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20 November 2007 - speech on the occasion of 18th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Today, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history – celebrates its 18th birthday, with Sudan being one of the first countries to ratify this important Convention.

On this day, as the first generation of children born under the protection of the Convention enter adulthood, I would like to reflect on some of the progress made for children in recent years here in Sudan, and look at the challenges still remaining.

The years of conflict in Sudan have made data collection very difficult, especially if we wanted to go back to 1989 and find accurate statistics on the condition of children then. But we do have some insight to the situation of children over the last few years, and perhaps it is easiest to take the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 as a starting point, as this in itself created a unique new environment of opportunity. For example:

  • Estimates for under-5 mortality rates have fallen from an estimated 156 deaths per 1,000 live births prior to the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to 112 according to the 2006 Sudan Household Health Survey
  • Access to clean water has started to increase, from a pre-Comprehensive Peace Agreement estimate of 52.35 per cent to 56.1 per cent based on the 2006 Sudan Household Health Survey.
  • While lack of accurate population data means that it is difficult to measure progress in terms of percentages, in terms of absolute numbers, primary school enrolment in Southern Sudan has increased from an estimated 343,000 during the war to an estimated 1.2 million today.  This is almost triple the number of children in school!
  • More than 12.9 million children have been protected against measles throughout Sudan.
  • Demobilization programmes have got underway to support children formerly associated with armed forces and groups in Southern Sudan, in the east of Sudan and in South Kordofan.  Over 1,500 children have been demobilized and have been or are in the process of being reintegrated over the past two years.  
  • The protective environment for children has been improved – legislation has been drafted or amended by both the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan to better protect children’s rights, such as the Armed Forces Act in the north of Sudan and the Child Act in Southern Sudan.
  • New initiatives have been developed by government to support the most vulnerable children – such as the new alternative family care system for children with parental support, or the Child and Family Protection Units being established by the Sudan police to assist women and children affected by crime.

These are important developments, and ones of which you as Sudanese should be proud. This year, Sudan will present its 3rd and 4th reports on the Convention on the Rights of the Child to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, to demonstrate what it has done to ensure that the Convention is being upheld. This also marks a clear demonstration by the government that children’s rights are not limited to pieces of paper, but must be integrated into the daily of life of the population.

Against this background of progress, much remains to be done before we can say that every article of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is being upheld.

In Southern Sudan, the highest maternal mortality ratios have been recorded during 2006. Across Sudan, a third of children under the age of five are moderately or severely underweight. 44% of the population still doesn’t have access to clean water.

The main killers of children in Sudan are preventable diseases – such as malaria, diarrhea and measles. Only 38% of women in Sudan are literate, limiting their potential for safe motherhood. Children remain at risk of abuse and exploitation – female genital mutilation and cutting still affects an estimated 70% of women and girls (primarily in the north of the country), more than one-third of girls are married before the age of 18, and an estimated 10,000 children remain attached to armed forces and groups across Sudan.

Decades of war have clearly shattered the national capacity to provide comprehensive health and education services for women and children

Underlying these statistics are some common factors. Decades of war have clearly shattered the national capacity to provide comprehensive health and education services for women and children. Infrastructure is limited. Poverty remains endemic, limiting the choices parents can make for their children. Government institutions, are in need of sustained investment to help them manage resources effectively for children.  Government investment in the social sectors, specifically in health and education, needs to be increased.

At the broader level, while Sudan has signed and ratified most of the international conventions related to women and children, a remarkable record, it has yet to sign  the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) with whatever reservations it may record. Given that so many of the challenges facing the population of Sudan are related to women, it is essential that there is a clear recognition at every level of society that investment in girls’ and women’s health, education and equality is critical to national development.

Of course, the situation in Darfur continues to hold back the development of children. Half of those affected by the conflict are children. Despite the massive humanitarian operation that has saved so many lives in the last four years, all the indicators show that children remain especially vulnerable and at risk in Darfur, as without peace, without sustained delivery of quality health, education, water, sanitation and protection programmes, there is little potential for communities to grow and develop.  In the past year alone, we have seen over 290,000 displaced or re-displaced and humanitarian space and access is shrinking.

So, as the first children to be born in the era of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child now move into adulthood, what is UNICEF’s prognosis for Sudan? We believe that there is cause for some optimism – there is a phrase which says ‘consider the glass to be half full, not half empty’. That is how I would view the situation of children in Sudan today – we have made impressive steps in the right direction, but the journey is far from over.

Ahead of us lie the Millennium Development Goals, which the world agreed to meet by 2015. At this stage, Sudan will require extraordinary action to reach all of these goals, notably those related to child survival. But that does not mean we should stop working towards the achievement of the goals – nor should we empty the glass of the progress with which we have filled it so far.

We need to set out a common vision for children that will at the same time build a stronger Sudan for all, tackling disparities, and investing wisely in areas that will secure long-term growth and stability

There remain important opportunities for Sudan to make the right choices for children. We need to set out a common vision for children that will at the same time build a stronger Sudan for all, tackling disparities, and investing wisely in areas that will secure long-term growth and stability.

We need to invest in integrated health care, at the very heart of communities. The Sudan Accelerated Child Survival Initiative is one exciting development, supported by UNICEF, WHO and other partners, that will build upon existing infrastructure to provide an integrated package of health, nutrition and sanitation activities in areas with the worst child survival indicators.  It is designed to ensure that all children in Sudan benefit from access to eight interventions: immunization against polio, immunization against measles, immunization of women of child bearing age against tetanus to reduce the incidence of neo-natal tetanus, provision of bed nets against malaria, de-worming tablets, Vitamin A supplements, education on the promotion of exclusive breast-feeding during the first six months of life as well as growth monitoring and education on basic hygiene measures such as handwashing, which will protect children against disease.  This “jump-start” phase of the initiative will be followed by activities that will focus on strengthening water and sanitation and health and nutrition systems to insure the sustainability of the operation. 

We need to build more ownership and leadership within community structures; Integrated Community Regeneration and Development programmes will help bring the government, non-government, civil society and UN entities together with community leaders to agree upon joint programmes that invest directly in services such as education, health and livelihoods, focusing on local priorities that will encourage sustainability.

For UNICEF, one of our main priorities is to work effectively with our government partners, both in the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan. Part of that work is to bring people together to discuss and address common issues. Last year’s Sudan Household Health Survey – the first national survey of its type for many years – was one example of the important collaboration that can be achieved. Other issues that require such interaction include HIV, the continued fight against disease outbreaks, and support for returnees. Most recently, in light of the illegal attempt to traffic children out of Chad, we have been able to offer our assistance to the Government of Sudan to ensure that protection measures are reviewed to prevent future incidents of this type occurring. We will also work with the relevant authorities to reunite the children with their families as quickly as possible.

Similarly, we need to continue working with governments and others beyond Sudan’s borders on issues that affect children here in Sudan. In Southern Sudan, for example, we are working closely with the government as part of a UN-wide process to prepare for the return of children and women from the Lord’s Resistance Army. This will involve providing medical assistance, help with family tracing, educational opportunities, and psychosocial support.

Just as today we see a generation of children born in the same year as the Convention on the Rights of the Child become adults, so will today’s generation of children one day become the leaders of Sudan, and we have a collective responsibility to build a stronger Sudan that fully addresses the needs and the rights of its children.

 

 
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