, has decided to abstain from sex until completing his studies.

Polly Nuwagaba, a counsellor with the Naguru Teenage Information and Health Centre in Kampala, told IPS that most adolescents have a problem with disclosure.

“They look healthy, they attract HIV negative partners, and they have sexual desires,” she explained. “Some tell us that when they say they have HIV, those they tell don’t believe it, and they end up having unprotected sex.”

No condoms for teens

Dr. Sabrina Kitaka, an adolescent health specialist at Makerere University’s College of Health and Sciences in Kampala, notes the gap in health services for the youth.

“There are few designated adolescent-friendly outpatient health care facilities, while in-patient paediatric wards care for children up to age 12. So adolescents are typically admitted to adult wards,” said Kitaka.

In 2013, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned that the failure to put in place effective HIV services for youth has resulted in a 50 percent increase in AIDS-related deaths among adolescents globally, compared with the 30 percent decline of such deaths in the general population from 2005 to 2012.

WHO asked governments to review their laws to make it easier for adolescents to obtain HIV testing without parental consent.

But Ugandan health officials are divided on whether teenagers should be offered family planning services and condoms.

Dr. Stephen Watiti, a physician who lives with HIV, observed that the laws and policies surrounding condoms and contraceptives for adolescents in Uganda are unclear and interpreted inconsistently. This makes it difficult for both youth and health staff to understand their options.

Officially, only those 18 and over qualify for family planning services and condom distribution. However, more than half of young women aged 18-24 had had sex before the age of 18, according to the 2011 Uganda Demographic and Health Survey.

“As clinicians, you cannot go to schools and promote condoms or contraceptives. But when you come across a 14-year-old who is sexually active, then you have no option but to teach them how to use condoms,” Watiti told IPS.

At the UYP meeting held in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, in late January, Nansamba told the young audience: “You guys, it is not easy to live with HIV. You will always feel guilty whenever you sleep with someone, but at the same time you have sexual desires that need to be fulfilled.”

Her decision these days is “to abstain [from sex] because I don’t want to put anybody at risk of HIV.”

But for many HIV positive teenagers, abstaining is not an easy option – and neither is disclosing their status or practicing safe sex.

*Name changed to protect identity.

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Zimbabwe’s Positive Children, Negative Newshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwe-positive-children-negative-news/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwe-positive-children-negative-news http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/zimbabwe-positive-children-negative-news/#comments Thu, 03 Apr 2014 07:42:07 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133392 Afraid of losing playmates, children hide their HIV positive status from their peers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Afraid of losing playmates, children hide their HIV positive status from their peers. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Apr 3 2014 (IPS)

Three years ago, Robert Ngwenya* and his father got into a heated argument over medication. Ngwenya, then aged 15, refused to continue swallowing the nausea-provoking pills he had been taking since he was 12 years old, and flushed them down the toilet. 

During the argument, Ngwenya understood he had been born HIV positive, had been taking antiretrovirals (ARV) and not vitamins and anti-allergenics, and that his father too lived with the virus and the guilt of having infected him.

“This is unfair, what did I do to deserve this?” Ngwenya laments.

How to Dance
"Next time you see me walking on the street
Know there's a story that hides in me
Don't look away and pretend that l'm not there
All l want is for someone to care for me

I too have dreams of a better life
That someone will love me as I am
To hold my own child in my arms
And make sure she's safe from harm

What l'd like is some of your affection
Not your pity, just some kind of attention
You think l'm worthless,
You don't even know me
It's not my fault that this
Blood flows through me.

I want you to know that we're just kids
Even though we were born with HIV
Prenatal, virgin contraction
The first of a fighting generation,
We fight against AIDS and discrimination
We're God-made, put there for a reason
It's time to change and now's the reason
Yes, we're special but we're no different

But in the Storm
We've learned how to dance"

Ngwenya lives in the high density suburb of Pumula in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, with his father, a car mechanic, and his younger brother, who is HIV negative. His mother died when Nwengya was 10 and his father never remarried.

Ngwenya’s life was all planned: finish high school, get a degree in information technology, find a job and buy a car. Not any more. After the revelation, he is no longer the same outgoing teenager whose company brought smiles to friends and family.

“How do I tell my friends? How do I start a relationship knowing someone will have to carry my burden?” he asks.

Like Ngwenya’s father, other HIV positive parents, weighed down by guilt, find it hard to tell their children they were infected at birth.

How and who tells a child or teenager that they will live with the virus for the rest of their lives?

Hard choices

Thanks to ARV therapy, increasing numbers of HIV infected children are living to adolescence. In 2012, Zimbabwe had 180,000 children aged 0-15 and 1.2 million people aged 15 and above living with HIV, says the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

“As these children grow and surpass the immediate threat of death, the issue of informing them of their HIV status arises,” says a study on teenagers born with the virus in Zimbabwe.

Disclosing to adolescents is different from telling younger children and requires tailored, age-appropriate guidelines, says the study.

Adolescents aged 16-20 interviewed for the study preferred to be told by health care workers at clinics, with the presence of family.

“Disclosure to this age group in a healthcare setting may help overcome some of the barriers associated with caregivers disclosing in the home environment and make the HIV status seem more credible to an adolescent,” reports the study.

Silence and lies

Zivai Mupambireyi, a researcher with the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Research (CeSHHAR) and co-author of a 2013 study of HIV positive children aged 11-13 in Zimbabwe, told IPS that children prefer to learn about their HIV status at the clinic because they believe health workers give them more and better information than their carers.

Children reported that their carers delayed disclosure, concealed information and lied about the pills.

“Most of these children were looked after by non-biological carers, as their parents were the first generation of AIDS patients and died before ARVs,” Mupambireyi explains.

Whether it is parents overwhelmed by guilt or carers distressed by the enormity of the revelation, telling adolescents they are HIV positive is fraught with pain and ambivalence.

Mupambireyi found that HIV positive children believe that disclosing to peers will expose them to discrimination. Although this often was not the case, fearing a loss of social interaction and friendship, children hide their HIV status.

“Although HIV status disclosure is noble and recommended, children’s concerns and fears around disclosure must be addressed before they are encouraged to disclose,” says Mupambireyi.

Health workers, parents and educators are tongue-tied as to the timing and best method of disclosing HIV status to youth.

Building trust

Definate Nhamo is the coordinator of Shaping the Health of Adolescents in Zimbabwe (SHAZ), a research and intervention project. One offshoot, SHAZ for Positives, reaches more than 700 youth living with HIV in Chitungwiza, a suburb of Harare, the capital.

Nhamo told IPS that the best age to disclose HIV status is probably around nine or 10 years, before puberty, and preferably in the presence of parents, guardians or a counsellor.

“When the child is younger, she is trusting, and will grow up knowing she must take the ARVs religiously,” says Nhamo.

SHAZ for Positives members agree that knowing their status early helps kids accept their condition and learn to be open about it, Nhamo told IPS.

Some adults tell children the ARV pills are for tuberculosis, without realising that children can google it. “Teenagers just stop taking their ARVs and do not tell their parents because they feel they are more informed since they have access to the internet,” observes Nhamo.

A young female participant in the SHAZ study, who did not want to be identified, tells IPS that her mother, distressed at having infected her, never told her the truth. At age 17, the girl took a routine HIV test and tested positive. Since she had never had sex, she confronted her mother and learned that her two siblings were HIV negative but she had been born positive.

“I was angry and frustrated. If my mother had told me earlier, I could have accepted my status better,” she says.

Zvandiri, meaning “what I am” in the Shona language, is a support group that helps adolescents deal with HIV.

In 2013, Zvandiri produced a catchy song and DVD, How to Dance, with cool young people spiritedly belting out their hopes and fears: “I too have dreams of a better life, that someone will love me as I am.”

They sing, “how to dance in the storm”.

* Not his real name

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OP-ED: Europe’s Commitment to Africa’s Children is Still Neededhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-europes-commitment-africas-children-still-needed/#comments Tue, 01 Apr 2014 11:29:26 +0000 Philippe Cori http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133342 UNICEF says in many parts of the African continent children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Pictured here are students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane, Swaziland. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

UNICEF says in many parts of the African continent children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Pictured here are students at Motshane Primary School, Mbabane, Swaziland. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Philippe Cori
BRUSSELS, Apr 1 2014 (IPS)

As African and European leaders meet in Brussels this week under the theme of “Investing in People, Prosperity and Peace”, it is clear Africa’s greatest natural resource, its children, must be centre stage. 

Between 2010 and 2025, the child population of sub-Saharan Africa will rise by 130 million, making it the youngest continent in the world. By 2050, one in every three births and almost one in every three children under 18 will be in Africa.

Yet for this youth dividend to be the driver of Africa’s prosperity, it is critical that all of the continent’s children have the right foundations to be able to participate as well as benefit.

This means equitable access to basic quality social services in health and education, especially early childhood care as well as access to safe water, sanitation, good nutrition and protection from abuse, violence and exploitation.

A lot of the focus is now on how business can be a critical driver in the continent’s transformation.  And there is no doubt that new economic investment is yielding results, stimulating growth and new opportunities.

But it is also clear for Africa to ultimately benefit from these economic investments, it still needs a development focused partnership that builds the foundation of a strong, fair and equitable society for its youngest citizens.

In many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Along with the new investments in infrastructure, the rapid changes in access to mobile technology and an increase in economic growth, the good news is more children are living beyond their fifth birthday, more children are going to school and more children are better equipped for the challenges of the 21st century.

Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says in many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Courtesy: UNICEF

Philippe Cori, director of the United Nations Children’s Fund’s European Union Partnership Office in Brussels, says in many parts of the African continent, life for millions of children is changing for the good. Courtesy: UNICEF

As Europe’s own experience demonstrates, investments in early childhood care, good nutrition, a quality public health system and safety nets to protect the most vulnerable,  are the foundations that lead to stable, inclusive and prosperous societies.

Over the last decades, development assistance from partners like the European Union and its member states has been critical to expanding and improving the quality of basic social services, especially for the poorest and most marginalised children. The success can be measured in concrete results, including a drop in child mortality by 45 percent between 1990 and 2012 and an increase in primary school enrolment among others.

We also know there is much more to be done. At least one in three children under five in Africa are stunted and over half of the world’s out-of-school children live in Africa (33 million).

Preventable disease like pneumonia, malaria and diarrhoea still account for 40 percent of all under five deaths. Hundreds of millions remain without access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Poverty pushes families to migrate, affecting children directly: whether they are left behind, migrating with parents or alone, they are increasingly exposed to vulnerabilities, including child trafficking — its darkest facet.

And we also know that economic growth, trade and business alone cannot translate Africa’s youth dividend into the dynamic asset it could and should be. Investments in human security, strong public institutions and equitable access to basic social services will remain vital to stability and our shared global prosperity.

Europe’s commitment to Africa’s children, especially the poorest, is still needed. Not just because it makes good business sense as it can help make sure there is a financial return on economic investments.

Not just because it will lead to less chances of conflict, insecurity and displacement. Not just because it makes sense for our shared humanity and our shared global future. But ultimately because Europe is and can make a difference by giving every Africa child the opportunity to reach their potential, to determine their own future and write their own story.

Philippe Cori is the director of UNICEF’s EU Partnership Office in Brussels which is managing UNICEF’s relations and partnership with the European Institutions with a view to influence and contribute to EU policies particularly in key areas such as nutrition, health, education, protection, gender, disability, poverty eradication and humanitarian assistance. This partnership aims at mobilising and leveraging quality resources for the realisation of children’s rights everywhere and especially the most disadvantaged.

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Teen Pregnancy Rising in Zimbabwehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/teen-pregnancy-rising-zimbabwe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=teen-pregnancy-rising-zimbabwe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/teen-pregnancy-rising-zimbabwe/#comments Fri, 14 Mar 2014 09:30:13 +0000 Thandeka Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132850 Zimbabwe has seen a significant increase in the number of teen mothers in recent years. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Zimbabwe has seen a significant increase in the number of teen mothers in recent years. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Thandeka Moyo
BULAWAYO, Mar 14 2014 (IPS)

She is only 17, but each morning is a reminder of her losses in life. As Pretty Nyathi* forces herself out of bed, feeds her baby, bundles him on her back and rushes to the market to buy vegetables to sell on the streets of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe she wishes her life were different.

“There is nothing fancy about being a teen mother,” she told IPS. “I wish I could reverse the hands of time and go back to school and be like any other girl.”

Five years ago her mother died and Nyathi went to live with her grandmother, who runs a shebeen (informal bar) in Tsholotsho, 116 kms north-east of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second-largest city.

At age 14, she was raped by a shebeen client. “I tried reaching out to my grandmother but she would threaten to throw me out,” she said.

Soon the grandmother forced the girl into prostitution with clients. “I have lost count of the men I slept with and I did not use protection,” said Nyathi.

In 2012 she ran away to Bulawayo, where she lived in the streets and survived through commercial sex. Two months later she found herself pregnant and was told at the clinic that she was HIV positive. A pastor took her to a shelter, and Nyathi started antiretroviral (ARV) treatment at Mpilo hospital.

“By the grace of the Lord, my baby is HIV negative,” said Nyathi.

She lives with a relative but struggles to follow the ARV treatment and have “a balanced diet that would help me live longer and at least see my daughter go to school.”

Nyathi is one example of the trend of rising teen pregnancies in Zimbabwe.

In 2011, the fertility rate among teenage girls aged 15-19 was 112 births per 1,000 girls, compared to 99 births per 1,000 girls in 2006, according to the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS).

“That is a significant increase,” Stewart Muchapera, communications analyst with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Girls living in the rural areas, like Nyathi, are twice as much affected by teenage pregnancies, at a rate of 144 births per 1,000 girls, compared to 70 births per 1,000 urban girls.

Risky pregnancies

“Puberty is a time of rapid biological change and this stage of development needs to be well managed for young people to pass through it safely,” said Muchapera.

Among the many causes of teenage pregnancy, he mentions the lack of adequate, accurate information on puberty, which leaves young people dependent on uninformed peer sources or unguided internet searches.

Some cultural or religious norms such as child marriage and social issues like intergenerational sex, sexual coercion and transactional sex also contribute to teenage pregnancy, he said.

The ZDHS reports that nine out of ten sexually active women aged 15 to 19 are in some form of a marriage, and that for two out of three girls who first had sex before age 15, sex was forced against their will.

In addition, the political and economic crisis of the last decade has brought widespread poverty and disruption of health and education services. Girls engage in risky transactional sex as a means to food, clothes, school and security.

Simanga Nkomo, a midwife in Bulawayo, told IPS that every year she assists younger mothers, some aged 14 and even younger.

“The increase is worrisome, as most of these teenagers are uninformed about maternal health and they risk succumbing to maternal mortality,” she said.

The risk of maternal death is twice as high for girls aged 15 to 19 than for women in their 20s, and five times higher for girls aged 10 to 14 years.

Sipho Ncube* is another teen mother from Bulawayo. She had good grades in her last year of high school but quit studying when she fell pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy, now seven months old.

“It started as a fling and one thing led to another until I discovered I was pregnant. I had knowledge of contraceptives but for some reason I did not use any,” she told IPS.

Ncube and her baby are HIV negative.  But it could easily have been otherwise: national seroprevalence is nearly 15 percent among adults aged 15-49.

Some 120,000 young Zimbabweans aged 15-19 contracted HIV in 2012, and 63.000 of these were girls, estimates the United Nations Children’s Fund.

Ncube’s parents, who work in South Africa, visit three times a year and send a little money. She looks after her siblings, aged 13 and seven, in a two-room rented house in Mpopoma, a high-density suburb. The baby’s father is working in Victoria Falls and helps financially whenever he can.

“I regret everything but I have to live with the silly choices I made,”  Ncube told IPS. “I wish to go back to school and be able to fend for the baby.”

* Names withheld to protect privacy

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