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UNICEF: Indigenous children left behind in their countries’ progress

Theme of the Day: ‘Bridging the gap: implementing the rights of indigenous peoples’

© UNICEF/NYHQ2014-0452/Moreno
In April 2014 at her school in Ucayali Region, Peru, Isa Rate, from the indigenous Shipibo group, shows UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake how she spells her name in her native language.

NEW YORK, 8 August 2014 – Indigenous children continue to miss out on their rights and face discrimination on a daily basis, UNICEF said today to mark the 2014 International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples.

The organization said despite significant gains for children since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989, the world has not delivered upon its commitments to indigenous children. Whether they live in low-, middle- or high-income countries, indigenous children continue to face glaring disparities across all human development indicators.

“It is unacceptable that a quarter of a century after affirming the rights of all children everywhere, the nations of the world continue to leave behind significant numbers of their populations,” said Susana Sottoli, Associate Director of Programmes for UNICEF, with responsibility for child rights. “It is more than time to close the gap for all indigenous children, so that the Convention becomes a reality for them too.”

Indigenous children are much less likely to be able to attend and do well in school due to a complex mix of factors, including poverty, gender, lack of bilingual education, distance from school, and the school calendar, among others. 

In Peru in 2011, for example, Spanish speakers were more than seven times as likely as indigenous language speakers to reach a satisfactory standard in reading.  In Namibia, only 7 per cent of San-speaking children enrolled in junior secondary school and less than 1 per cent enrolled in senior secondary school, against overall secondary attendance rates in the country of approximately 55 per cent.  Studies have also shown that indigenous girls are less likely to participate in education than indigenous boys or non-indigenous girls.  

Indigenous children are also disproportionately affected by violence, exploitation and abuse. In Latin America, indigenous children are much more likely to work than their non-indigenous peers, due in part to high levels of poverty. 

UNICEF supports programmes aimed at advancing the rights of indigenous peoples, from bilingual and intercultural education, to culturally sensitive health services, birth registration and child protection measures. UNICEF believes providing better data is key to making indigenous children more visible and will enable their countries to create policies and programmes to reduce the gaps and inequalities.  

The first World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York in September, and will be a key moment to focus on the urgent changes needed to ensure that policy makers take into account the rights of indigenous children.

“The promise of the Convention on the Rights of the Child can only be kept if all children’s rights are realized,” said Sottoli.  “We have to put greater efforts into reaching all children everywhere, and giving all of them the opportunity to survive, develop and reach their full potential.”

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UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do.  Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.  For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org

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For further information, please contact:

Rita Ann Wallace, UNICEF New York, Tel.: 1 212 326-7586, Mobile: +1 917 213 4034, rwallace@unicef.org




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