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Optimism and opportunity in Europe and Central Asia

© UNICEF Bosnia/Senad Gubelic
Young delegates at Sarajevo conference, Boris Todic from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Gresa Baboci from Albania give the opening statement on behalf of young delegates at Sarajevo conference.

SARAJEVO / GENEVA, 13 May 2004 - As Government Ministers from across Europe and Central Asia gather in Sarajevo for a conference to nail down commitments to children’s rights, UNICEF said the timing could not be more auspicious.

‘’EU expansion has generated a new sense of optimism and opened minds across the whole of this region to issues of human rights, an opportunity we should seize to deliver on child rights obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in line with the outcome document of the UN Special Session on Children, a World Fit for Children,’’ said UNICEF Executive Director, Carol Bellamy.

‘’The world has become a scary place for children and, in Europe and Central Asia, millions of children are falling through the cracks to be trafficked and traded, exploited and abused, excluded and alienated in ways that affront the intelligence, shame the conscience and break the heart,‘’ she said. ‘’We know how to prevent this from happening, so what exactly is holding us back?’’ she asked.

Hosted by the Governments of Bosnia and Herzegovina and of Germany, this Second Intergovernmental Conference on Making Europe and Central Asia Fit for Children, 13-15 May, will focus on five areas for priority action: investing in children; children moving across borders; violence against children; social exclusion; and cities fit for children.

Government representatives from more than 50 countries, and delegations of young people, donors and civil society are expected to analyse the systemic, socio-cultural and economic barriers that contribute to, or allow,  the abuse of children and their rights. Child trafficking and illegal adoptions; violence in the home, the school and the community; exclusion from participation in the mainstream of life are among the many issues that will be addressed. The barriers to ending these violations will be identified and prioritised for action at country level.

‘’We must create a protective environment for and with children,‘’ Carol Bellamy said. ‘’We must ensure that the cracks that exist now are plugged with sound, inclusive policies and legislation; with a social service system that is accessible and friendly to all children irrespective of gender, ethnicity, religion or culture; and with a supportive family and community environment. It is not beyond our means or reach, for example, to make this the first region to eliminate child poverty,’’ she added. ’’What we need right now is more political will and leadership.’’

UK actress and UNICEF Special Representative for the Performing Arts, Vanessa Redgrave is the keynote speaker at the event. She will also visit a Sarajevo school that has integrated Roma children into its classrooms.

‘’Constructing a world fit for children, region by region, is the only road to achievement of the Millennium Development Goals,’ Carol Bellamy said. ‘Here in this region we have everything in place to hit that road and make things happen for and with children – more resources, more fruitful partnernships and now, with an expanding Europe, a shared vision.’’

Civil society, young people themselves and the media had the vital role of holding governments and the international community to account when they saw failures to deliver on child rights, she said.

For further information please contact :

Erna Ribar, Communication Officer, Sarajevo, 387 61 106 381

Gregory Grimsich, Communication Consultant, 41 79 246 6 214

Lynn Geldof, Regional Comm. Adviser, CEE/CIS and Baltics,
41 79 431 1537

Angela Hawke, Comm. Officer, CEE/CIS and Baltics, Geneva,
41 22 909 5433

For nearly 60 years UNICEF has been the world’s leader for children, working on the ground in 158 countries to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for poor countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.




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