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Children Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Out of Reach

Tehran, December 19, 2005 - Children who are victims of abuse, exploitation and discrimination, and suffer exclusion from education, healthcare and other vital services, are being largely overlooked by international development efforts that could dramatically improve their lives and prospects, says UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2006. With 1 in every 6 children around the globe still dying before the age of five, the report highlights the problems of excluded children and communities who become invisible amidst growing affluence of populations around them.

Findings for the Middle East and North Africa suggest that endemic instability and weak governance have resulted in uneven progress, which has widened already existing disparities within and between countries in the region. The   State   of   the  World’s  Children  2006  calls  for  a  different interpretation  of  regional  and national averages, which often mask the realities facing particular countries or parts of countries. 

Many countries in the region have successfully addressed education, health and other human development needs in the past twenty years. Yet within these countries, many children continue to live in communities totally cut off from the progress around them. They are invisible children, generally forgotten by those around them. Exclusion may be due to geography, ethnicity or conflict, but it also may be due to factors like disability or disease”, said Thomas McDermott, UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Invisible children everywhere

- Stateless children - children born to a father of one nationality and mother of another, to refugee families, or to ethnic minority groups are often left stateless and without access to schools and other services.   The problem is made worse by lack of proper birth registration systems, bureaucratic hurdles, and ethnic divisions. Over 18 million children in the region are not registered at birth.     

- Child labourers - employed as factory workers and servants, working children are often forgotten and out of reach of services.

- Street children are growing in numbers, yet remain largely invisible to the affluent.

- Early marriage - arranged marriage of girls at a very early age is done without consent. There remain a number of socio-cultural issues surrounding early marriage, particularly those related to gender discrimination and human rights violations which make married girls vulnerable to social and economic poverty.

- Disabled children - children with a handicap are often kept at home and are unable to go to school or live normal lives; families do so sometimes out of shame, but also out of concern that their disabled children will be stigmatized.

- HIV-affected - Despite currently low prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the region, infection rates are rising rapidly. Stigmatization of HIV infected children and adults is likely to become a serious problem as numbers grow.

- Child detainees - Mostly victims of abuse, poverty, and war, these children are frequently kept in confinement for long periods and physical and sexual abuse is common.

The challenges in Iran:

In Iran, whilst significant progress has been made in primary health services and primary education, disparities do exist. Poverty in the form of malnutrition and quality childcare practices remains a challenge especially at community level in outlying provinces such as Sistan Baluchistan, West Azerbaijan and Hormozgan.

There is also gender discrimination. Literacy rates are generally lower in the poorer provinces, in particular amongst women.

Drop out rates for girls at primary school level is still high in certain areas, reflecting socio-cultural barriers to the benefits of girls’ education.

Recent studies have also shown a nationwide prevalence of child abuse and exploitation. Corporal punishment in schools and remand homes is common and so is child labour.

“Despite good progress and positive social indicators, there are still challenges ahead for Iran, especially in certain parts of the country,” said Jan Pieter Kleijburg, Officer in Charge, UNICEF Iran. “More research on children’s issues would lead to a better understanding of the causes of children’s exclusion and would help to ensure national capacities and resources are effectively used for children.

To coincide with the release of the report, UNICEF, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults (Kanoon) decided to hold a photography competition all over Iran, based on the same theme.

Five UNICEF-supported recreational centres in Bam, a Kanoon centre in Kerman, six cultural centres in the provinces of Sistan Baluchistan, Hormozgan and West Azerbaijan and four refugee camps (2 Iraqi and 2 Afghan) were given digital cameras and children were asked to go out and take photos interpreting the theme.

Out of 120 photos, 16 winners were chosen. The top three were given cameras as prizes.



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