Those children who survive childbirth are presented to their family's six days later in a ceremony known as "Ujusohor" and when a year old, due to high infant mortality rates, they are named usually by their paternal grandfather in the "Kuvamukiriri" ceremony when they are given their tribal name as well as a proper name and often a few nicknames. In a country where children are highly valued the recent history of the country has seriously impaired those children's futures. Few children go to school, particularly those of an age for secondary education where figures are as low as 8% in some areas due to a lack of qualified teachers and adequate supplies. (283,000 primary school aged children are also are not enrolled in school.)
Poverty and malnutrition are also rife with 53% of all Burundi children suffering from stunted growth as a result of a poor or inadequate diet. This is partly because the staple diet for children in Burundi consists of fruit and vegetables together with beans, corn and millet. Children's diets in general consist of less than 2% meat resulting in protein deficiency although those children living around Lake Tanganyika have fish as a major part of their diet. 11% of all children in Burundi die at birth, with 19% dying before their fifth birthday, one of the highest child mortality rates in the world. This is mainly due to malaria, diarrhoea, and pneumonia not least because of a lack of access to safe water and sanitation. Many who are born alive are already infected with HIV/AIDS. Burundi is home to 3,733,000 children, 15,000 of who have AIDS, with a total of 120,000 orphaned by the illness.
Even as recently as 2008 UNICEF were reporting that "Burundi's children continue to be threatened by rape, child prostitution, child labour, recruitment into militias, internal displacement, kidnapping and landmines." There have been long running concerns about the lack of any juvenile justice system for children in Burundi. Children aged over 15yrs are treated as adults, whilst, officially at least, prison is not an option for those under fifteen. However many Burundi children born during the civil war don't have birth certificates so cannot prove their age, so often find themselves incarcerated with older men in adult prisons where they are risk.
Some of these children find themselves locked up in prisons for months or many years with no access to legal advice nor any advocacy. In Mpimba prison, it is reported that 100 boys were sleeping in one cell; some held in prison for minor crimes like stealing bags of rice. Although exact figures are not known it is estimated that there are 400 children in prisons across Burundi with many more in police cells. "My problem here is that I feel very alone. I am lonely all the time. I come from far away; no one visits me. It has been a year since I have seen someone I know" one 14 year old commented whilst another 14yr old accused of theft reported "Sleeping is very hard, as there are about 27 of us in the one room. Some of us have to sit up all night. There are no separate showers and toilets for us, the children. It’s bad for the kids when the adults are in the bathrooms. I check to see who is in there before going to shower."
Although the past few years have seen peace in Burundi, the future is still bleak for children there. Unemployment rates are high, the global economic downturn has taken its toll on an already poor country and there have been recent disturbing signs of a return to strife with grenade attacks, assassinations and a marked rise in armed robberies. You can help when you sponsor children in Burundi.
Of Burundi's population of 8m, a staggering 10% are child orphans from civil war or AIDS.
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