Earlier this month, I posted an entry on this blog about girls in Darfur being sexually assaulted when they collect firewood in the wilderness. One of our readers left a question that may have crossed many people’s minds: “How about letting the MEN collect the firewood?!”
When I first researched this subject, I also wondered why girls in Darfur were left to do this risky chore in secluded areas while boys stayed behind at camp. But I later learned that boys in war-torn countries also suffer horrible abuse, violence and exploitation.
In Darfur, when militias raid villages, they sometimes immediately execute the boys along with the men. In times of war, many fighting groups see young men and boys as threats or as potential soldiers, so boys are either killed or kidnapped and forced to serve in militias.
Not long ago, my very curious niece asked me to explain UNICEF’s work. I told her about child survival issues, about how, in certain parts of the world, kids get sick and even die from things that she will never have to worry about: they don’t have clean water, don’t get enough to eat, come down with pneumonia
“Pneumonia!” she said. “Isn’t that what old people get when they go outside in winter without a coat?” She’s not alone in imagining pneumonia as an elderly man in a wheelchair, coughing quietly from the dim corner of a nursing home. Would you be as shocked as she was to learn that pneumonia is the number one killer of children under five? That more children die from pneumonia than from AIDS, malaria and measles combined?
UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken recently returned from Somalia, where UNICEF provides children in the war-torn nation with health care, education, nutrition, clean water and sanitation. This is the second in a series of blog posts he will write about his experience in the field.
For children in Somalia, the situation is dire. But, it’s just amazing to me that UNICEF is still able to make a difference in children’s lives in one of the most dangerous places on earth.