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SG bids for indigenous children's rights, citing UNICEF report

LIMA, PERU/PANAMA CITY, 12 November 2003 – Welcoming the statement on indigenous children made earlier today in Macchu Picchu, Peru, by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, UNICEF called for urgent, far-reaching action in response to the “genuine emergency” facing millions of children from indigenous communities in Latin America.

UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg said “Governments, in particular, must place indigenous children at the very center of their agendas.  These children are living through a genuine emergency.  The time has come to turn the many declarations and commitments that have been made over the years into tangible, measurable action to secure their rights."

“The Secretary-General’s statement could not be more timely,” he added.  “We are seeing in a number of countries what business as usual brings in terms of unrest and instability.”

Meeting with indigenous leaders and Peru’s President Alejandro Toledo in Macchu Picchu – one of the stops on his 3-nation visit to the region – the Secretary-General said “the international community can no longer tolerate” the discrimination and marginalization of indigenous children.  “Nor should any society where it is happening,” he added.

The Secretary-General and his wife Nane Annan took part in a traditional ceremony and paid tribute to Mother Earth as the Incas did 500 years ago. 

 In his statement, the Secretary-General cited a soon-to-be released report by UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre that shows the unacceptably high rates of infant mortality, and the unacceptably low levels of birth registration, vaccination and education, among indigenous communities.

 Mr. Annan called the report “a call to action to promote the highest standard of health and nutrition, to guarantee multi-cultural education of high quality, and to give indigenous children a voice in the decisions that affect their lives.”

The Secretary-General’s statement comes in the wake of the adoption, at the 5th Iberoamerican Conference of Ministers and Senior Officials Responsible for Children and Adolescents, of a document containing wide-ranging commitments to improve the lives of indigenous and Afro-descendant children. It is expected that the document will be formally adopted by the upcoming Iberoamerican summit IN Santa Cruz, Bolivia (14-15 November).

Kastberg said: "The most urgent debt that must be repaid in Latin America is not its foreign debt; it is the social debt owed to its children, in particular its indigenous children.  Investing today in indigenous children -- their health, nutrition, education and participation -- is the best and most effective way to begin repaying that debt and jump-starting sustainable development.”

He added: “The handwriting is on the wall: democracy and economic progress are endangered by the continued unjust, radical division of societies, the impoverishment and systematic exclusion of indigenous and Afro-descendent peoples."

The UNICEF report, “Ensuring the Rights of Indigenous Children”, presents a global picture of the indigenous child.  It finds that, compared to other children, indigenous children generally demonstrate:
-- higher mortality rates;
--lower vaccination rates;
--lower levels of birth registration;
--lower school enrolment;
--higher rates of school drop-out and grade repetition; and
--poorer access to justice systems.

Figures compiled by UNICEF’s Latin America and Caribbean office illustrate that indigenous populations in the region are the poorest of the poor.  Recent data show that in Guatemala, for example, 87% of the indigenous population is poor, as compared to 54% of the non-indigenous population; in Mexico, that ratio is 80% vs. 18%; in Peru, 79% of the indigenous population is classified as poor, compared to 50% of the non-indigenous population; while in Bolivia, the ratio is 64% vs. 48%.

The full statement by the Secretary-General is attached in English and Spanish, with unofficial translations into several indigenous languages.

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For more information contact:

Kate Donovan,  UNICEF Media, New York  Tel:  212 326 7452 e-mail kdonovan@unicef.org
Robert Cohen (UNICEF TACRO) – 507-315-7484 or 507-676-3216 email:  rcohen@unicef.org
Marilu Wiegold ,  UNICEF Peru     51-1 99216471
Sandra Arzubiaga, UNICEF Peru,  51-1 99630567




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