Visiting UNICEF exec: Vulnerable kids need better protective effort

by Maya Kaneko

Kyodo News

A senior official of UNICEF has called for children vulnerable to violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect to be supported, saying no country is immune to violations of a child’s right to protection.

UNICEF Child Protection chief Susan Bissell said Friday that the world should shed more light on children facing difficult circumstances such as physical and mental abuse, commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking, child labor, child marriage and armed conflicts in which children are recruited as soldiers.

“What’s really interesting, I think, about child protection is that there is no country in the world that doesn’t have issues,” Bissell said.

“There are victims of child trafficking in Canada and the United States. There are marginalized populations in New Zealand and Japan has its own challenges,” she said. “Child protection challenges face us all.”

The Canadian national pointed out that natural disasters leave children more vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation.

Bissell said that in Haiti, which was hit by a major earthquake in January, a large number of children who were in residential care facilities following the quake had not been registered with the authorities. “We didn’t really know how many children there were, where exactly they were,” she said.

“When there are exploiters waiting in the wings for those vulnerable moments, those are the times when we really need to step up our child protection response,” the senior UNICEF official said. “I think we could say the same in Pakistan and Indonesia right now, where the hardest hit are children in this context.”

Pakistan was devastated by massive floods this summer, while Indonesia was hit by a powerful earthquake last week that triggered a tsunami.

Bissell said about 250 million children under age 5 in developing countries do not have a birth certificate and about 150 million in the world are engaged in child labor.

Children without birth certificates “risk being trafficked, not getting access to health care, eventually not getting inheritance rights,” Bissell said. They face “a massive series of potential protection violations because you don’t have identities.”

As for child commercial sexual exploitation entailing prostitution and pornography, Bissell noted that with advances in information technology, young people are exposed to more risks.

But governments and private-sector entities such as Internet providers and credit card firms have also been implementing steps to ensure online safety, she said.

The child protection chief also noted a lobbying campaign to urge Japan to enact legislation banning simple possession of child pornography and expressed hope that it will be successful.

Japan and Russia are the only countries among the Group of Eight that do not ban simple possession of child pornography. Those opposed to such legislation say the prohibition would violate freedom of expression.

Bissell said the current eight-point U.N. Millennium Development Goals on reducing poverty, which were set in 2000 for achievement in 2015, do not specifically cover violations of children’s rights. Children without a birth certificate are not even included in national statistics and thus remain outside of the scope of the MDGs, she said.

If the United Nations sets new development goals beyond 2015, the protection of children from all forms of violence, abuse and neglect should be clearly articulated in the targets, she said.