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Protecting children from unexploded landmines in Libya

UNICEF believes that all children have the right to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse. Yet, millions of children worldwide – many of them in conflict zones - continue to be at risk every day. That’s why as part of our Child Protection Strategy, UNICEF maintains a permanent presence in virtually every country in the world - working with governments, affected communities and individual children whose lives and wellbeing are at risk as a result of conflict.  Educational workshops which give Libyan children the tools to identify unexploded ordnance is just one of the ways UNICEF helps communities living with conflict begin the process of healing, recovery and renewal.  

In Misrata, Libya, children’s playgrounds can be dangerous places. Ayman and Mamud were playing close to home when Ayman spotted what looked like a piece of shrapnel.  To his horror, when he picked it up to show his family, it exploded. At only 14 years old, Ayman lost both his hands.  Tragically, stories like Ayman’s aren’t uncommon in the dangerous Misrata area, where recent air strikes on munitions storage facilities have spread unexploded bombs into civilian areas. Dozens of such casualties have been reported.

Children like Ayman are especially at risk for accidents with unexploded cluster bombs or anti-personnel mines because they are naturally curious and are more likely to touch an object that an adult might approach cautiously.  To make matters worse, while kids are warned against hidden weapons lurking in their play areas, most don’t actually know what they look like.  

UNICEF is working with local communities to tackle this issue through educational workshops that help kids and parents learn to identify unexploded remnants of war.  The workshops are lead by community volunteers, with UNICEF and its partners providing the necessary technical support. 

With as many as 300 children attending each upbeat workshop, the aim is to bring some fun to this frightening subject through games and art.  Kids work in groups to study memory cards, carefully copy and colour pictures of explosive remnants of war, and make new friends while playing memory games. Once these children figure out how to spot and identify abandoned bombs, their next challenge is to go back to their homes as peer counsellors and teach other families what they have learned.

In addition to providing workshops specifically for children, many UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and local partners are working together as the Joint Mine Action Coordinated Team to bring more awareness to communities about how to identify and avoid unsafe areas in their region.  In Misrata, UNICEF’s implementing partner, Handicap International, is passing out leaflets and putting up posters warning about unexploded remnants of war and the dangers they present. 

At UNICEF, the belief that children are our future is central to everything we do. Through our commitment to supporting programs like the Unexploded Ordinance Workshops in Libya, we spread the message that the use of landmines wages war not just on soldiers, but also on society’s most innocent  and vulnerable citizens – children like Ayman.

 

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