July 13, 2007 / 2:28 PM / 13 years ago

More child rape cases reported in Burundi-UNICEF

GENEVA, July 13 (Reuters) - More and more children in Burundi have reported being raped or sexually abused by men in uniform, in a climate of impunity from prosecution, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said on Friday.

Bintou Keita, UNICEF representative in Burundi, said the Bujumbura government needed help to reform its justice system as the central African country emerges from civil war.

"We have more and more reporting of cases of rape by people in uniforms against children," Keita told a news briefing.

Fifty people, one-third of them children, had reported being raped or sexually assaulted in Gitega and Muyinga provinces during her visit in May, according to the envoy. None of the five cases which were prosecuted had resulted in a conviction.

"It gives a general sense of a kind of impunity which is not really conducive to a good and protective environment for children," Keita said. "Something very serious has to be done in helping the country deal with reforming the justice system and rule of law in Burundi."

Burundi has been relatively stable since elections in 2005, which were part of a U.N.-backed peace deal that ended the latest civil war — a 12-year conflict that killed an estimated 300,000 people.

Keita said it was important that children share the "peace dividend" through better access to basic social services. "If children and women are not protected, what kind of peace is that?" she asked.

Some 210,000 children have been orphaned by Burundi’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, which has slashed life expectancy to under 44 years. It also has high rates of infant and maternal mortality and 50 percent of children have chronic malnutrition.

UNICEF, which is working to improve the health and welfare of children in the country, has demobilised 3,000 child soldiers, helping them to reintegrate into their communities.

Keita said the U.N. agency was ready to demobilise up to 400 children who are believed to be deployed by Burundi’s last rebel group, Forces for National Liberation, which is negotiating a peace deal with the government.

UNICEF needs $8 million towards its budget of $15 million for Burundi this year, she said.

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