|Former child soldier Ishmael Beah accepts appointment as UNICEF Advocate for Children Affected by War as Executive Director Ann M. Veneman looks on at UNICEF headquarters in New York.|
By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, USA, 20 November 2007 – UNICEF’s first Advocate for Children Affected by War, Ishmael Beah, has pledged to give a voice and hope to children whose lives have been scarred by violence.
UNICEF announced Mr. Beah’s appointment today to mark the 18th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which was also celebrated at events in Geneva, Tokyo and other venues around the world.
The 18-year milestone is considered especially significant because it represents the point at which an entire generation has grown up under the auspices of the CRC, which aims to protect the fundamental rights of every child. UNICEF has launched a special ‘CRC@18’ website to raise awareness about the Convention and involve young people in advocating for their rights.
Dedicated to child protection
“I’m very thankful and humbled,” Mr. Beah said in accepting the UNICEF appointment. “I think for me it’s just a way to give me more strength to continue doing what I’ve already embarked on, what I’ve dedicated my life to doing – which is to make sure that what happened to me doesn’t continue to happen to other children around the world.
“I know the nature of what it is to be forgotten, what it is to lose your humanity, and more importantly, what it is to recover from it and to have another life,” he added.
Mr. Beah was forcibly recruited as a child soldier in Sierra Leone when he was 13. UNICEF helped him to escape the conflict and become rehabilitated. He then moved to the United States to complete his education, began advocating for children’s rights and went on to author the best-selling book, ‘A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier’.
‘An eloquent symbol of hope’
“Ishmael Beah speaks on behalf of young people around the world whose lives have been scarred by violence, deprivation and other violations of their rights,” said Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, announcing his appointment at UNICEF House in New York. “He is an eloquent symbol of hope for young victims of violence, as well as those working to demobilize and rehabilitate children caught up in armed conflict.”
|© Japan Committee for UNICEF/2007|
|Goodwill Ambassador Dr. Agnes Chan presents a bouquet to UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautum CRC 18th anniversary event in Tokyo.|
Speaking of his own descent into violence and despair, Mr. Beah said he had lost hope by the time UNICEF found him. His new role as a UNICEF Advocate will be to make sure that children are given hope for the future, and that they do not become a “lost generation,” he said.
“It’s about children who do not have the voice to speak,” Mr. Beah explained. “We’re trying to give them that voice. And through my capacity I hope we can bring that voice alive.”
Geneva roundtable discussion
Beyond today’s events in New York, the 18th anniversary of the CRC was celebrated yesterday by a group of young people, a panel of leading child rights experts and assorted guests in a dynamic inter-generational dialogue at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
The panel included the Director of UNICEF’s Regional Office for Europe, Philip O’Brien; the Director of UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre, Marta Santos Pais; the Vice-Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Jean Zermatten; and Save the Children Alliance representative Roberta Cecchetti.
Also on the panel were Youth Advisor to the UK National Committee for UNICEF Joel Semakula, 17, and Nandita Kaza, 13, a student at the International School of Geneva.
“The lives of many of today’s children tell us a story of tremendous change brought about by the Convention,” Mr. O’Brien said during the roundtable discussion. “During the last two decades, millions have gained access to education, and fewer are dying of preventable diseases. Let’s celebrate what has been achieved – and then renew our commitment to create a world where all children have all their rights fulfilled.”
Symposium in Tokyo
In Tokyo, meanwhile, a CRC symposium highlighted the situation of children who are left behind in developing countries – and looked at what must be done to ensure their rights under the Convention.
“UNICEF believes that promotion of child rights can and must be made a truly cutting edge for human development and human security,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautum in a keynote speech at the event, which also featured remarks by Goodwill Ambassador Dr. Agnes Chan and other dignitaries.
“We cannot be satisfied until the realization of child rights is experienced by all children in their daily life,” said Mr. Gautum. “I trust we would all agree that there will never be anything that is more important than promoting the well-being and fulfilling the rights of children.”
Tamar Hahn and Tim Ledwith contributed to this story from Geneva and New York, respectively.
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