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On Day of Families, remember children who are alone

Children Without Parents Face Greater Risk of Abuse

NEW YORK, 14 May 2004 - Children growing up without parental care are at greater risk of violence, exploitation, trafficking and discrimination, UNICEF said today, commemorating the International Day of Families.

“Family is a child’s first line of protection,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said. “Being deprived of parental support can be devastating. Without this essential buffer, children are immediately more vulnerable to abuse of their most basic rights.”

Bellamy said many countries have failed to recognize their responsibility to care for such children. Action is needed to prevent children from losing parental care, reunite those who have been separated from their families and ensure the availability of loving alternative family environments for those who cannot return to parents or relatives.

For example, while 14 million children under 15 have lost one or both parents to AIDS, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, only six of the region’s countries have addressed the needs of children orphaned by AIDS in their national poverty reduction plans, and none have specifically included this concern in poverty reduction budgets.

“Children have a right to grow up in a protective environment,” Bellamy said. “Having lost their parents to disease or conflict does not mean they are not entitled to the care and protection that a family provides. Children will not be free from exploitation until all levels of society – from the family to the international community – work together.”

The 2004 International Day of Families marks the 10th anniversary of the International Year of the Family, which was designed to raise awareness among governments and the private sector of family issues and to spur the creation and monitoring of effective policies for strengthening families.

Bellamy said the best way to help children is to prevent families from being disrupted in the first place.

In addition to losing parents to AIDS or being placed in institutional care as a response to disability or family poverty, children are often forced to grow up alone due to armed conflict and the economic pressures that make them vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. Over the last decade, more than 1 million children have been orphaned or separated from their families by armed conflict. An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked every year, and 2 million are believed to be exploited through prostitution and pornography.

“Helping families helps children,” Bellamy said. “When parents have access to life-saving health services, they can live to raise their children. When parents are given the chance to earn a living, they don’t have to put their children to work. When basic services are available to help families through a crisis, families can remain together.”

Approximately 246 million children work, with about 180 million engaged in the worst forms of child labour.

Making sure that all children, especially girls and children without parental support, can attend school is one of UNICEF’s key missions. By providing free basic education, countries can increase enrolment among girls and orphans, who are more likely to be denied their right to an education.

Bellamy also called for attention to the many children growing up in institutions.

“We must not forget the more than one million children in the world who are incarcerated, or those who are growing up in institutional care,” she said. “Wherever they are, they have a right to live in an environment that respects their rights and addresses their needs.”

She said a protective environment means having laws that punish those who exploit children, law enforcement that is free from corruption and a community that is aware of the risks children face and does not promote discrimination against certain groups of children.

As part of the agency’s belief in the primary importance of family for children’s survival and thriving, UNICEF works to reunite with their families and communities children who have been trafficked and sexually exploited as well as children who have been orphaned or separated from their families by conflict.

UNICEF also plays a key role in securing the release of child soldiers, reintegrating them with their communities and reuniting them with their families. At any given time there are more than 300,000 child soldiers, some as young as eight, who are exploited in armed conflicts in over 30 countries.

“Reuniting families, strengthening and protecting families and creating loving, supportive family environments for children without parents is at the heart of what UNICEF does for children,” Bellamy said. “Family is paramount not only to the healthy development of children, but to the successful development of society.”

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For further information, please contact:

Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF New York, 212 326 7269

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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