Home | Press Releases    Thursday 15 December 2005

Too many Sudanese children out of sight and out of Mind - UNICEF

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UNICEF

Press Release
Thousands of Girls Undergo Female Genital Cutting Each Year but Practice Remains Virtually Invisible

Dec 14, 2005 (KHARTOUM) — Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese children suffer from exclusion, UNICEF said today as its major annual report was launched globally. The report, State of the World’s Children 2006, explores the causes of exclusion that keeps millions of children invisible to the world.

The report, which is issued every year in December, comes at an important time for Sudan, said UNICEF Representative Ted Chaiban. Chaiban welcomed the report, saying it contributes to visibility for children who otherwise would remain invisible to government and to society. For example, he said, attention is now being focused on the practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C). Last week’s death in Khartoum state of a 4-year-old girl, Ena’am Abdel Wahab, due to female genital cutting, prompted an outpouring of meetings and rallies aimed at ending the practice. FGM/C is believed by many to ensure a girl’s or woman’s status, marriageability, chastity and family honour. This deeply entrenched social and cultural tradition is so powerful that even when families are aware of the harm it can bring, they are willing to have their daughters cut.

“The case of Ena’am is tragic, but it brings this harmful tradition into the public eye,” Chaiban said. “Thousands of Sudanese girls and women undergo female genital cutting every year but have remained invisible. UNICEF calls upon government, religious leaders, health practitioners and parents to end this practice once and for all.”

Another example of the dangers of exclusion is the one-year-old boy in Rumbek who died a year ago, almost certainly of AIDS, transmitted to him during pregnancy or birth or breast feeding by his HIV-positive mother. That death could have been avoided if the full package of antenatal services, including anti-retroviral treatment, had been available.

At the same time, efforts are being made to ensure children have access to services and are covered by a protective framework. Thousands of nomadic children, who for generations were largely hidden from the public education system, are now attending school. In Sheikan locality, a few kilometres from North Kordofan’s capital city of El Obeid, 15-year-old Alawiyia attended school for four years. “At the end of the grade four, I had to leave school,” she said recently. “I am now staying home, helping my family, fetching water, and collecting firewood every day. But I want to continue my education. I learned so many things at school, and I can learn more.” Further south, 12-year-old Sarah walks two hours to attend school in Rumbek, one of the few children to go to school in a region with enrolment rates amongst the world’s lowest.

UNICEF’s Chaiban said that boys and girls like Alawiyia and Sarah should benefit from the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Overlooked during the long civil war, excluded children throughout the country should have access to health services, safe water and sanitation and education. He noted that the State of the World’s Children 2006 says the poorest 20 percent of Sudanese children are 50 percent less likely to be vaccinated against killer childhood diseases than children from middle and upper class families. “But government at local, state and federal levels, UNICEF, WHO and other agencies are working to ensure that immunization services reach all children,” he stated. UNICEF is planning a renewed emphasis on immunization against measles, which kills as many as 30,000 children every year in Sudan. In Darfur, focused vaccination efforts on measles by the humanitarian community and state governments have prevented a major outbreak of this deadly disease, while in Southern Sudan over the next 18 months, about 4.5 million children will be reached with a single injection that, in almost all cases, will protect them for life from measles.

Chaiban declared, “Reaching the unreached, excluded children - from El Geneina to Torit to Kassala - is an imperative. They deserve to be seen. They deserve to have their rights fulfilled.”

For further information and interviews please contact:
- Paula Claycomb, UNICEF-Khartoum, 249-912-309410, pclaycomb@unicef.org
- Roshan Khadivi, UNICEF-Khartoum, 249-912-177291, rkhadivi@unicef.org
- Bismarck Swangin, UNICEF-Juba, Thuraya 882 164 333 9905, bswangin@unicef.org

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The Sudan Tribune editorial team.

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