|© UNICEF video|
|Rima Salah, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, (left) at the Regional Consultation on Violence Against Children in the Middle East and North Africa, in Cairo.|
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By Rachel Bonham Carter
CAIRO, Egypt, 28 June 2005 – Delegates from 22 countries are taking part in a United Nations-sponsored conference in Cairo which calls for an end to violence against children in the Middle East and northern Africa. Discussions are focussed on how children are affected by violence in four settings: the home & family, schools, the workplace, and in the streets.
“This consultation is very important because it is really breaking the silence,” said Rima Salah, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director. “Every country will now admit that they have violence against children. Whoever stays silent about the truth is a mute devil,” she said, quoting the Prophet Mohammed.
The 3-day meeting is part of a global study to be presented to the UN General Assembly in 2006. Similar regional consultations have already taken place in Latin America, Asia and elsewhere. The report is expected to make uncomfortable reading in a region where the subject is traditionally considered a taboo.
“We must look hard at our traditions, especially at those customs - such as female genital mutilation and early marriage - that condone forms of violence against our children,” argued Ambassador Moushira Khattab, Secretary General of the Egyptian National Council of Childhood and Motherhood, the host of the conference.
|© UNICEF video|
|Young delegates at the Regional Consultation on Violence Against Children in the Middle East and North Africa, in Cairo.|
Children’s voices are informing the consultation too, with 27 young delegates presenting recommendations from children in nine countries in the region.
“Violence is found in every school, family and street, and so far we have turned a blind eye to it,” said Aya Lekhyari, seventeen, one of the delegates from Tunis. “Every child has the right to live in peace, without violence; otherwise he will become violent himself.”
The conference is being attended by 250 participants from around the region - a sign, according to Paulo Pinheiro, the UN’s independent expert on the subject - of a commitment from governments and civil society to produce meaningful results.
“This diversity will allow a broad dialogue,” said Mr. Pinheiro, “which will be crucial to the development of concrete and sustainable recommendations on how to respond and prevent the complex and disturbing problem of violence against children.”