UNICEF chief says participation of children in special session made history

The participation of young people in the General Assembly’s special session on children marked an historic departure from past conferences and enlivened the event with fresh perspectives, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today as the three-day meeting entered its final stretch.In contrast to the 1990 World Summit for Children, “the extraordinary difference and vitality that was felt in the meeting rooms and the hallways and the discussions by the inclusion of young people as participants, along with adults as official delegates, able to comment and offer their views and opinions, [created] a freshness,” Ms. Bellamy told a news conference in New York, where the meeting has been under way since Wednesday. Prior to the special session, some 400 kids attended a children’s forum, while some 250 youths were included in their countries’ official delegations. “They reminded us that children should not be seen as an expense but rather an investment,” the UNICEF chief noted. “They made it very clear that they thought that there have been plenty of words in the past and plenty of promises but it is now time for action.”In another step forward since 1990, Ms. Bellamy noted, the draft text set for adoption at the conclusion of the meeting dealt with the concerns of all States. “This outcome document clearly has very strong commitment and language on child rights and as such, with its agenda – that ranges from health to education to protection to AIDS – really is a global document,” she said, referring to the draft – A World Fit for Children. “This document applies to all countries, no matter what economic status.”Agreement on the document had not yet been reached, she said, “but there was some significant movement over the last 24 hours, particularly in agreement on strong language dealing with child rights.” “The work goes on to try and deal with the remaining paragraphs,” she added, noting that language on reproductive health was still under discussion.Stressing the need for action in the future, Ms. Bellamy said, “This meeting is not a success or failure based on whether it has an outcome document – it is a success or a failure based on what happens after the meeting.”The action plan focuses on four primary areas: promoting healthy lives, access to and completion of quality education, protection of children against abuse, violence and exploitation, and fighting HIV/AIDS. According to Ms. Bellamy, over 60 summit-level participants attended the event. In parallel to the special session, there was also a religious leaders’ forum on the role of those individuals with respect to children, as well as a forum for parliamentarians, which attracted some 250 lawmakers from 79 countries. Leaders from the private sector were on hand, as were members of civic society, with some 700 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from 119 countries attending.Statistics released by the spokesman for the President of the General Assembly showed that the special session was attended by over 2,600 delegates, 1,720 NGO representatives and 800 media correspondents. Several legal actions have also been taken during the meeting, including Somalia’s signature of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has now been endorsed by every country on earth, and ratified by all but the United States. A dozen countries signed or ratified the treaty’s Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and 10 its Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. read more

Central African Republic sexual violence is constant threat UN envoy warns

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, made her second official visit to CAR from 17 to 19 March to take stock of the situation there.She met with State officials, civil society representatives and humanitarian workers to discuss practical arrangements for the prevention of and response to conflict-related sexual violence, including victim assistance.Hundreds of thousands of displaced persons are unable to return home due to the threat of atrocities committed by perpetrators of inter-communal and inter-religious violence. According to testimonies Ms. Bangura heard, these crimes include recurring instances rape and gang rape, forced marriage, sexual mutilation, abduction and sexual slavery.The Special Representative condemned these abuses and appealed to both parties – Anti-Balaka and ex-Séléka – to cease the violence immediately, reminding them that these crimes are punishable by national and international courts. Ms. Bangura expressed deep concern for the absence of multi-sectoral assistance resources for victims of sexual violence, and the pervasive climate of impunity due to the collapse of State authority, judicial institutions and security forces. President Catherine Samba-Panza renewed her commitment, following the signing of the joint communiqué between the UN and the Government in December 2012, to combat sexual violence.As an immediate response to end the epidemic of conflict-related sexual violence, the President and the Special Representative agreed to the UN-backed deployment of a rapid response unit of the national gendarmerie to respond to incidents of sexual violence in conflict in Bangui. Ms. Bangura called for women’s active participation in the national dialogue and in reconciliation efforts to restore peace which – with the help of humanitarian agencies and donors – will require increased assistance to victims, improved data collection, and the immediate restoration of the judiciary.Meanwhile, regarding the severe food shortage that the country is facing, on a more positive note, the World Bank has announced that it would be funding an $8 million agreement with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as part of a $20 million World Food Programme (WFP) aid plan to prevent the country from falling into a full-scale nutrition crisis. Short-term activities under the agreement will focus on providing seeds and tools to 9,000 families for the upcoming mid-April planting season.The 9,000 families will each receive 25 kilos of seeds, which will allow them to harvest an estimated 6 000 tonnes of maize, ground nuts and rice by September of this year.“Farmers need support so that they can produce their own food, restore their livelihoods and take advantage of local economic opportunities,” said Alexis Bonte, acting FAO Representative in the CAR.In the longer term, the project will, among other things, focus on empowering thousands of female farmers, explained Ms. Bonte, stressing that “the role of women in food security, nutrition and peace is crucial.” read more