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UNICEF Executive Board

UNICEF Executive Board turns its focus to child protection

By Kristin Taylor

The Executive Board reviews UNICEF activities and approves its policies, country programmes and budgets. It comprises 36 members, representing the five regional groups of Member States at the United Nations. The Executive Board meets three times a year at United Nations Headquarters in New York – in a first regular session (January/February), annual session (May/June) and second regular session (September).

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2014-1479/Markisz
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake addresses participants at the second regular session of the 2014 UNICEF Executive Board at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

NEW YORK, United States of America, 12 September 2014 – During its second regular session of 2014, UNICEF’s Executive Board returned to the importance of child protection, a focus area prioritized in this year’s first regular session.

The right of children to be kept safe from harm is affirmed in several articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary in November of this year.

“The CRC is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty in history,” said UNICEF Executive Board President H.E. Mr. Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations, in his opening remarks on 9 September. “It has changed the way children are viewed. Because of the Convention, children are treated as human beings with a distinct set of rights instead of as passive objects of care and charity. In every region of the world, the Convention has inspired changes in laws and practice that have improved the lives of millions of children.”

Every form of protection – whether physical, psychological, emotional, familial, societal or legal – plays an integral role in ensuring the rights of every child are realized, regardless of where she or he may live. Moreover, protection lays the foundation for a world that continues to become a better place for children.

Growing up in a protected family environment

On 10 September, members of the Board had the opportunity to attend a discussion on supporting vulnerable families to reduce reliance on institutional care, such as orphanages, in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CEE/CIS). UNICEF and the Government of Bulgaria co-hosted the event, which was held on the sidelines of the second regular session.

The CRC recognizes the family as “the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members, particularly children” and indicates that the family “should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community.” But many children remain without the nurture and love that families provide.

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2004-1003/Pirozzi
Nana, a nurse in Tbilisi, Georgia, prepares a meal in her kitchen. Nana is providing temporary foster care for Mariam (left) and Beka (right), both age 3.

Attendees learned that in 26 countries across the region, at least 1.4 million children are growing up apart from their parents, with around half of those children living in large-scale institutions. But too often, institutionalization does not mean that a child has no parents; session facilitators reported that for 9 out of 10 children in institutional care, one or both parents were found to be still alive. Rather, attendees heard, institutionalization of children in the CEE/CIS region more often results from vulnerable families not having the support or means necessary to care for their children.

Some families in the region are more vulnerable than others. It is estimated that up to 60 per cent of children living in institutions have a disability; such children lack access to specialized health care and inclusive education within their own communities. And children who come from minority ethnic groups, who live in one-parent households or who face other forms of disadvantage are more likely to end up in institutions.

Regardless of the factors that lead to institutionalization, placement in such facilities can negatively affect children’s physical, intellectual and emotional development in ways that can last a lifetime.

“[N]o matter how good the staff or how modern the institution, children need more than what any institution can give them,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake at the event. “They need homes. They need a family – not just people who care about them, but people who are physically there, giving them the individual attention they need and a constant presence that reminds them they’re more than cared for: they’re loved.”

“The better solution,” he went on to say, “is to place children in loving foster homes, and the best solution is to return them to a responsible family member.” The right support would enable many parents to be able to care for their children once again.

The benefits also extend to children’s communities: Institutional care requires greater funding support from governments than community-based services, such as foster care. Most importantly, as Mr. Lake indicated, growing up in a family environment puts children “on the path to reaching their full potential and becoming fully contributing members of their societies.”

Protecting children in emergencies

On 9 September, members of the Board heard the results of a thematic evaluation on UNICEF’s programmes to protect children in emergencies. By turning a critical eye to UNICEF’s work, the evaluation aims to strengthen the organization’s responses going forward.

Findings indicate that approaching child protection along the continuum of pre-crisis, crisis and post-crisis response addresses many of the rapidly emerging challenges children and women face amid natural disasters and armed conflicts. However, in countries already facing fragile infrastructure or affected by conflict, or where states themselves are perpetrators of violence, response systems need to be further developed.

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© UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0895/El Baba
A girl makes her way through the rubble at her home, which was destroyed during an air strike, in the city of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, July 2014.

Additionally, the evaluation identified strong results in helping separated children find their families, educating children on the risks of explosive remnants of war, providing support to help cope with psychological trauma, preventing recruitment of children into armed groups or forces, as well as advocating for the release of children associated with combatants and helping them reintegrate with their communities.

Weaker results were identified for the organization’s work to monitor, report on and advocate for protection against other grave violations – killing and maiming, abduction, sexual violence, attacks on schools and hospitals and humanitarian access – and its work to prevent violence against children and women. Less comprehensive data in these areas mean results are harder to quantify; this often leads to lower levels of funding support for child protection initiatives in emergencies.

The evaluation recommendations include strengthening engagement with leaders to address violence against children; strengthening data management to better demonstrate outcomes; promoting long-term social change that addresses the root causes of violence; and empowering everyday citizens to help prevent violence in their own communities through greater use of simple, yet effective, interventions. These can include implementing community alert and response systems, such as providing children and women with whistles to sound when in danger, thus triggering action from community members and civilian police.

Country programme approvals

During the second regular session, the Executive Board approved the following country and area programmes: Afghanistan, Angola, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Comoros, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Sierra Leone, Timor-Leste, Tunisia and the programme for Palestinian children and women in Jordan, Lebanon, the Syrian Arab Republic and the State of Palestine. Programmes in Botswana, Colombia, Iraq, Mali and the United Republic of Tanzania were extended.

The session concluded on 11 September. In his closing remarks, Mr. Kamau said, “I am proud of the work that this Board and UNICEF as an organization [has] accomplished. But with all [this] great progress, we must all remain steadfast in ensuring that children remain high on the list of our priorities. Our best for children must continue to become even better.


 

 

UNICEF Photography: UNICEF's Executive Board

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