UNICEF Urges Better Protection of Children in Middle East and North Africa

NEW YORK–(ENEWSPF)–20 April 2011 – Ongoing violence in the Middle East and North Africa, from Libya and Yemen to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory, is taking a heavy toll on the lives of young people, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today, urging all parties to do more to ensure the protection of children in the region.

“UNICEF urges all parties to meet their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and international humanitarian law, and to take all necessary steps to protect children from the direct and indirect effects of violence,” Executive Director Anthony Lake said in a statement.

The agency noted that even before the violence began, many children in the region faced multiple challenges to their health and well-being.

They are now at even greater risk as what started out as protests demanding greater freedoms and democratic reforms have turned into fierce battles in some countries between the governments and opposition groups.

“We continue to condemn the targeting of civilians by armed groups, and call on all parties to provide humanitarian aid workers with immediate access to all areas and children in need,” said Mr. Lake.

He noted that in Libya, the ongoing conflict has claimed children’s lives and deprived many more of their basic needs. In Misrata alone, at least 20 children have been killed and countless others injured. Reports of the use of cluster munitions are particularly alarming, he said.

Meanwhile, at least 26 children have been killed and more than 800 injured or exposed to tear gas since early February in Yemen, while in Syria, reports indicate that nine children were killed and many injured over the last few weeks. Bahrain has also seen many demonstrators killed or injured, including young students.

Children continue to suffer amid the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Mr. Lake pointed out. In southern Israel, rocket attacks from Gaza continue to affect children, and this week, a 16-year-old Israeli boy died from injuries after a rocket hit a school bus.

In the occupied Palestinian territory, more than eight children have been killed and at least 48 injured both by Israeli security forces and by Palestinian armed groups since the start of the year.