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UNICEF Says Threat to Children's Welfare More Serious Than Governments Realize

The U.N. Children’s Fund Wednesday released its annual report on the welfare of the child worldwide. The title is not optimistic. It’s called “The State of the World’s Children 2006: Excluded and Invisible.” It’s described as “a sweeping assessment of the world’s most vulnerable children, whose rights to a safe and healthy childhood are exceptionally difficult to protect.”

Karin Landgren is the chief of child protection for UNICEF. She was in London for Wednesday's release: "What UNICEF is saying in this report is that we would like governments to acknowledge who the invisible children are in their countries. And to find out their situation they will have to go looking for them. What we can do is connect the dots between these awful things that happen to children – the fact that they are happening to hundreds of millions of children, it’s not isolated children falling between the cracks – and serious development consequences for so many countries if these issues aren’t addressed."

Ms. Landgren says there will be problems for families, communities, governments and the population at large, if the situation is not more effectively addressed: "This is what I mean by 'connecting the dots.'” We can see the development consequences of child protection failures, we can see the development consequences of invisible and excluded children. And we believe that by drawing these lines between invisibility and development, we can help attract funding attention in budgets, attention to capacity building around these issues."

The UN chief of child protection says governments down through the years have uncovered many problems, such as discrimination, violence, exploitation and abuse. And she offers an explanation as to why the situation has been a mixed picture since the inception of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the child in 1990.

"Some of this (lack of progress) is not about deliberately ignoring children -- or the plight of the most excluded, most invisible children. It’s just that they haven’t been on the radar screen in the way they should be."

One of the reasons the children haven’t been “on the radar screen” is that cultural constraints have prevailed through the years.

"For years, as you know, governments in Africa were reluctant to confront the specter of AIDS … in many parts of the World, issues relating to sexual abuse, or physical violence in the home has been off limits for discussion. One thing we can help with is initiating some of those discussions, and working with civil society organizations, the media, religious groups, many of whom have been extremely helpful in bringing out these issues and saying it’s okay to talk about them."

Ms. Landgren calls the report “an eye opener” and says all parties concerned must work to remove barriers that keep children from getting into school, getting access to medical services, and getting births registered early on. She says “this is an area where UNICEF, working with its partners, civil society, and the media can help bring about change.”