Children still do not enjoy deserved rights, UNICEF says | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 06.10.2009
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Children still do not enjoy deserved rights, UNICEF says

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, has presented the first report of its kind on the state of children around the world and abuses of their rights. Advancements have been made, but the situation remains grim.

Child sitting frightened in the corner holding a teddy bear

Children suffer abuse around the world, report stresses

Children still remain victims of violence, exploitation and human trafficking, UNICEF says in the report released on Tuesday. Globally some 158 million children under the age of 15 are engaged in child labor and cannot attend school, although education is one of their basic rights, the agency said.

Child soldiers holding up guns

Child soldiers are no rarity

The "Report Card on Child Protection" said the births of an estimated 51 million children go unregistered each year in developing countries. At least one million children are currently in prison, the majority of whom have not committed a felony. More than 18 million kids live in families which have been displaced due to natural disasters or war. Girls in at least 29 countries face genital mutilation; one in three girls in developing countries is married off as a child.

"A society cannot thrive if its youngest members are forced into early marriage, abused as sex workers or denied their basic rights," said Ann Veneman, UNICEF executive director, after the report's release. Understanding the extent of abuses of children's rights is a first step to building an environment where children are protected and have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”

Somali model Waris Dirie at a UN press conference; she has spoken out against genital mutilation of girls

Somali model Waris Dirie has campaigned against genital mutilation of girls

Some progress has been made in the protection of children's rights, the report revealed. The number of girls in African countries who suffer from genital mutilation has decreased, for example, and the age of girls in forced marriages has increased in some countries.

Expanding rights

The publication comes in the run-up to the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the first legally binding international agreement to protect children, on November 20.

The CRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, and encompasses 54 articles addressing civil rights and freedoms, health and welfare, education and cultural activities, family environment and other issues.

The treaty's founding principles stress that people under the age of 18 should not suffer discrimination and that they have a right to survival, development and their own views. With the exception of the United States and Somalia, 193 of the 195 countries around the world have ratified the Convention - legally binding themselves to protect and ensure children's rights.

"Children need special protection and a supportive environment, and adults are responsible for that," said Helga Kuhn, spokeswoman for the Germany's UNICEF branch, told Deutsche Welle. "That's why it is important that children's rights are outlined, so that people can fight for them."

Financial crisis threatens kids, too

The public's awareness of children's rights has grown since the convention was ratified 20 years ago, Kuhn said.

Children holding bowls over their heads as they wait for food hand-outs

Children waiting for hand-outs in the Philippines last year

"People now consider it a crime - and it is treated as a crime - when children are forced to fight in a war, or are sexually abused, or forced to work," she said.

But many children live in untenable circumstances.

"One in two children in the world suffers from injustice," Kuhn said. "They do not have access to clean drinking water, do not have a roof over their heads, a spot in school, or enough to eat."

And the global financial crisis could exacerbate an already dire situation.

"Children's rights are often ignored in places where human rights are generally abused," Kuhn said. "We have an obligation to ensure that children do not feel the brunt of the crisis, which is particularly affecting developing countries."

Editor: Nancy Isenson

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