|UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Jessica Lange photographs a child during her visit to a temporary shelter for children|
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Jessica Lange was at the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s 110th International Assembly in Mexico City today, 20 April 2004, to launch the Handbook for Parliamentarians on Child Protection, a joint UNICEF/IPU report. Ms. Lange called on parliamentarians to live up to their responsibilities as legislators and become champions for children.
The handbook provides practical ways for parliamentarians to use their political clout and the power of legislation, budgetary oversight and parliamentary inquiry to protect children from exploitation and abuse. It will be distributed in over 140 countries.
Yesterday, 19 April 2004, Ms. Lange was in Mexico City visiting with heads of sub-commissions of the Mexican National Coordination to Prevent, Attend and Eradicate Child Commercial Sexual Exploitation. She also spent time at two project centres whose staff members use art and counselling to reach vulnerable children (youth living on the streets are at extremely high risk for being exploited sexually).
On Friday, 16 April 2004, the Mexican National Family Agency’s Social Welfare Sub-Director Norma Salazar Rivera and Ms. Lange visited the municipal public security office in the town of Playa del Carmen, Mexico to speak with judges, taxi drivers, bar owners and others about the exploitation of children. In addition Ms. Lange spent time at a temporary shelter for children who have been the victims of exploitation and abuse.
Ms. Lange also met with municipal organizations in Cancun who are working to end child exploitation and abuse through action by networks of community members. For example, participating cab drivers refuse to drive passengers to destinations where children are being prostituted.
The collapse of the protective environment for children
There are 24.7 million children under 17 years old living in poverty in Mexico with more than half the population unable to pay for the basic costs of living.
In addition, violence at school is believed to be a key factor in pushing children out of the classroom and onto the streets. It is not uncommon for youth to leave school for jobs and often the search for jobs leads them to situations where they are exploited and placed in high risk situations.
Children have a fundamental right to grow up in a protective environment which shields them from abuse. This protective environment is one in which communities and families are committed to upholding child rights; in which laws are consistently enforced; in which government devotes resources to eliminating exploitation of children; in which the media highlights the issues and challenges discriminatory attitudes; and in which adults who spend time with children – parents, teachers, religious leaders, and others – are able to recognize the signs of abuse and respond accordingly.
For the children living on the streets – without the safety net of laws to protect them or family and/or communities and educators to shield them from harm – it is often only a matter of time before they are abused and exploited.
The streets of Cancun, Mexico City and other tourist destinations are usually where adolescents end up looking for work. Although boys and girls both suffer from exploitation and abuse, girls are especially vulnerable.
On Friday evening, 16 April 2004, Ms. Lange spent time with UNICEF protection officer Theresa Kilbane observing the activity out on the noisy, crowded streets of Cancun lined with bars and dance clubs where adolescents are often tempted by employment offers from adults who end up exploiting them sexually.
“These girls are out of school, they are away from their parents, and just look where they are working,” said Ms. Kilbane, as she gestured to the open-air bars where dancers entertained the customers. “Once they begin making that kind of money, for some, it is just a matter of time before the potential money they will make doing other kinds of activity is just too tempting.”
UNICEF works to end child exploitation
Issues of sexual exploitation and abuse will be addressed during the IPU meeting on Wednesday, 21 April 2004, at a panel on “Commercial sexual exploitation of children.”
Ms. Lange will attend the panel along with senior UNICEF officials, representatives of partner non-governmental organizations and parliamentarians from around the world.
UNICEF works in 157 countries, and undertakes child protection programmes in almost all of them, focusing on issues including children without caregivers, the worst forms of child labour and violence against children. Over the last two years, the organization has allocated over $240 million to its work on child protection.
The IPU was established in 1889 and brings together Members of Parliament from over 140 states. It contributes to the defence and promotion of human rights and has a long-standing commitment to the protection of children.
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