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Women and Children Hidden Victims in Mali Conflict

On 19th of January, the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS) will meet in Ivory Coast’s economic capital Abidjan for a summit on the conflict in Mali. On the eve of this meeting, Plan International, a global child rights organization, is urging for decision makers to improve preparedness and response to protect women and children, the most vulnerable during times of crisis and disaster.

“We urge all governments, donors, and humanitarian agencies to put the protection of children and women at the top of their list in this conflict. We must protect and care for the next generation so that they are able to live productive lives not only for their own sake, but also for the future stability and prosperity of the region,” said Berenger Berehoudougou, Regional Disaster Risk Manager for Plan International in West Africa.

“Any event that disrupts a child's ability to cope emotionally can very seriously impact their psychological development. For a child to feel threatened in a place which had hitherto been considered safe, raises feelings of vulnerability and despair. When homes and schools are damaged, children conclude that they are not safe anywhere and their parents cannot protect them,” he added.

Plan is urging governments to put more funding and support into child protection in Mali and the countries where refugees are seeking shelter. Children living in camps or as displaced persons lack access to fundamental rights like education, health, and protection and they often fall victims of abuse or neglect.

Plan has been working to protect and care for affected women and children in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger with programs that not only meet basic needs including shelter, food and water, but also provide for their emotional well-being and coping abilities, education, and support to regain financial stability through training in new livelihoods.

“The ECOWAS Summit should focus on the protection of children across the Sahel and ensure there are the resources to do so. Allow them to be children in a safe place, help them to cope with their new surroundings, and keep families together as conflict often pulls them apart. We hope that all parties involved in the conflict will do everything possible to ensure the safety of children and women,” concluded Michelet William, Country Director for Plan International in Mali.

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