NEW YORK - UNICEF today marked the first anniversary of the Beslan school tragedy by calling on all adults to shield children from war and conflict.

One year ago today, gunmen invaded School No. 1 in Beslan, Russian Federation as it teemed with children and parents celebrating the first day of the school year. Three days later, the siege ended with more than 170 children and hundreds of adults dead.

The people of Beslan have rallied behind their children. And those children are reaching out to each other across religious and ethnic divides. “This community – scarred though it is – is charting a course to recovery,” said UNICEF Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, Maria Calivis.

“Today, we join the families of Beslan to honour those who died in the siege of School No. 1,” said Calivis. “During those three days in September 2004, the sanctity of childhood itself came under attack. It plumbed the depths of inhumanity.”

The attack on School No. 1 and the tragic events that followed were part of a rising tide of violence against children. In other parts of the North Caucasus, in Darfur, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, through commercial sexual exploitation and even in their own homes, many children the world over endure shattering violence.

“It is time to take stock,” said Calivis. “We are not doing enough for our children. We can do more.”

UNICEF in the North Caucasus

Long before the Beslan tragedy, UNICEF was running a humanitarian programme covering the North Caucasus. As a result, UNICEF staff based in nearby Vladikavkaz were able to react immediately to the aftermath of the siege, getting basic medical supplies into hospitals overnight.

UNICEF provided educational supplies to the six remaining schools so that they could accommodate the overflow of children from School Number One.

While the immediate physical needs of the children have been met, the psychological aftershocks remain. Every child in Beslan was affected in some way and UNICEF is still supporting teams of counselors in schools and in the community to help children and families rebuild their lives.

Looking to the future, UNICEF has initiated a Peace Education and Tolerance programme for children and adolescents across North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan to foster dialogue and tolerance between the children of these troubled Republics.