Poverty called "root cause" of widespread demonstrations in Guinea

By Kun Li

NEW YORK, USA, 14 June 2006 – A collapsing economy that is especially dangerous for children has ignited a massive strike in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.

Demanding higher wages and lower prices for fuel and rice, unions have organized widespread demonstrations. Many students, frustrated by the interruption of their year-end final exams, have joined the street protests. According to media reports, at least 18 people have been killed in clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

UNICEF Representative in Guinea Marcel Rudasingwa says poverty is the underlying cause of the strike, now in its seventh day.

“We can summarize the root cause of all the social problems in Guinea to high levels of poverty,” said Mr. Rudasingwa. “Poverty affects not only households in general, but children in particular. Today, about 63 per cent of Guinea’s people are living under the poverty line, and that classifies Guinea as one of the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa.”

Young population at risk

Despite its rich natural resources, Guinea remains underdeveloped. Poverty has an enormous impact on children and young people in the West African country, where more than half the population is under 18 years of age.

“Guinea's population is a young population,” noted Mr. Rudasingwa. “Out of every nine people, five are children or young people. Because of poverty, they are made vulnerable to epidemics like HIV/AIDS.”

Although Guinea has abolished school fees, the cost of learning materials still takes a heavy toll on many families. In addition, many teachers are poorly trained and therefore unable to provide a quality education. As a result, many children are dropping out of school, either looking for work in the streets or falling victims of child trafficking.

To lift Guinea out of poverty, international support is badly needed, said Mr. Rudasingwa. Until then, even when the current crisis has passed, the well-being of the country’s children will continue to be under threat.