UNICEF Iran's call to action for excluded and invisible children.

Jan Pieter Kleijburg, Officer in Charge, UNICEF

19th December 2005

Every day children become invisible to the rest of the world. When their needs are neglected or ignored, when they are excluded from essential services and when they are denied protection and participation, children ‘disappear’ from view.

UNICEF’s 2006 State of the World’s Children Report calls attention to the world’s most excluded and invisible children. It explains how weak governments and conflict can destroy a childhood. It demonstrates how the global HIV epidemic affects children –15 million have already lost one or both parents. Nearly 1,800 children under the age of 15 are infected by the virus every day.

Child labourers, girls who marry early, children who are trafficked and children who live on the streets are also invisible from official view. They are among the hardest to reach with vital services and yet they are among those most in need of protection.

Children become invisible when their births are not registered. Recent studies show that more than 10 per cent of births in some areas of Iran go unregistered. This means they will not be able to apply for jobs or passports, open bank accounts, get marriage licenses or vote. Most of the unregistered births in Iran occur in remote areas and UNICEF is working in partnership with the Birth Registration Organization to support alternative community birth registration models and to raise public awareness on the importance of birth registration.

When children are separated from their families they also become invisible. Separated children are better cared for by relatives or in small, community-based centres rather than large, impersonal orphanages. After the Bam earthquake, a UNICEF-supported family reunification project allowed the State Welfare Organization to find tailor-made solutions for many children who lost parents in the disaster. 

Child victims of abuse are arguably among the most invisible, as their abusers will prevent them from accessing services even if they are available. Action to end abuse often starts at home, in the way we treat and respect our children and in the way we listen to their concerns and create a safe and protective environment for them. Parents are the ‘first line of protection’ for children and they determine whether their children grow up to be responsible, outstanding citizens.

Logic would suggest that children held within the criminal justice system should be among the most visible children of all, readily accessible to services such as health-care, education and protection. But often children in conflict with the law effectively cease to be regarded as children. Instead, their perceived transgression is considered to remove them from childhood protection, exposing them either to being treated in exactly the same way as adult offenders or, worse, to having their vulnerability as children abused.

Governments have a clear responsibility to protect children in detention from abuse and harm. But they must also question whether or not a child should be in detention at all. Detention should always be a last resort but, in many cases, it is too readily adopted as an immediate response to antisocial or disruptive behaviour by children and adolescents, as if removing them out of sight and out of mind is a goal in itself, rather than an unintended consequence.

When children take on adult roles too early, by caring for family members or by working to contribute to the family income, they also become invisible. These children risk exclusion from protection and essential services and are prevented from having a childhood.

What can be done?

First we must understand the factors that make children invisible. Governments, donors, civil society, international organizations, the private sector and the media must also recommit to their responsibilities to children.

In Iran, more research on children’s issues would lead to a better understanding of the causes of children’s exclusion. Informed policy making would help to ensure national capacities and resources are effectively used for children. National legislation should match international commitments to children, as enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Community based solutions to sentencing need to be encouraged instead of locking up children alongside adults. And where there is no alternative, young offenders should be separated from adults and given appropriate facilities. Iran has already started this with judges and disciplinary forces diverting cases involving youngsters to solutions outside the penal system, and handing out alternative sentences for small offences. The establishment of juvenile courts and juvenile correction centres has also been an important improvement.

Legislation and research must be complemented by child-focused budgets and institutions. The commitment to meeting the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) provides the framework. Focusing on the MDGs means action for children, as 6 out of 8 MDGs directly relate to children.

Removing entry barriers to essential services for excluded children is urgently required in many countries and communities. This means recognizing indirect costs for parents to send their children to school and supporting and informing parents on the need for care and protection of their children. In remote areas, packaging services can increase access, as can the use of mobile services for children in isolated or deprived locations.

If you would like a copy of the Executive Summary of the State of the World’s Children Report, please contact UNICEF’s Information Resource Centre at (98 21) 2259-4994 ext. 106



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