Our commitments to children demand that every effort be made to reach them. But how can we reach those children living in the shadows? How can we ensure their inclusion in essential services and their visibility by protecting them from harm, abuse and violence and encouraging their participation in society? Three conclusions emerge:
Understanding the plight of excluded and invisible children and the factors behind their marginalization, and then focusing initiatives on these children, must form an integral part of national strategies on child rights and development.
The root causes of exclusion and the factors making children invisible must be addressed. Even well funded, well targeted initiatives for disadvantaged families and children risk failure if the overall conditions that foster poverty, armed conflict, weak governance, the uncontained spread of HIV/AIDS and discrimination persist.
All elements of society must recommit to their responsibilities to children, including the creation of a strong protective environment.
Governments bear the primary responsibility for reaching out to excluded and invisible children and need to step up their efforts in four key areas:
Research: Strong research is essential to effective programming, but reliable data on these children is currently in short supply.
Legislation: National legislation must match international commitments to children. Legislation that entrenches discrimination must be amended or abolished.
Financing and capacity-building: Legislation and research on excluded and invisible children must be complemented by child-focused budgets and institution-building.
Programmes: Service reform to remove entry barriers to essential services for excluded children is urgently required in many countries and communities. Packaging services can increase access, as can the use of satellite and mobile services for children in remote or deprived locations.
Other actors also have a role to play. Donors and international organizations must create an enabling environment through bold and well conceived policies on aid, trade and debt relief. Civil society must acknowledge its responsibilities to children and be part of the solution. The private sector must adopt ethical corporate practices that ensure that children are never exploited. The media can become a vehicle for empowerment by providing people with accurate information and by challenging attitudes, prejudices and practices that harm children. Finally, children themselves can play an active part in their own protection and that of their peers.