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Abused and neglected, millions of children have become virtually invisible says UNICEF report
Launching the report in London, UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman said millions of children disappear from view when trafficked or forced to work in domestic servitude. Other children, such as street children, live in plain sight but are excluded from fundamental services and protections. Not only do these children endure abuse, most are shut out from school, healthcare and other vital services they need to grow and thrive.
‘The State of the World’s Children 2006: Excluded and Invisible’ (www.unicef.org/sowc06) is a sweeping assessment of the world’s most vulnerable children, whose rights to a safe and healthy childhood are exceptionally difficult to protect. These children are growing up beyond the reach of development campaigns and are often invisible in everything from public debate and legislation, to statistics and news stories.
Without focused attention, millions of children will remain trapped and forgotten in childhoods of neglect and abuse, with devastating consequences for their long-term well-being and the development of nations. The report argues that any society with an interest in the welfare of its children and its own future must not allow this to happen.
“Meeting the Millennium Development Goals depends on reaching vulnerable children throughout the developing world,” Ms. Veneman said. “There cannot be lasting progress if we continue to overlook the children most in need – the poorest and most vulnerable, the exploited and the abused.”
In the past UNICEF has reported extensively on how poverty, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict are undermining childhood itself. ‘Excluded and Invisible’ details how these factors, as well as weak governance and discrimination, deprive children of protection from abuse and exploitation, and exclude them from school, healthcare and other essential services at alarming rates.
The report finds that children who lack vital services are more vulnerable to exploitation because they have less information on how to protect themselves, and fewer economic alternatives. Children who are caught in armed conflict, for example, are routinely subjected to rape and other forms of sexual violence. It is these children – alone and defenseless – who are being ignored.
Discrimination on the basis of gender, ethnicity or disability also factors into the exclusion of children. For example, discrimination shuts millions of girls out of school and blocks critical services for children from ethnic minorities and indigenous groups. An estimated 150 million children live with disabilities globally, many without opportunities for education, healthcare, and nurturing support because of routine discrimination.
The State of the World’s Children argues that the world must go beyond current development efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable children are not left behind.
The report also outlines concrete actions that can be taken by civil society, the private sector, donors and the media to help prevent children from falling through the cracks. These and other efforts by people and organizations at all levels of society help to build a ‘protective environment’ for children – one that protects children from abuse in the same way that immunization and adequate nutrition protect them from disease.
“Those who harm children rob them of opportunities to grow up safe, healthy and with dignity,” Veneman said. “To ensure that children are protected, the abuse and exploitation of children must be brought to light and those who violate children brought to justice.”
The State of the World’s Children is UNICEF’s annual flagship publication. It is the most comprehensive survey of global trends affecting children and provides the most thorough almanac of up-to-date statistical data on children. Data tables from the report are fully searchable at www.unicef.org/sowc06.
This year the launch of The State of the World’s Children officially kicks off UNICEF’s 60th anniversary. UNICEF is the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 157 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.