UNICEF is committed to doing all it can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in partnership with governments, civil society, business, academia and the United Nations family – and especially children and young people.
Remarks of Ann M. Veneman, Executive Director, UNICEF Excluded and Invisible: 2006 State of the World’s Children Wednesday, 14 December 2005 • London, England
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman:
Good morning, and thank you for joining us here in London for the international launch of UNICEF’s flagship annual report, The State of the World’s Children 2006.
More than 150 years ago, the author Charles Dickens used this great city as the setting for his stories of the dispossessed, many of them orphans, street children, and child laborers.
He shined a light into a world we often refuse to see, even when it is right in front of us: the world of excluded and invisible children.
This year, The State of the World’s Children casts its light over the same terrain, and the picture is not a pretty one.
The 2006 report highlights a staggering fact: Hundreds of millions of children across the world are missing from public view.
Despite efforts to improve children’s lives, these are children who are being left behind. They are the exploited and abused children, and children who are subject to discrimination.
They are overlooked and forgotten, by individuals, by institutions, and sometimes even by their own families.
Who are these children and why are they excluded and invisible?
They are the world’s most vulnerable children, trapped in circumstances that push them to the margins and shadows of society:
They are children who are not registered at birth and grow up without an identity. They are children who suffer the death of one or both parents. They are children who are forced into adult roles when they should be at school or at play. And they are children who are exploited in the commercial sex industry or the worst forms of child labor, or even as soldiers in adult conflicts.
Picture a child who is born into extreme poverty: Both of her parents die of AIDS. She stops going to school. Taken in by a family already struggling to cope, she is forced to sell her body on the streets, putting her health and protection at great risk.
Picture another child who has never been inside a classroom: Every day, she cooks and cleans for a family that is not her own. She is not allowed to leave the house. She is routinely beaten and verbally abused.
These stories are not making headlines.
They are stories of children who are rarely seen or heard, stories that, multiplied by millions, are happening every day.
For children, these issues are more than a moral imperative. The situation of these children perpetuates poverty, holds back national development, and impedes attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
The MDGs are international targets that, if achieved, could dramatically transform the lives and prospects of millions of children.
Think of the lasting social and economic benefits of a world that protects and cares for its most vulnerable children, allowing them to grow to their full potential.
And yet, so much of what excluded and invisible children suffer happens silently and in secret, off the world’s radar. The full picture of how children are being abused and exploited across the world is very hard to capture, which is one reason why they remain excluded and invisible.
But we do know some numbers. Every year, more than 50 million children throughout the world are not registered at birth. Without a formal identity, they are less likely to get a space in school or the healthcare they need.
Millions of children who are orphaned, many of whom live on the streets and in institutions, they have been stripped of their first line of protection: a loving and nurturing family. They are easy prey to being trafficked, abused, abducted, sexually exploited and more.
Every year, an estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked into underground worlds, traded as if they were commodities. These children are forced into prostitution, hazardous forms of labor, domestic servitude and military service. They are subjected to unspeakable forms of abuse.
These challenges are especially difficult during times of humanitarian crisis.
Quick action during disasters such as the tsunami and the Pakistan earthquake, including registration of children and reuniting them with their families, protected untold numbers of children from abuses like trafficking and illegal adoptions.
The State of the World’s Children report takes you into the lives of hundreds of millions children who are hidden from view, lost to statistics, programs and budgets, and growing up beyond our reach.
It provides a sweeping assessment of the world’s most vulnerable children. And it explores why children who are most in need of care and protection are also the most underserved and neglected.
Yesterday, here in London, I participated in a conference on child survival, where we talked about the many ways we can prevent children dying needlessly, by providing them with basic life-saving services such as immunization.
Ensuring that children get the fundamental goods and services they need to survive and thrive is essential not just for their health. Children who are excluded from essential services such as education and good healthcare are also far more likely to fall prey to abuse and exploitation.
Persistent poverty, the continued spread of HIV/AIDS, and discrimination are among the major factors that deny children basic services, and leave them vulnerable to abuse of all kinds.
In a moment, we will hear personal stories of exclusion and exploitation from two brave young women who have come here from India and Romania.
They have grown up in a world that has yet to fulfill the promises of a better future for children, one in which families, communities and governments rise to their responsibility to protect children.
We have not given up hope of realizing this future.
We have to begin by addressing the underlying causes of exclusion and abuse, the factors that make children vulnerable in the first place.
Education is powerful and proven. If we can get more children - and particularly more girls - into school, we can equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their greatest potential.
And we can help to keep them safe. When children are in a classroom, they are kept away from many dangers they could face. UNICEF is a partner in major initiatives aimed at getting millions more girls into school.
We have also spearheaded a global campaign to bring attention and resources to the invisible victims of the HIV/AIDS pandemic: the millions of children infected or impacted by the disease. Globally, an estimated 15 million children have lost one or both parents because of AIDS.
There are also additional targeted measures we can take to reach excluded and invisible children.
We need more research to reveal the extent of abuse and exploitation. Next year, the UN Secretary-General’s “Study on Violence Against Children” will be launched, the first global report to examine the causes and scale of the violence children endure.
That report will provide additional weight behind an agenda for the protection and care of children everywhere. That agenda must include ensuring that laws created to protect children are actually enforced.
We must also strengthen the institutions that serve children, and make sure that resources are directed toward services for children. And we must design programs to better reach the children who are often left behind by current development efforts.
Each year, UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children report looks at a topic impacting children’s lives, providing critical viewpoints for policy and advocacy, and updating key indicators for children’s development.
What began during the tenure of Jim Grant has become an indispensable tool for those working on behalf of children.
We often hear how particularly useful it has become to our partners in the NGO community.
While Dickens wrote his stories about a London of long ago, The State of the World’s Children 2006 makes it clear that these stories are still playing out today in a variety of real ways, in modern settings all around the world.
They are tales of children who are not protected or provided the services they need, and who are denied their very childhood.
It is up to all of us to give a face to these children, and help make their voices heard.