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IN THE NEWS - Why Child Abuse by Peacekeepers, Aid Workers Often Goes Unreported

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Amnesty International, in its yearly report, marks the sixtieth anniversary this

Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima, right, and the British Embassy's Chris Wright, observe the worldwide launch of the 2008 annual report of Amnesty International in Manila
Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima, right, and the British Embassy's Chris Wright, observe the worldwide launch of the 2008 annual report of Amnesty International in Manila

December of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The group says that sixty years after the U.N. declaration, people are still tortured or mistreated in at least eighty-one countries. At least fifty-four countries hold unfair trials. And, it says, at least seventy-seven countries do not let people speak freely.

Amnesty International says the most powerful countries must lead by example. It says China must honor the human rights promises it made around the Beijing Summer Olympics. The group called on China to permit free speech and freedom of the press and to end the use of "re-education through labor."

It says the United States must close its Guantanamo detention camp and secret detention centers, and give detainees fair trials or release them.

Another demand is that Russia show greater acceptance of political dissent, and no acceptance of human rights abuses in Chechnya.

Amnesty noted an increase in big demonstrations around the world, saying it signals a growing demand for justice and equality.

A woman refugee and a child stand near a United Nations peacekeeping police patrol in the Abou Shouk refugee camp in North Darfur, Sudan
A woman refugee and a child stand near a United Nations peacekeeping police patrol in the Abou Shouk refugee camp in North Darfur, Sudan

A separate report this week dealt with sexual abuse of children by aid workers and United Nations peacekeepers. A study by Save the Children, a British charity, showed that children affected by conflict or natural disaster rarely report abuse. They fear that the abuser might come back and hurt them, or that they might lose their aid, or even that their families might punish them.

Save the Children spoke with more than two hundred girls and boys in southern Sudan, Ivory Coast and Haiti. The group says peacekeepers and aid workers traded sex for food, money, soap and, in some cases, mobile phones. Children as young as six were abused.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the issue very serious. He says the cases will be carefully investigated and that his policy is "zero tolerance" for abuse.

The United Nations cannot punish peacekeepers for crimes; it can only send them back to their own countries to be tried.

The charity says the United Nations and other agencies have taken some action but not enough to solve the problem quickly. The report says Save the Children itself dismissed three workers in the past year for sex with seventeen-year-old girls.

Save the Children wants the U.N. to establish local reporting systems and create an agency to supervise international efforts to stop abuse.

Child soldiers in Burma
Child soldiers in Burma

And, finally, there was this report last week from the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers: The number of armed conflicts involving children decreased in the last three years, from twenty-seven to seventeen. Progress came as some conflicts in Africa and elsewhere ended.

But tens of thousands of children remain in armed groups in at least twenty-four countries or territories. The report says Burma, also known as Myanmar, remained the worst government offender.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.

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