Children Worldwide Have Become Invisible

Hundreds of millions of children are suffering from severe exploitation and discrimination and have become virtually invisible to the world, according to a major report released by UNICEF yesterday that explores the causes of exclusion and the abuses children experience.

The State of the World’s Children 2006: Excluded and Invisible is a sweeping assessment of the world’s most vulnerable children, says that 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.

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,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, launching the report in London. “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.”

Statistics show that:

*An estimated 143 million children in the developing world – 1 in every 13 children – have suffered the death of at least one parent. For children in deep poverty the loss of even one parent, especially a mother, can take a lasting toll on their health, and education.

*Globally, tens of millions of children spend a large portion of their lives on the streets, where they are exposed to all forms of abuse and exploitation.

*More than 1 million children live in detention, the vast majority awaiting trial for minor offenses. Many of these children suffer gross neglect, violence, and trauma.

*Hundreds of thousands of children are caught up in armed conflict as combatants, messengers, porters, cooks, and sex slaves for armed groups. In many cases they have been forcibly abducted.

*In spite of laws against early marriage in many countries, over 80 million girls across the developing world will be married before they turn 18 – many far younger.

*An estimated 171 million children are working in hazardous conditions and with dangerous machinery, including in factories, mines and agriculture.

*Some 8.4 million children work in the worst forms of child labour, including prostitution and debt bondage, where children are exploited in slave-like conditions to pay off a debt.

*Nearly 2 million children are used in the commercial sex trade, where they routinely face sexual and physical violence.

*Every year, it is estimated that millions of children are trafficked into underground and illegal worlds where they are forced into dangerous and degrading forms of work, including prostitution.

*A vast but unknown number of children are exploited as domestic servants in private homes. Many are banned entirely from going to school, suffer physical abuse and are underfed or overworked.

What Needs To Be Done:

*Research, monitoring and reporting: Systems to record and report on the nature and extent of abuses against children are essential to reaching excluded and invisible children.

*Legislation: National laws must match international commitments to children, and legislation that fosters discrimination must be changed or abolished. Laws to prosecute those who harm children must be consistently enforced. For example, weak law enforcement perpetuates the climate of impunity that surrounds the rape of children.

*Financing and capacity-building: Child-focused budgets and the strengthening of institutions that serve children must complement laws and research.

*Programmes: Reform is urgently required in many countries and communities to remove entry barriers for children who are excluded from essential services, for example, eliminating the requirement of a birth certificate to attend school.

“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.”


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