HARARE - More than 11 000 children have been affected by political violence since Zimbabwe's disputed March 29 elections, the United Nations Children'sFund (UNICEF) said on Wednesday.
Political violence broke out in many parts of Zimbabwe almost immediately it became clear that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement forDemocratic Change (MDC) party had defeated President Robert Mugabe and his ruling ZANU PF party in the March polls.
The MDC accuses Mugabe of unleashing ZANU PF militias and the army to beat and torture Zimbabweans into backing him in a second round presidential election on June 27 - a charge the government denies. The opposition party says at least 50 of its supporters have been killed in the violence and thousands more displaced.
UNICEF country representative Festo Kavishe, in a written response to questions from ZimOnline, yesterday said the affected children, some of whom no longer attended school after being displaced together with their families, were in urgent need of help.
Kavishe said: "We have received reliable information that over 11 000 children have been affected by the violence and are in need of assistance. The children have been affected in various ways.
"Some have been unable to attend school, others have been displaced together with their families, a few have been beaten together with their mothers and many have been affected by the psychological trauma of seeing their parents, guardians or their teachers being beaten and humiliated in front of them."
The UNICEF official said in the absence of appropriate and adequate psychological support the impact of the violence on children could have long-term negative effects well into adulthood.
The world children's agency was working with local partners to identify affected children and provide them with basic requirements. Kavishe said before the outbreak of political violence, UNICEF was providing support through NGOs to more than 180 000 orphans and other vulnerable children.
However, he added that this support was in jeopardy because political violence made it impossible to reach out to all the needy children. In addition to political violence, Zimbabwean children must also suffer the harsh effects of a severe food crisis gripping the country for the past eight years and an economic recession marked by the world's highestinflation rate that is close to a million percent according to some estimates.