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 Thursday 11 June 2009
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AFRICA: Who is taking care of the children?

Photo: Kate Thomas/IRIN
In Liberia, 50 percent of teenage girls interviewed had been pregnant
DAKAR, 5 December 2008 (PlusNews) - Armed conflicts and political instability in West Africa have left many children vulnerable to HIV infection and suffering from psychological distress, but little attention is paid to their needs.

Delegates attending the International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa (ICASA), in Dakar, Senegal, heard on Thursday that in West Africa, where many children are trafficked, exploited for labour and forced to become soldiers, governments and child protection agencies were struggling to address the severe psycho-social harm that the children had suffered.

According to a study conducted by Plan International, a child-centred development agency, and AWARE-HIV/AIDS, a USAID-funded HIV education project, more than 25 percent of all interviewed children in Sierra Leone and Liberia admitted that they had recently tried to kill themselves. Among war orphans, the numbers were even more startling - up to 65 percent.

More than 1,000 children participated in the study that covered issues including child trafficking in Togo and the affects of war on children in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

Although a high number of organisations are offering psychosocial support in these countries, very few have the capacity to work with vulnerable children, said Alice Behrendt, project manager at Plan West Africa. The region also has growing numbers of children at high risk of HIV who are not being reached by existing AIDS efforts.

Behrendt said the study had found "extremely high" rates of transactional sex among young girls in post-conflict countries such as Sierra Leone and Liberia.

In Liberia, for example, almost 50 percent of the teenage girls interviewed had already been pregnant but were not in a stable relationship. Girls in Liberia and Sierra Leone were also more likely to suffer from severe gynaecological complications caused by illegal abortions, while trafficked girls in Togo showed also high levels of HIV vulnerability.

"These children are falling through the net ... they don't have access to social support systems because they don't have 'sexy' labels such as children orphaned by AIDS," said Behrendt.

The study found alarmingly high rates of domestic violence in West Africa - more than 80 percent of the interviewed children had experienced physical abuse, verbal violence and neglect.

Exposure to domestic violence contributed to high suicide rates as well as risky behaviour like running away from home and engaging in transactional sex.

Behrendt warned delegates that the high number of children in the region who had been made vulnerable to HIV due to abuse and trauma could no longer be ignored.

See also:
Winning the Peace: The challenge of AIDS in post-war countries

Theme(s): (PLUSNEWS) Care/Treatment - PlusNews, (PLUSNEWS) Children, (PLUSNEWS) Conflict, (PLUSNEWS) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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