Children suffering in Zimbabwe – UN

More than 10,000 children have been displaced by election violence in Zimbabwe, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), reports the UN Regional Integrated News Network.

In a statement UNICEF said that it “strongly denounced the political violence that has displaced at least 10,000 children in Zimbabwe, and that is affecting the continued delivery of humanitarian relief to children and their families in parts of the country.”

Since the elections on 29 March, in which the ZANU-PF party lost control of parliament for the first time since independence from Britain in 1980, and the incumbent president, Robert Mugabe, narrowly avoided being eliminated in the presidential vote, there have been widespread reports of violence, allegedly committed mainly by government security forces, veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war, and the ZANU-PF youth militia.

Various reports put the number of people killed in politically motivated violence since the 29 March poll at more than 50.

A run-off presidential ballot between Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, is scheduled for 27 June.

A Zimbabwean-based humanitarian worker, who declined to be named, said he had seen many children, some as young as 8 years old, tortured by burning, allegedly by militia loyal to Mugabe’s ruling party. The humanitarian worker told IRIN the “branding” was both in retribution for ZANU-PF losing the parliamentary poll, and intimidation tactics used against their parents ahead of the run-off vote.

“Zimbabwe’s politically motivated violence has resulted in the destruction of hundreds of people’s homes, thousands of children not returning to school after the 29 April restart of classes, and scores of children beaten. It has seen children turned away from schools and, in some cases, schools used as centres of torture,” UNICEF said.

In neighbouring South Africa – where between one and three million Zimbabweans are living, having escaped Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown and political violence – they have been caught up in more than two weeks of violent xenophobic attacks that have killed at least 56 foreign nationals.

“Today, many who fled violence and economic turmoil in their own country, and have sought refuge in South Africa, now find themselves under attack,” said UNICEF’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Per Engebak.

“As always, it is children who are caught in the middle of this – those frightened and now homeless in South Africa, or the thousands in Zimbabwe who have seen their homes burnt and parents beaten; others who have been beaten themselves – this cannot continue.”

UNICEF said it was concerned about its ability to keep programmes running because of violence and restrictions. “It is vital that our UNICEF programme in Zimbabwe continues to reach all the children who require assistance,” Engebak said.
“Presently this is not the case, and it is exacerbated by the fact that so many have been forced into hiding with their parents, away from the education and health care that is their right.” Hundreds of thousands of the most vulnerable children and orphans depend on the organisation.

According to UNICEF, one in four Zimbabwean children was orphaned and although 90 percent were absorbed into extended family systems, those families were suffering unbearable stress, as inflation has risen beyond 350,000 percent and, according to unofficial estimates, as high as one million percent.

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