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Jessica Lange tells parliamentarians to ask tough questions

Role of elected officials key to protecting children from violence, abuse and exploitation.

MEXICO CITY, 20 April 2004 –  UNICEF Ambassador Jessica Lange today launched a  “Handbook for Parliamentarians on Child Protection,” a joint UNICEF/IPU (Inter-Parliamentary Union) report.  She called on parliamentarians to live up to their responsibilities as legislators and become champions for children. 

“There can be no better measure of our governance than the way we treat our children, and no greater failing on our part than to allow them to be subjected to violence, abuse or exploitation" said Ms.  Lange.   “Parliamentarians have the power to alleviate the suffering of millions of children around the world, if only they would use it." 

Addressing the IPU at its 110th International Assembly in Mexico City, Ms.Lange was joined by Senator Sergio Paez Verdubo, the President of the IPU, Anders Jonnsson, the Secretary-General of the IPU and Mr. Edwin Judd, Director of Programmes for UNICEF.  The IPU brings together together representatives of parliaments from 138 countries.     

Lange called on parliamentarians to ask tough questions and demand answers about why children continue to suffer from violence, exploitation and abuse within their country.  She urged parliamentarians to use their power of inquiry to understand why the exploitation was not prevented and who should be held accountable. 

The handbook spells out practical ways in which parliamentarians can make a difference:

1) Use the power of legislation to adopt and enforce strong laws that protect children from exploitation, allow children’s voices to be heard and hold perpetrators accountable.

2) Use the power of budgetary oversight to ensure that child protection receives adequate resources, funding and attention from all parts of government.

3) Use the power of parliamentary inquiry to hold governments and institutions accountable.

Children have a fundamental right to grow up in a protective environment which shields them from abuse. This protective environment is one in which communities and families are committed to upholding child rights; in which laws are consistently enforced; in which government devotes resources to eliminating exploitation of children; in which the media highlights the issues and challenges discriminatory attitudes; and in which adults who spend time with children – parents, teachers, religious leaders, and others –  are able to recognize the signs of abuse and respond accordingly.

This right eludes millions of children around the world.

  • Some 40 million children below the age of 15 suffer from abuse and neglect;
  • An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year;
  • Approximately 246 million children work, with about 180 million engaged in the worst forms of child labour;
  • At any given time over 300,000 child soldiers, some as young as eight, are exploited in armed conflicts in over 30 countries. More than 2 million children are estimated to have died as a direct result of armed conflicts during the 1990s;
  • And 2 million children are believed to be exploited through prostitution and pornography.

During her trip to Mexico, Ms. Lange visited programmes in Cancun aimed at protecting children from sexual exploitation in the tourism industry:

Last August Lange witnessed first hand the suffering of children caught in conflict when she visited the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).   Thousands of children were raped, mutilated and killed during the country’s civil war. Tens of thousands were drafted as combatants. There are continuing reports of sexual violence against girls in DRC – where rape has become a weapon of war, used deliberately by all sides. 

“I saw the horrific consequences of the absence of protection for children. Legislators from all countries have a duty to make sure such atrocities never happen, and that perpetrators are held accountable," said Lange.

Background information:
 The Handbook will be distributed in over 140 countries and will be used as a catalyst for action at the parliamentary level.   It is hoped that the Handbook will be translated in local languages by the parliaments and launched by parliamentarians in their countries. There will also be a panel on sexual exploitation of children during the Assembly, involving Jessica Lange, senior UNICEF officials, NGO partners and parliamentarians from around the world.

UNICEF works in 158 countries, and undertakes child protection programmes in almost all of them, focusing on children without caregivers, the worst forms of child labour, and violence against children. Over the last two years, the organization has allocated over $240 million to its work on child protection.

The IPU was established in 1889 and brings together representatives of Parliaments in over 140 states.  It contributes to the defence and promotion of human rights and has a long-standing commitment to the protection of children.  

* * *
For further information, please contact:
Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF Media, New York
(212) 326-7269, jsedky@unicef.org

Kate Donovan, UNICEF Media Mexico City,

Luisa Balin, IPU Media, Geneva, 41 22 919 4150

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