Saturday, May 23, 2009

Staving Off Threats To The World’s Children

Despite the universal embrace of standards for protecting children and childhood, a new United Nations Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF) report released recently shows that more than half of the world’s children are still under the bondage of extreme deprivation owing to poverty, war and the Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS) pandemic.

These are “conditions that are effectively denying children the good childhood they deserve and holding back the development of nations”, says UNICEF in its 10th Annual Report on the State of the World’s Children.

The State of the World’s Children’s Report which is an annual publication by the UNICEF, records progress made globally on the improvement recorded in the area of the welfare of children. It highlights the agenda for the coming year by emphasising the critical areas that require urgent attention in order to ensure child survival, development and participation campaigns.

The report with the theme, “Children Under Threat” examines three of the most widespread and devastating factors threatening children today namely HIV/AIDS, conflict and poverty. The report is of the opinion that more than 1 billion children are denied the healthy and protected upbringing promised by the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child stressing that the failure by governments to live up to the Convention’s expectations causes permanent damage to children. This situation the report noted, blocks progress towards human rights and economic development.

Launching the report at the London School of Economics, the Executive Secretary of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy decried the fate of world’s children in recent times. “When half of the world’s children are growing up hungry and unhealthy, when schools have become targets and whole villages are being emptied by AIDS, we’ve failed to deliver on the promise of children. Too many governments are making informed, deliberate choices that actually hurt childhood. Poverty doesn’t come from no where, war doesn’t spread by choice of its own. These are our choices”, Bellamy said.

The report which was launched at the same time around the world also held that more than half of the world’s children are suffering extreme deprivations from poverty and lacks the simplest basic amenities that are very essential for the welfare of life and highlighted that while one in six children is severely hungry, one in seven lacks basic health care and one in five has no safe water with another one in three having no toilet or sanitation facilities at home.

The report raised an alarm on the havoc being done by HIV and AIDS pandemic on women and children and noted that the virus is not only killing parents but also destroying the protective network of adults in children’s lives. UNCIEF says that almost half a million children under the age of 15 died of AIDS in 2003 while another 630,000 were infected with HIV during same period. By 2003 some 2.1 million children under 15 were living with HIV/AIDS, most of them infected during pregnancy, birth or through breastfeeding. From 2001 to 2003, the number of children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS rose from 11.5 million to 15 million. About 80 percent of those affected live in sub-Saharan Africa.

“HIV/AIDS is tearing at the very fabric of childhood. Around 15 million children under the age of 18 had been orphaned by the pandemic by the end of 2003. Eight out of 10 of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa. Unless action is taken swiftly and decisively, to stem the tide of infections and losses, it is estimated that by 2010 over 18 million African children would have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS”, the report further revealed.

“The loss of a parent implies the disappearance of a care-giver. It pervades every aspect of a child’s life, their emotional well-being, physical security, mental development and overall health. It deprives them of the right to live in a family environment. Many of the ailing and dying are teachers, health workers and other adults on whom children rely. And because AIDS prevalence grows in condensed pockets, once adults start dying the overall impact on surviving children in a community is devastating”, it added.

According to the State of the World’s Children report, the proportion of women living with HIV has risen steadily that “nearly half of those who are HIV positive are women or girls. The pandemics ‘feminisation’ is most apparent in sub-Saharan Africa where close to 60 percent of those who are HIV positive are female”.

The report was of the opinion that “faced with economic hardship, women and girls become more vulnerable to prostitution and trafficking in which they have little power to negotiate safe sex” and revealed that girls are likely to succumb to the lure of transactional sex, entering into relationship with older or wealthier men in exchange for money, goods and other basic services. This transactional sex, the report said, greatly increase their risk of contracting the HIV virus even as it strongly added that the world has the capacity to reduce poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS and improve the plight of its children.

The presentation of the report in Nigeria coincided with the World Human Rights Day and while speaking on the relevance of the day to the report, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Dr. Mohammed Ibn Chambas, who spoke through a representative, described children as the most valuable assets that must always come first and be put into consideration when human rights are being discussed since they are voiceless.

His words, “We cannot celebrate human rights without taking into account the most important assets, the children. Unfortunately the right of children are not being respected world-wide especially in Africa and West Africa in particular”.

The ECOWAS boss, made a passionate call to the Governments of the sub-region to take a closer look at the Convention on the Rights of Child opining that development begins with the children. His view echoes that of the UNICEF report which affirms that the world has an unparalled opportunity to fulfil the rights of the children in terms of “resource, knowledge, money, technology, strategies and people are available in abundance”.

Bellamy put it in unambiguous phrase, “the quality of a child’s life depends on decisions made everyday in households, communities and in the halls of government”.

In Nigeria, the situation has constantly been one of woe for children particularly in the rural settlements. The Nigerian child has continued to suffer child labour, negligence, trafficking, brutality, sexual exploitation and many other vices from the adult folk. People are not even aware of the paedophiles and we do not have sex offenders register. A recent attempt to persuade a part of the country to stop early marriage of the girl-child was met with a very stiff opposition with a holy book as a reference. Apart from the concerted efforts of some non-governmental organisations, little has been seen beyond the lip service from the government.

The Minister of Women Affairs, Obong Rita Akpan, had while launching the report given an assurance that her ministry has put in place measures to implement some of the provisions of the report. She promised that the measures would include a child advocacy campaign and would be well circulated to all stakeholders.
“I am optimistic that at the end of the day the report will bring better living conditions for our children”, she promised.

Meanwhile President Olusegun Obasanjo had in a recent special presidential media chat with four members of the Nigerian Children’s Parliament, assured that his administration would do all within its power to see that children’s rights are always protected opining that “you are very important to us and you are the future leaders of this nation. We therefore cannot take your welfare for granted otherwise we will suffer for our negligence tomorrow”.

The presidential promise has a ringing tone akin to that of a rain in a desert. While the rest of the worlds are busy backing up their words with action, Nigeria is still fiddling and promising while its children are burning. Against this backdrop of endless promises and inaction, the UNICEF boss warned, “If we fail to secure childhood, we will fail to reach our larger, global goals for human and economic development. It’s that simple”.

Bellamy’s warning echoes that of the United Nations Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, “Much as we move closer to realising the rights of all children, will countries move closer to their goals of development and peace”.

1 comment:

  1. The original of this article with same title and additional report by Emeka Anuforo was first published by the Guardian Newspapers of Nigeria on Thursday December 23, 2004.