Posted to the web April 19, 2007

Mithre J. Sandrasagra
United Nations

The protection and well-being of children in Sudan are at a critical juncture, according to a report released Wednesday by Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict, a global network of non-governmental organisations.
Despite the 2005 peace agreement that ended 21 years of civil conflict between the government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, Darfur remains host to one of the largest humanitarian operations in the world: 92 NGOs and Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and 14 UN agencies maintain a presence there.

According to the report, "Sudan's Children at a Crossroads: An Urgent Need for Protection", Sudanese government restrictions, deteriorating security, poor roads, and limited staffing and funding have prevented aid agencies from reaching children and other vulnerable populations in the western region Darfur.

"Children in Darfur face appalling levels of violence and abuse," said Watchlist chairwoman Kathleen Hunt at the report's launch. "With little hope and resources, these children can become the source of future violence."

In Southern Sudan, meanwhile, according to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), girls born there are now more likely to die in childbirth than attend school.

"Many teachers continue to teach every day without pay," said Jenny Perlman Robinson, of the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, a partner of the New York-based Watchlist.

"Some children walk two hours back and forth to school without breakfast or lunch," added Robinson, who has worked on the ground in Sudan.

The new report details violations against children in each of the six major categories of children's rights abuses identified by the landmark 2005 U.N. Security Council Resolution 1612, which implements a monitoring and reporting mechanism regarding the use of child soldiers.

Violations in Sudan include killing and maiming, rape and other forms of sexual violence, abduction, denial of humanitarian assistance, attacks on schools and hospitals, and recruitment and use of children by armed forces and groups. In addition, the report outlines various other violations that continue to be committed against children and their families, such as forced labour, displacement and trafficking.

U.S. President George W. Bush, comparing the violence in Darfur to the Holocaust, threatened to tighten U.S. economic sanctions on Sudan by barring 29 Sudanese companies from the U.S. financial system and expanding an arms sales embargo.

Washington has also been pushing for UN Security Council sanctions against Sudan.

Asked whether the UN should consider sanctions, Watchlist director Julia Freedson told IPS, "The use and recruitment of child soldiers should be the first area that the Security Council considers when making a decision on whether or not to impose sanctions."

"This has already occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where the Security Council has now listed an end to the use and recruitment of child soldiers as one of the prerequisites for removing sanctions," Freedson said.

Members of the Security Council are divided on imposing sanctions against Sudan.

The United States and Britain, alongside France, Ghana, Italy and Panama, support sanctions. China, Russia, South Africa, Qatar and Indonesia are reluctant to support sanctions.

Of note is that China and Qatar have huge oil exploration concessions in Sudan. In fact, China is the largest purchaser of Sudanese oil. China and Russia are also Khartoum's biggest sources for weapons imports.

Asked whether she has seen a Chinese NGO presence among the 92 humanitarian organisations active in Darfur, Robinson told IPS, "I haven't noticed any."

The Watchlist report highlights that "key trading partners and allies of Sudan, notably the People's Republic of China and members of the League of Arab States, should use all available means to ensure that the Government of National Unity upholds its commitments and obligations outlined in Security Council resolutions."

One of the key international tools to improve protection for children is the Resolution 1612's Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM), which feeds timely information on violations to the Security Council and other UN agencies.

"The goal of the MRM is not simply to track trends and identify areas where action is needed, but to prevent violations of the rights of children and end impunity for those who perpetrate violence and abuse," said Canada's High Commissioner to Kenya, Ross Hynes.

However, restrictive government policies and administrative procedures have hindered access to information from Darfur, the east and other volatile regions in Sudan, according to the report.

"Information about abuses against Sudanese children is increasingly difficult to obtain," said Watchlist's Sarah Spencer.

"The deteriorating security situation in Darfur and the unstable situation in the east have prevented many humanitarian actors from accessing severely vulnerable populations, documenting abuses and providing services," she added.

Robinson told IPS: "Organisations working in Darfur are very scared."

"They are concerned that sharing information will trigger retributive attacks against their staff and operations or beneficiaries," she continued. "The Government of National Unity must ensure humanitarian agencies unrestricted and secure access."

The Watchlist report notes as a high priority that the Government of National Unity must allow humanitarian access to affected populations.

Furthermore, "Genuine and sustained commitments by the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan to protect and assist children are crucial," Hunt said.

"Generations of children in Sudan have suffered the effects of violent, protracted armed conflict. We must seize this opportunity to guarantee them a safe and healthy future," she said.

Southern Sudan still lacks an adequate health infrastructure and qualified health personnel, with only one primary healthcare centre for every 79,500 people, according to the UN

"The Security Council and other international actors should not only remain seized of the issue of Sudan but must ensure that the protection of children is placed at the forefront of all efforts to bring peace and stability to Sudan," according to Hunt.

"Though the situation in Darfur has received widespread public attention, it has done little to improve the protection of children there. Education cannot wait until the fighting is over," she stressed.

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