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El Salvador launches 'Seal of Approval' initiative for child rights

By Tim Ledwith

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador, 1 December 2009 – UNICEF and a national association of municipal governments held a gala event in the capital yesterday, launching a ‘Seal of Approval’ programme designed to improve the lives and ensure the rights of Salvadoran children and adolescents.

More than 100 mayors from towns around the country signed up for the programme on the spot, and more are expected to join. El Salvador has a total of 262 municipalities.

Milagro Navas, president of the local governments’ association (known by its Spanish acronym, COMURES), called the new initiative “a great opportunity” to change the lives of young Salvadorans at risk. Among them are over 1.3 million children living in poverty and thousands of adolescents who suffer disproportionately each year from gang violence in poor and marginalized communities.
In the face of such challenges, asked Ms. Navas, “Who could be better than UNICEF to help municipalities protect the rights of boys and girls?”

Development, policy and participation
Over the next two years, local governments seeking the UNICEF ‘Seal of Approval’ will have to work toward measurable gains for children in three broad areas: human development, public policy and youth participation. The approach is inspired by a similar, UNICEF-supported effort that has proven highly successful in Brazil.

Half of all Salvadorans living in poverty are children. Here, children displaced by recent flooding take part in activities in a UNICEF-supported shelter in Guadelupe, San Vicente province.

To be approved, the municipalities must:
- Show above-average progress in providing access to education and health care for all children, birth registration for infants and antenatal care for pregnant women 
- Provide opportunities for children and adolescents, as well as civil-society organizations, to help make decisions that directly affect young lives 
- Enact and implement specific local ordinances that bolster child rights, in line with El Salvador’s Law on the Comprehensive Protection of Children and Adolescents.

Passed by the national legislature earlier this year, the new law coincides with the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It enters into force in February 2010, establishing new responsibilities – and providing greater support – for the protection of child rights at the local level.

‘Great potential for the future’
And as UNICEF Representative in El Salvador Miriam de Figueroa suggested at yesterday’s launch of the ‘Seal of Approval’, this country’s young people need all the support they can get. Citing data from the National Household Survey conducted here in 2007, Ms. de Figueroa pointed out that 40 per cent of the population lives in poverty, and half of all poor Salvadorans are children.
In fact, the situation may be even more dire today. In the past year, the global financial downturn has decimated the remittances that are sent home by some 2 million Salvadorans living in the United States. These ‘remesas’ had gone a long way toward bolstering a national economy wracked by civil war in the 1980s and natural disasters in more recent years, but they dropped by an alarming 10 per cent in the first 10 months of 2009.

Still, Ms. de Figueroa struck a hopeful note in her remarks to the assembled mayors, many of whom attended the festive event wearing jeans or cowboy hats, while others dressed in business suits, reflecting the diversity of municipalities targeted by the new programme.
“Every municipality – large or small, rich or poor, near or far – has something in common,” she told the local leaders. “It is something that holds great potential for the future. It is our people.”

 

 
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