Amid a global economic boom, children's rights are being violated in many parts of the world. Despite resources that could help decrease poverty, many governments neglect the issue, says a new UNICEF report.
Worldwide, the biggest-ever generation of children and young people is currently growing up: 2.2 billion boys and girls, most of them living in developing countries and emerging economies. But the majority of them hardly benefit from economic growth and technological progress. In a report called "Right to a Future," UNICEF Germany has documented problems and chances affecting children around the world.
Climate change and the impact of the financial crisis have been hitting the poorest families hardest, with huge repercussions on children.
"Paradoxically, 75 percent of the poorest children live in countries that have already reached medium per capita incomes," said Jürgen Heraeus, head of UNICEF Germany. While nations like China, India, Russia and Brazil are not necessarily poor, the gap between affluent and impovershed people has been widening, as in many other countries around the world.
That puts children in difficult and often dangerous conditions. He cited the example of a granite quarry in Burkina Faso where teenagers work. All day they toil in sizzling heat, crushing rocks for gravel with an iron hammer. Model Eva Padberg met some of these teens during one of her campaigns as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, a role in which she tries to raise awareness for children whose rights are being violated.
Padberg recalled meeting many children in dire situations, including a paralyzed little boy in an orphanage in Sinaki, eastern Georgia. His parents had sent him there because they were unable to care for him at home.
"Instead of strengthening families, the state makes it easy for people to dump children in institutions," Padberg told journalists during the presentation of the UNICEF report. She added that UNICEF is campaigning across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to end this practice.
Last year, the German branch of UNICEF contributed some 1.7 billion euros ($2.2 billion) to the global operations of the UN children's fund. The money came from donations and sales of UNICEF stationary. The donations helped to halve the mortality of children under the age of five and facilitated the construction of more than 1,000 schools in African countries, including South Africa, Heraeus said. He quoted a letter from Nelson Mandela: "It is certain that in our modern world we can care much better for our children than we actually do."
According to UNICEF, poverty continues to be the biggest threat to the rights of children and young people all over the world. Half of the population in African countries live on less than two dollars a day. Despite their right to education, 132 million children around the world can't attend school. A lack of education makes it much harder to find jobs: Worldwide, young people aged 15-24 make up 40 percent of the 200 million unemployed worldwide.
Inequality remains a huge problem across all nations, according to Dan Toole, who is responsible for UNICEF Germany's East Asia/Pacific projects.
"There are money and resources available," Toole said. "But we have to ensure that these also reach every child.
Toole added that one of UNICEF's central tasks is to help governments identify good ways of investing in the future of their country's children. One example included a pre-school education model in China, which UNICEF financed with $8 million years ago. The model proved successful, prompting the Chinese government to spend $7.5 billion on improving pre-school education in 2010.
"That's UNICEF in the 21st century," Toole said.