UNICEF uses the term ‘child protection’ to refer to preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse against children – including commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labour and harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and cutting and child marriage.
All countries in the Middle East and North Africa have signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child and programmes are under way in most countries to make sure that their national legislation is aligned with the provisions of the Convention.
However, across the region, children continue to be involved in labour, to be married off at an early age, to be recruited by armed forces and groups, and to be subjected to violence and such horrific practices as female genital mutilation. In conflict-affected countries, they are way too often subject to grave rights violations, including maiming and killing and gender-based violence.
Here are some alarming facts from across the region:
Signing laws and conventions is clearly not enough. Other conditions need to be met, including the adoption of appropriate mechanisms, the allocation of necessary resources, the right political commitment and the participation and acceptance of the communities concerned.
UNICEF promotes the strengthening of child protection systems. It works to help all children, girls and boys, grow up in a protective environment where they are assured their rights to protection – particularly from violence, abuse and neglect.
In addition, attitudes also need to change. Families and communities need to be aware of the risks that children are exposed to when they drop out of school, marry early, or are involved in labour. They also need to be aware of the impact of violent disciplinary methods on children and to know more about better parenting practices.
To promote positive norms to bring about an end to harmful practices, UNICEF engages in advocacy and awareness-raising and supports discussions, education programmes and communication for development strategies at community and national levels, within villages, across professional and religious groups and within diaspora communities.