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UNICEF home The State of the World's Children
2002 Photo © UNICEF



IX. The costs of children's silence

The world reaps rewards by listening to children. Yet, in spite of clear evidence to this effect, most children remain invisible to policy makers and their concerns go unattended.

© UNICEF/99-0804/Lemoyne

Children like this young boy sitting on the railroad tracks in central Jakarta, Indonesia, remain largely invisible to policy makers.

Children cannot vote and have no political representation or access to the courts. One must delve deeply to find their views in the media. Many children marry, work or become soldiers long before they are visible on the political terrain.

Article 12 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child states that "in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child…[should be] given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child."

Children's invisibility in families, communities and nations deprives the world of important input and fresh ideas. Silencing children contributes to a world where they are victims of inequality, abuse, exploitation, poverty and fear.

Fortunately many countries, knowing that their future intertwines with that of their young, put children into the national equation.

Bolivia, for example, created Offices for the Defence of Children in 158 municipalities to protect children's interests. Its goal is to have a branch in each of the country's 314 municipalities. These child protection offices took a leading role in denouncing previously ignored child abuse.

In some of the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, youth parliaments are mushrooming. In the Republic of Moldova, a Children's Parliament includes representation for institutionalized children. Elected youth councils work collaboratively with the country's 18 local administrations, involving young people in the decision-making process. Azerbaijan's higher-than-average proportion of young people elected as Members of Parliament includes the chair of the Children's Organization.

In Africa, children's parliaments abound. Giving children their voices through participation in councils and parliaments exists in nearly every country on the continent.

The long history of silencing children has produced atrocious conditions. During a time when technology abounds, profits soar, voyages into space no longer make headlines and world communication is only a mouse-click away, children still languish in poverty, continue to be victims of physical, psychological and sexual abuse, are forced into combat and are exposed to deadly diseases.

Silencing children, killing their spirits and dashing their hopes is an indelible scar.


For additional information on topics mentioned in the text, click on the links below:
The Bolivian Office for the Defence of Children
The Moldovan Children's Parliament
The Azerbaijani Children's Organization

For an extended treatment of the effect of war on children, see The State of the World's Children 1996

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'In brief'

Leadership from 1990- 2000
The United Nations Special Session on Children
The Global Movement for Children: 'Say Yes for Children'
The magic of leadership
Acts of leadership
Leadership challenges
Good for children, good for the world
It takes a leader to listen
The costs of children's silence
Every nation has a role to play