Africa

Tigray crisis enters sixth month with no clear end in sight amid ‘serious and continuing violations of children’s rights’

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Tigray crisis enters sixth month with no clear end in sight amid ‘serious and continuing violations of children’s rights’

This is a summary of what was said by UNICEF spokesperson James Elder – to whom the quoted text can be attributed – at today’s press conference at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

“The crisis in Tigray has entered its sixth month with no obvious end in sight.

“More than a million people have been displaced and the fighting continues. Access and security remain serious issues.

“We have been very concerned from the start about the damage this crisis will cause to children. These fears are coming true now.

“This is a protection crisis. What emerges is a disturbing picture of serious and continuing violations of children’s rights.

“This is also an education and nutrition emergency, and I have seen massive destruction of essential systems and services on which children depend.

Education

“The children of Tigray have been affected by COVID-19 and then the conflict. This means that 1.4 million children have not been in school for more than a full year (since March 2020). Yes, not a school day in 13 months.

“I met a 16-year-old girl, Merhawit, who fled the fighting in western Tigray, and I walked – with her little brother on her back – 300 km. Yes, she walked 300 km with broken flip-flops. Before the conflict, she was top of her class in physics, she was now foraging for food and had not seen a classroom for over a year.

“The decision to reopen schools, however, is contingent (1) on safety; (2) rehabilitation works – the Ministry of Education estimates that up to 25% of schools have been damaged; and (3) the reopening of schools necessitates the displacement of the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons who are currently taking refuge in the school premises.

The water

“A recent assessment in 13 cities by UNICEF and its partners revealed that more than half of the boreholes were not working. These were advanced systems – with generators and electrical circuits – and most were damaged and looted.

“I saw an example of this destruction in a health clinic 100 km from Mekelle. It had a brand new operating room dedicated to emergency cesarean sections for mothers and emergency surgery – which opened in 2020, with the support of Rotary in Belgium. Everything – X-ray machines, oxygen and patient mattresses are gone. Operating beds and baby incubators were broken and overturned. A doctor told me “He provided all the services a mother and baby needed. It was a place that saves lives. There was no reason for the forces to come here. They came here for vandalism and looting.

“According to assessments, violence and looting have left the majority of health facilities in the region not functioning.

“Sanitation The situation is another matter of serious concern. Conditions at many displacement sites are poor. They are overcrowded, unsanitary and dangerous. As such, they magnify the risks of child exploitation and prevent people from practicing COVID-19 prevention measures.

“From a health point of view, the presence of a large number of displaced people is a time bomb, especially as the rainy season approaches – it’s next month – where there will be a serious risk. cholera and other water-borne diseases.

Protection and gender-based violence

“The personal statements I received from children who had been raped or the testimonies of women victims of sexual violence were heartbreaking.

“You all know that the President of Ethiopia, the Minister for Women, Children and Youth, the directors of the IASC and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) have spoken out against multiple cases of rape and sexual violence.

“I have heard traumatic stories from survivors, one of whom was only 14 years old. I have heard reports of gang rapes. The level of cruelty described in these attacks was mind-boggling.

“This year, from January 1 to April 16, a single UNICEF-supported center received an average of three GBV case reports per day.

Nutrition

“The fighting broke out like people should have harvested.

“It’s their income for a year. Many have also had their livestock stolen. They lost access to fertilizers and vaccines for their livestock.

“And now they should crash. But more than a million people are displaced and therefore cannot access their land.

“As such, we are witnessing a spike in malnutrition in an area that had already seen a sharp year-over-year increase in the number of malnourished children requiring life-saving treatment prior to this crisis.

“In response, since November last year, UNICEF has provided emergency supplies, including medicine kits, nutrition supplies, cardboard school kits and early childhood development kits.

“In WASH, UNICEF is leading efforts to rehabilitate damaged water systems, truck water supply and hygiene supplies. As a result of these efforts, more than 640,000 people have received safe water for their personal use.

“Our priority in the education sector is the reopening of schools while simultaneously working with implementing partners to create temporary learning spaces for refugees, IDPs and host communities.

“We have helped our partners launch 22 mobile health and nutrition teams reaching tens of thousands of children and women in ten of the most needy regions. They distribute medicine kits and support emergency health care and nutrition. They manage six. days a week and use the seventh day to restock.

“But again, even for these courageous, frontline mobile health and nutrition teams, safety remains an issue. I spoke with a team leader who explained how his team had their ambulance stolen and had to walk three days to return to their health center.

“And just before this briefing, UNICEF received credible reports of at least 16 incidents that impacted the activities of these mobile health and nutrition teams… in the past two weeks alone.

“Nine have been reported in the Eastern Region where health workers have had to leave due to the fighting and the direct threat from the armed forces.

“Staff have been denied access to program sites and in some cases have been threatened with death. In three locations, the teams were forcibly transferred to other locations.

“Survivors of sexual assault received medical assistance, psychosocial support and dignity kits at a center supported by UNICEF. We are also helping our partners to deploy more than 160 social workers to provide child protection case management for vulnerable children, including unaccompanied children. and separated children; and psychosocial support in the camps for displaced people and refugees in Tigray and in the woredas in Afar and Amhara.

“UNICEF Ethiopia’s appeal for Tigray is $ 47.6 million. More than half is unfunded.”

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