Burundi street children caught up in clashes

Children traumatised from hearing gunshots and tear gas on daily basis find temporary reprieve at activity centre.

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    Homeless children in Burundi's capital have been caught up in often violent clashes during protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office.

    As the near one-month protests drag on, finding food is becoming increasingly difficult for street children, who also face harassment from security forces.

    "During protests we hide in drains along the road. Until the shooting stops we can't go out and look for food. Sometimes the police find us and beat us," Pierre, a homeless child in Bujumbura, told Al Jazeera.

    There they have increased harassment from security forces. This is a situation that has to stop.

    Johannes Wedenig, UNICEF

    Like Pierre, some street children find temporary reprieve and free food at the Kabondo Football For Hope Centre in the capital. The centre receives about 100 children a day.

    It was set up by FIFA as part of its community involvement as the 2010 World Cup was held in South Africa. The centre is now run by the Giriyuj NGO with the support of UNICEF and the government.

    UNICEF says many children come there exhausted and traumatised from hearing gunshots and tear gas on a daily basis.

    "Unfortunately the children still have to go back into the street at night. There they have increased harassment from security forces. This is a situation that has to stop," UNICEF representative Johannes Wedenig told Al Jazeera.

    "The protection of the rights of children in a situation in a crisis is exactly the same as in non-crisis times. Everyone is responsible."

    It is not just children living on the streets who are vulnerable. Parents have been asked to keep their children at home and away from the protests.

    Some demonstrators think the police will not fire at them if children are in the crowd.

    "Children are being used as human shields," Mohammed Bukari, a government-appointed ombudsman, told Al Jazeera. "But when there is violence, tyres burning and protesters blocking roads, police use tear gas to disperse them. Children are often in danger."

    Government officials say up to 130 children have spent a few nights in police cells since the current crisis began last month after Nkurunziza's announced his decision to run for office again.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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