Report: Darfur Children Endure 'Unspeakable Acts of Violence'

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Children in Darfur are enduring "unspeakable acts of violence and abuse" from killing and rape to abduction, torture and recruitment as fighters in the escalating four-year conflict in Sudan's vast western region, a report said.

The Watchlist on Children and Armed Conflict report released Wednesday accused the Sudanese government of "apparent deliberate efforts ... to suppress information and prevent agencies from collecting and disseminating details on attacks against children and their protection needs, particularly in Darfur" and eastern Sudan.

The report said humanitarian agencies have documented cases of armed groups shooting, mutilating and torturing children, abducting and gang-raping girls and recruiting and using youngsters as combatants.

While the Sudanese armed forces continue to deny the presence of children in their units, the Watchlist said representatives acknowledge that children from other armed groups have recently been incorporated into the government's military forces.

Reports indicate that most armed groups in Sudan, including government-backed Arab militias known as the janjaweed and the two largest rebel groups in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army, "recruit and use children."

In addition to killings and maimings by armed groups, it said, "Sudanese girls have been trafficked within and out of Sudan to serve as commercial sexual workers while others have been trafficked to work as domestic servants."

Kathleen Hunt, who chairs The Watchlist steering committee, said the report documents "dozens of continued and pervasive violations against children by all armed forces and groups operating in Sudan and urges that immediate action be taken to protect Sudanese children."

The report, entitled Sudan's Children at a Crossroads, "confirms that children in Sudan continue to endure some of the most inhumane treatment found anywhere in the world," Hunt said.

Despite the January 2005 peace agreement that ended a 21-year civil war between Sudan's mostly Muslim north and the Christian and animist south, and recent signs of a possible strengthening of the African Union peacekeeping force in Darfur, "Sudanese children are not faring any better than they were four years ago," Hunt said.

That's when the Watchlist published its first comprehensive report on Sudan and when ethnically African rebels in Darfur rose up against the Arab dominated central government. Since then, more than 200,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million made refugees.

While children in the south are enjoying increased protection and access to services, those in Darfur and other areas of Sudan are enduring unspeakable acts of violence and abuse," the report said.

But the report said "southern Sudan continues to have the lowest school enrollment rates in the world at an estimated 25 percent for children." Darfur's few schools and education facilities face widespread shortages of teachers and textbooks, and "schools, students and teachers in Darfur have been attacked by various groups," it said.

The Watchlist steering committee includes Care International, the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, Norwegian Refugee Council, International Save the Children Alliance, Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, and World Vision Canada.