New call for free child education

UNICEF says it will present a set of recommendations to Burundi's next government, after it is elected in August, which will include providing free education to all Burundian children and giving them easy access to health care.

Currently only 38 percent of Burundian children attend schools, according to UNICEF. Many parents cannot afford to pay the fees at public school, plus uniforms, books and equipment.

The various recommendations are achievable, UNICEF's representative, Catherine Mbengue, said on Wednesday. She was speaking at the end of a two-day forum in the capital, Bujumbura, at which 100 children and adolescents drawn from vulnerable groups in provinces around the country aired their views to child advocates.

"[The children] told us what they need. Now it is up to us to undertake concrete actions," she said.

A UNICEF survey carried out in 2003 said around 640,000 children in Burundi had been forced to work and 300 others had been in prison. The forum included representatives of these and other disadvantaged groups such as orphans, street children and former child soldiers, as well as impoverished children from the minority Batwa ethnic group.

One child, Alain Desire Gahungu, 17, is HIV positive and has lived in a hospital all his life. His parents died when he was a baby and his relatives have rejected him.