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Panel 13

UNICEF National Committees: A network for children

UNICEF is unique in the UN system in having a very sturdy, supportive network of private citizens -- its National Committees. Currently, there are Committees for UNICEF in 38 industrialized countries. Autonomous non-governmental organizations (NGOs), they are recognized by their Governments and operate under formal relations with UNICEF. They vary in size, style and structure; some are nearly as old as UNICEF itself, and others have been formed within the last year. Yet all share a common purpose. They enable people, in their private capacities, to participate in United Nations efforts to save and improve the lives of children throughout the world.

The Committees are the main voice of UNICEF among the public in the richer countries. In addition to paid staff, they engage the efforts of more than 100,000 volunteers. They help raise awareness about the situation facing children in countries UNICEF assists and, increasingly, about the rights of children everywhere. In their own countries, they maintain contacts with the media, organize seminars, support education for development in schools and work with judicial, political and educational institutions on the development issues prioritized by UNICEF.

National Committees also raise funds. In 1994, they contributed almost 30 per cent of UNICEF's overall income. Indeed, of the top 15 donors to UNICEF, including governments, six are National Committees, some of which provided UNICEF with substantially larger contributions than their Governments.

Photo: The sole recipients of funds raised by National Committees are children of the developing world. ©

The sole recipients of funds raised by the Committees have always been children in developing countries. The beneficiaries of Committees' knowledge and advocacy form a far broader group, however, including children in their own countries.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child enables Committees to work on rights issues that affect children in both industrialized and developing countries. Commercial sexual exploitation of children (including sex tourism), child labour, intercultural tolerance, the impact of war on children and the effects of land-mines on children are but a few of these.

A number of National Committees also were instrumental in the process leading to their governments' ratification of the Convention. Since then, many have become involved in the required formal process of governmental reporting on progress towards implementing the Convention.

Several Committees have helped form or have joined powerful coalitions of NGOs and other groups interested in child rights. These are becoming increasingly useful sources of knowledge and expertise for governments and interested citizens.

One example of the new role of Committees is their involvement in the movement against anti-personnel land-mines. In Belgium, Denmark, Ireland and Sweden, campaigns supported by Committees have prompted those Governments to move towards a total ban on anti-personnel mines. In Austria, France, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom, for example, public advocacy and political pressure by Committees and their NGO partners have forced Governments to propose much tougher restrictions on the use and supply of mines.

The National Committees have been crucial to UNICEF for decades. They help give form to a spontaneous human response to the plight of some of the world's most disadvantaged children.

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