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Haiti: President’s vow to take young off streets

Haiti: UNICEF hails president’s vow to take young off streets, put them in school

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has pledged to mobilize international support for Haitian President-elect René Préval’s declared intention to put children at the top of his political agenda for the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

“Haiti's children deserve the uttermost attention from this new government,” UNICEF Representative in Haiti Adriano Gonzalez-Regueral said. “President Préval's comments show a positive stand for changing Haiti's future.”

UNICEF will work with Mr. Préval and his new government to help mobilize much needed international support, as well as human and financial resources, he added. The agency will continuously monitor the situation of Haiti's children, and propose technical assistance to help effectively implement public policies and programmes.

“We have thousands of children living on the streets, or involved with armed gangs,” Mr. Gonzalez-Regueral said. “More than 173,000 Haitian children are domestic workers, while 3,000 have been trafficked into the neighbouring Dominican Republic. On top of that the AIDS pandemic has cost 200,000 children one or both of their parents.

“President Préval's stated intention to remove weapons from children and replace them with books and pens opens a historical opportunity that we must seize,” he added.

Haiti has been plagued by political violence since the country's independence in 1804, most recently when an insurgency forced elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to go into exile in February 2004 and led to the establishment of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) to help re-establish peace in the impoverished Caribbean country. The mission helped organize this month’s elections won by Mr. Préval.

In many parts of Port-au-Prince, the capital, children are often recruited by armed gangs to be used as messengers, drug dealers and even killers. In the neighbourhood of Cité Soleil, poverty and violence leave about 70 per cent of school-aged children out of school. Often they have to join a gang just to survive.

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