UNICEF Press Centre
"Change the World With Children"

Go back to previous page

Press Centre

Press Release

UNICEF Executive Director Launches Regional Campaign to Combat Exclusion of Children

  • Over 18 million children are excluded by poverty\
  • More than 1 million live in institutions instead of families
  • Minority children bear the brunt of discrimination

ISTANBUL, 16 June 2003 – Arguing that the exclusion of millions of children in the countries of Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States is undermining the development of those nations, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy joined civil society representatives from 27 countries at the launch of a major regional campaign to “Leave No Child Out“ ».

Speaking to representatives of hundreds of non-profit groups from across the region, Bellamy declared that “exclusion from basic services and a dignified start in life creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage, with harm passed from one generation to the next in a legacy of poverty, ill health, lack of education, and lack of prospects. It undermines stability and democracy and holds societies back economically due to over-burdened public services and lost productivity.”

“A world fit for children, “ she said, recalling the vision that emerged from last year’s UN Special Session on Children, “is a world in which no child is discriminated against or excluded. The enormous challenges emerging in this region can only be overcome by investment in the well-being of children – all children. “

The year-long advocacy campaign is being spearheaded by the Regional Network for Children (RNC) in Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic States – an association of non-governmental organizations that work with children in partnership with UNICEF. The campaign follows on the heels of the Say Yes for Children initiative that gathered 26 million pledges in the region in 2001-2002, identifying “Leave No Child Out“ as the number one priority from among ten key issues facing children globally.

Organizers said the campaign is based on the non-discrimination principle of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. It targets seven main forms of discrimination and exclusion: poverty, ethnicity, institutionalisation, disability, the impact of conflict, gender discrimination, and the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

Noting that these factors often work in combination to create layer upon layer of exclusion, RNC Secretary-General Diana Nistorescu said they “slow progress being made on other fronts and undermine the original goals of democratic transition” that began with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Research conducted by UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre See .www.unicef-icdc.org puts numbers to the problem of discrimination in the region:

  • · Of the region’s 117 million children, nearly 18 million are living in poverty, often denied basic services and opportunities to which they are entitled.
  • Children belonging to minority groups – such as the Roma population of some 9 million – receive “second-class” education in many countries, often suffer from ill-health and face prejudice and violence in their communities.
  • Around 1.5 million children are living in public care instead of with their families, an increase of 150,000 since 1989. Around 1 million of them live in Soviet-style institutions.
  • In the one-third of the countries of the region where armed conflicts have taken place since 1989, there were approximately 2.2 million internally displaced people and almost 1 million refugees in 2000 – most of them women and children.
  • And now the region faces the fastest growing rates of HIV infection in the world, with over a million cases estimated by UNAIDS – most of them young people who face stigma and exclusion.

UNICEF added that excluded children are particularly vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse, and noted that trafficking of women and children is a large and growing trend in the region. “One of the keys to leaving no child out is ensuring that all children are raised in a protective environment; in other words, that the adults around them – in school, at home, in law enforcement, and at work – understand children’s unique vulnerabilities and act together to protect them from exploitation.”

Emphasizing that “all of this exclusion is preventable,” Bellamy said that the return of economic growth and the consolidation of democracy in nearly all countries in the region mean that the resources and the basic policies are in place to turn things around.

The “Leave No Child Out” campaign will include year-long efforts to raise the issues of exclusion in the media; roundtable symposiums at the university as wel las community levels ; research into the impact of exlusionary policies on progress for children in the region ; and advocacy with governments and other key institutions.

The ultimate goals, said organizers, is to remind the region’s governments of the commitments they have made to ensure the rights of all children – including the obligation to uphold the Convention on the Rights of the Child and agreement to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. The NGOs participating in the 3-day conference in Istanbul are drafting an Open Letter that will appeal to governments to honour the promises they have made to children.

UNICEF Regional Director Philip O’Brien stressed, however, that the campaign does not only seek improved policies, laws and services – as important as these are. “It must also address the deep-seated prejudices that fuel exclusion and intolerance, while celebrating the diversity that represents the region’s richness and potential,” he said.

For further information, please contact:

Robert Cohen, UNICEF Media, Geneva (4122) 909-5631