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For UNICEF, 1996 offers a "terrible symmetry." The organization was founded in 1946 to help children in the aftermath of World War II. Now, 50 years later, UNICEF is again confronted with the need to assist children ravaged by war emergencies across the globe.
In her first State of the World's Children report, the recently appointed Executive Director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy, highlights the terrible toll wars and conflicts are taking on children. In the past decade, some 2 million children have been killed; 4-5 million disabled; 12 million left homeless; more than 1 million orphaned or separated from their parents; and some 10 million psychologically traumatized.
Photo: A child, whose family was 'displaced' by the war in Nicaragua, sits on an abandoned tank. The decades-long civil war ended in 1979 but poverty remains a problem, due to the country's damaged infrastructure. UNICEF supports community programmes in primary health care and education, as well as projects for improved water and sanitation in many countries whose community services have been disrupted by war. ©
The report argues that respect for children and commitment to their welfare are key to humanitarian and political progress, and it sets out an agenda for action. Measures include banning the production, use, stockpiling and sale of anti-personnel land-mines; systematically reporting war crimes against women and children; raising the age at which children can be conscripted into armed forces; carefully monitoring the effects of economic sanctions on children; and promoting the principle of 'children as zones of peace'. The report also emphasizes the importance of healing the psychosocial wounds of war and educating children for peace.
The State of the World's Children 1996 captures the historical sweep of progress for children and the challenges of their current situation in UNICEF's 50th anniversary year. It explains why children are increasingly becoming war victims and combatants. The report also looks at what has been achieved over the past 50 years, recalling the early attacks against diseases like yaws and polio, moving through the 'child survival and development revolution' of the 1980s, which by the end of that decade was estimated to have saved 12 million lives, and on to the World Summit for Children in 1990 and the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which by November 1995 had been ratified by 181 countries. As in previous years, the report also provides a detailed statistical profile of children's lives around the world, using indicators such as infant and child mortality, school enrolment rates, access to safe water and levels of immunization.
One of the gravest threats to the many achievements made comes from today's chronic emergencies, particularly in Africa. For the rest of the decade, Ms. Bellamy believes that UNICEF will have to devote much of its energies to helping these countries achieve their targets of reducing child mortality, disease and illiteracy.