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UNICEF: Children Should be Heard and Seen - 2002-12-11

The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, says children's lives would be greatly improved if adults would listen to them and allow them to participate in their own development. Children's participation is the focus of UNICEF's annual State of the World's Children Report.

For UNICEF, children should be heard as well as seen.

The agency says adults could learn a lot by listening to children. It says children must be allowed to participate in decisions that affect their own lives.

This year's State of the World's Children Report is unusual in that it does not only report on children, but allows them to speak for themselves. It presents numerous examples of how children, when listened to and given a chance to act, have made a difference in their lives and their communities.

One such case is found in the province of Baluchistan, Pakistan, where the female literacy rate is two percent. The Report says local boy scout troops convinced education officials to allow girls to go to school. This resulted in 2,500 girls enrolling in primary school.

UNICEF's Geneva Director, Steven Woodhouse says leaving children out can have a serious downside. He says surveys conducted around the world over the past three years indicate millions of children feel alienated from society and have no faith in the mainstream political process. "I would maintain that that is extremely dangerous for the future of the world because that sense of alienation often translates into behavior that is not conducive to young peoples' own future and to their communities," he said.

The UNICEF report points out that 150 million children still suffer from malnutrition and 120 million children, most of them girls, are not in school. The Report also notes that 6,000 children and young people are infected every day with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Mr. Woodhouse, of UNICEF, says this is a major concern. But, again, he says whenever children get involved in HIV-AIDS prevention programs, they make a difference. "If you take Uganda, which is achieving a lower prevalence rate, one key factor has been the involvement of young people themselves as peer educators through student-run radio programs and through face-to-face peer education," said Steven Woodhouse.

The UNICEF Report says listening to the opinions of children does not mean simply endorsing their views. Rather, it says, an exchange of views encourages children to assume increasing responsibility, which is good for them and society.