Speech by Ms Florence Bauer, UNICEF Representative (Conference on Children's Rights)
Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear friends,
• It is a pleasure to open this Conference on this symbolic day when the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is being celebrated all over the world
• In Bosnia & Herzegovina this same day and over the whole week similar events have been organized in Sarajevo, Banja Luka, Tuzla, Modrica and a number of communities and schools in towns and municipalities across BiH.
• For UNICEF it is also the occasion to launch the special edition of UNICEF’s flagship report The State of the World Children which is dedicated to the Convention.
• The Convention, which has been ratified by 193 countries, is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history. It is based on four core principles: non-discrimination; actions taken in the best interest of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child.
• The Convention for the first time in history recognized that children need special care and protection and have specific rights because of this very peculiar phase of life. The Convention affirms that government authorities have to do “all they can to implement these rights” and that parents and extended families have to provide guidance for the child development. It also states the role of international cooperation for improving the lives of children.
• Over these 20 years considerable progress has been achieved at the global level:
o The annual number of deaths of children under five years of age has been reduced by 28% (between 1990 and 2008);
o 1.6 billion people world-wide gained access to improved water sources;
o around 84% of primary-school-age children are in class today and the gender gap in primary school enrolment is narrowing;
o Children are no longer the missing face of the HIV and AIDS pandemic with the expansion of testing of pregnant women to avoid mother-to-child transmission of the virus;
o Important steps have started to be taken to protect children from violence, exploitation, abuse, discrimination and neglect; and
o Child participation has steadily gained wider acceptance.
These important results are also reflected in Bosnia & Herzegovina.
• However important challenges remain. Children of Bosnia and Herzegovina face three major challenges
o The first one is Poverty: while GDP per capita doubled between 2000 and 2007, around 1/5 of the population still lives in poverty. This rate reaches 1/4 when we talk about children who are always more affected than adults. Families with three or more children are especially vulnerable.
o The second one is social exclusion which is very much linked to poverty seen in a broader sense as deprivation of their rights to access quality education, health services and protection systems. Around half of the population experiences some form of social exclusion, discrimination or stigma.
o The third one refers to the unequal provision of social services across the country. The lack of uniform standards and equal access to financial resources represent key challenges in the provision of adequate services for all children. While laws cover a wide range of child protection rights, many are not enforced due to the lack of funding, standards and inadequate procedures.
• As stated in the report critical actions need to be undertaken in all countries:
o First we have to make children’s best interests part of every aspect of governance. There is no “child neutral” policy, law, budget, programme. We have to ensure that all decisions including the macro-economical ones are informed and influenced by the social sectors and incorporate the principle of “best interest of the child”. In the current context of crisis it is important to invest in children and to avoid any budget cut that can affect children.
o We also have to further develop capacities to realize children’s rights in all sectors. A recent study from the WB shows that while spending on social protection is large by international standards it only reaches a small portion of the poor and even less poor children. It is therefore necessary to strengthen capacities to improve the targeting of the social protection system and to expand the coverage of cash transfer to the whole country.
o We have to protect children from discrimination and exclusion. In BiH it is evident that groups of children still suffer from various forms of discrimination and exclusion based on their origin/ethnicity, disability or economic situation. The bulk of them are from minority groups such as the Roma and internally displaced populations.
o Finally we have to establish broad partnerships for children’s rights with all members of society including government authorities, civil society, media, private sector, groups of children and young people. All have a responsibility to improve the life of children.
In parallel, it is important to strengthen mechanisms and bodies to generate and monitor data on the situation of all children. Surveys such as the Households Budget Survey or the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey are of key importance to generate data to plan and monitor child-oriented policies. Data must include minorities and address complex areas such as violence and exploitation.
• In these uncertain times we are at an historical moment where the world has a unique opportunity to use the Convention to guide us in realigning priorities towards the most vulnerable part of the population and to respect the core principle of the “best interest of the child.
• UNICEF reaffirms its commitment to support the country’s efforts aimed at strengthening social inclusion and cohesion, with a view to reducing discrimination and inequities among children and increase the potential for development of their human and social capital. With support from the European Commission, the Government of Norway and DFID, a comprehensive programme has been implemented to strengthen Social Protection and Inclusion systems in BiH.