Post-2015 Must Address Plight of Poor Urban Mothers and their Children

Child in slum in Kampala, Uganda next to open sewage -  Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Child in slum in Kampala, Uganda next to open sewage – Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

May 8, 2015 – Save the Children says UN member states must make a commitment to tackling inequality in the post-2015 development agenda and in particular the disparities in urban settings where the poorest kids are twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as the richest.

The organization’s annual State of the World’s Mothers report examined child death rates in cities. And from Delhi to Washington DC, the data showed that the poorest lack access to pre-natal care, skilled birth attendance and proper nutrition resulting in “alarmingly high risks of death,” according to the report released this week.

“We specifically looked at the urban inequities because more and more families are going to cities to have a better life for their families,” Save the Children CEO Carolyn Miles told UN Tribune. But the poor are often confined to slums without access to proper sanitation and clean water supply.

“It really is about inequity and for us it’s about how do you reach those poorest children and more and more of those children are in urban slums,” Miles said.

The report says the post-2015 agenda must set specific targets for improving the wellbeing of urban mothers and children. While generally there has been good progress in reducing child and maternal mortality globally, this is not the case for the urban poor.

Specifically, Save the Children says the post-2015 framework should:

Ensure that all mothers, newborns and children have access to quality essential health services and other basic resources no matter where they live, how wealthy they are, or on the basis of their ethnic identity.

Include an explicit commitment that no target will be considered to have been met unless it has been met for all social and economic groups. This means that the proposed targets for child and newborn mortality should be achieved by all sectors of society within a country, not just at the national level.

Asked what low-cost high-impact interventions work best for tackling hight rates of child mortality in urban settings, Miles explained the work her organization does in community healthcare.

“A big part of what we do in urban settings are these community healthcare programs. They are local people – they could be women or men – who live in those communities and we train them on basic healthcare and we train them on working with mothers during pregnancy and making sure they’re eating the right things as much as possible, they’re going to the clinics for regular checkups, they have a plan for when they give birth for where they’re going to go – they’re not going to have their baby at home – they’re actually going to go to a hospital,” Miles explained.

“Those community health workers are really important and they look after that baby in that first really critical month for newborns,” she added. “You can implement that program for not a lot of money and you can do it in large numbers in urban slums, it’s very effective.”

Besides economic inequities, there are gender inequalities too with more girls than boys dying in their first five years. This is often a result of the prioritizing of boys over girls when it comes to health and nutrition, Miles said.

There are also more poorer women than men living in urban areas due to a number of factors including employment and wage discrimination and an increase in lone-mother households.

It is no surprise then that the report found that countries that come tops for gender equality – the Nordic states – are also the best places to be a mother while countries that rank low on gender equality indexes are at the bottom.

Top Five Countries
1 Norway
2 Finland
3 Iceland
4 Denmark
5 Sweden

Bottom Five Countries
175 Niger
176 Mali
177 Central African Republic
178 Democratic Republic of the Congo
179 Somalia

Source: Save the Children 2015 Mothers’ Index  Rankings

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Gaza Report Adds to Pressure on Ban to Put IDF on Child Violators List

UNRWA school being used as a shelter, July 2014 source: wikimedia

UNRWA school in northern Gaza being used as a shelter, July 2014. source: wikimedia

April 28, 2015 - Ban Ki-moon will face further calls to include the IDF in his annual list of groups that commit grave violations against children after the release of his public summary of the report of the Board of Inquiry established to investigate death and damage at UN premises during the summer war in Gaza.

Ban’s public summary stated that the board found the Israeli Defence Forces responsible for the deaths of 44 Palestinians as a result of attacks on seven schools sheltering civilians during the July-August 2014 conflict.

Attacks on schools are one of the six grave violations that result in listing in Ban’s annual report on children and armed conflict and such attacks are also a violation of Security Council resolution 1998 adopted unanimously in 2011.

Ban’s summary also stated that Hamas had stored weapons in UN schools, though not in any of the schools that were attacked. The use of schools for military purposes also triggers listing the annual report of grave violators.

Ban’s cover letter to the Security Council and the accompanying public summary of the Board of Inquiry report are below.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Related Story: UN Stonewalling on Listing IDF as Child Violators

Board of Inquiry Gaza

UN Tourism Conference Held In Cambodia Where Children are Sold to Vacationers

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Feb. 9, 2015 – A first-ever world tourism and culture conference was held in Cambodia last week as that same country’s record on protecting children came under review by the Child Rights Committee in Geneva.

The conference, organized by the UN World Tourism Organization and UNESCO, concluded on Friday – a day after the UN committee released a blistering report on Cambodia’s compliance with the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

In its report on Thursday, the committee said it “deeply regrets that preventive measures regarding offenses prohibited by the Optional Protocol remain inadequate and fragmentary.”

In particular, the committee said they were concerned about “orphanage tourism, which seems to be a growing phenomenon where children in institutions and orphanages are being exposed to sexual exploitation by foreigners, such as tourists and volunteer workers.”

It also asked the government of Cambodia to revise its laws by “defining and criminalizing all forms of sale of children and child pornography.”

An estimated one-third of prostitutes in Cambodia are under the age of 18 and the country’s laws do not specifically define or prohibit the prostitution of children.

The committee asked Cambodia’s government to push its tourism agencies and travel agents to sign up the Global Code of Ethics for Tourism published by the UNWTO – the same agency that held its inaugural tourism and culture conference in Cambodia last week.

Some 37 percent of the victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation in Cambodia are children, according to UNICEF, and up to 30 percent of boys and girls reported experiencing forced sex in their lifetimes.

The UNWTO/UNESCO tourism conference made no note of child sex tourism in its press release following the conference’s conclusion but on Monday it was announced that Carol Bellamy, a former executive-director of UNICEF and New York City councilwoman, had been appointed as chair of the UNWTO child protection network.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Peshawar Attack is Deadliest Assault Yet on Children’s Education in Pakistan

Schoolgirls in Abbotabad, Pakistan, 2013 (wikimedia)

Schoolgirls in Abbotabad, Pakistan, 2013 (wikimedia)

Dec. 16, 2014 - Less than one week after Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousefzai collected the Noble Peace Prize for her championing of children’s education, a cause for which she was shot in the head by the Taliban as a 14-year-old two years ago in the Swat Valley, the fundamentalist group has carried out its deadliest attack so far on a school in the country.

Tuesday’s assault by the Pakistan Taliban on a military-run school in Peshawar, which killed scores of children as well as teachers, is the latest in a growing list of attacks in which Taliban militants have attacked childhood education, with girls schools and female university students frequently the target.

Two schools for girls in Pakistan were blown up in November and October this year, one of which had recently been reconstructed following a previous attack.

According the UN envoy for children and armed conflict, 78 schools in Pakistan were attacked in 2013. A separate report, from the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, reports there were 838 attacks on schools in Pakistan from 2009-2012, more than in any other country, as well as attacks on school buses, such as the one targeting Malala, which also resulted in two of her schoolmates being shot.

Research from Save the Children, a non-governmental organization, suggests that children entering primary school in countries affected by conflict are 20 percent more likely to leave primary school before completion than children in countries not affected by conflict.

In addition to Pakistan, neighboring Afghanistan, where some 550 children have been killed in the past year, according to reports by Ban Ki-moon, and Nigeria, where the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in March this year, are two of the other worst countries for attacks on children’s education.

Intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to education is a war crime, according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

The 42 Countries That Have Banned Corporal Punishment

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Nov. 20, 2014 - As the world celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Child Rights Convention, less than 10 percent of children around the globe are protected by laws banning corporal punishment.

But that’s almost double the amount of children protected from last year with Argentina and Brazil among four of the countries enacting laws in 2014 to protect minors from violence in the home and school.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however slight,” and it calls physical punishment “invariably degrading.”

Sweden was the world’s first country to ban corporal punishment in 1979 while San Marino became the most recent when its parliament passed a bill in June this year.

A full list of countries that have enacted laws prohibiting violence against children in the home and school is below, courtesy of the Global Initiative to End Corporal Punishment. Most recent first:

San Marino (2014)

Argentina (2014)

Bolivia (2014)

Brazil (2014)

Malta (2014)

Cabo Verde (2013)

Honduras (2013)

TFYR Macedonia (2013)

South Sudan (2011)

Albania (2010)

Congo, Republic of (2010)

Kenya (2010)

Tunisia (2010)

Poland (2010)

Liechtenstein (2008)

Luxembourg (2008)

Republic of Moldova (2008)

Costa Rica (2008)

Togo (2007)

Spain (2007)

Venezuela (2007)

Uruguay (2007)

Portugal (2007)

New Zealand (2007)

Netherlands (2007)

Greece (2006)

Hungary (2005)

Romania (2004)

Ukraine (2004)

Iceland (2003)

Turkmenistan (2002)

Germany (2000)

Israel (2000)

Bulgaria (2000)

Croatia (1999)

Latvia (1998)

Denmark (1997)

Cyprus (1994)

Austria (1989)

Norway (1987)

Finland (1983)

Sweden (1979)

Related Stories: Ireland Becomes 47th Country to Ban Corporal Punishment

The 51 Countries That Have Banned Corporal Punishment 

UNICEF: Children in Yemen Forced Into Marriage, Labor and Conflict

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June 18, 2014 – Attacks against schools and hospitals are among the grave violations committed against children in Yemen, according to the UN Children’s Agency in its 2014 report on the Arab world’s poorest country.

“One particular form of such grave acts is the forced marriage of girls, which is reported to have affected up to 100 girls in Abyan alone during 2012, involving leaders or members of Ansar Al-Sharia,” says the report, which was released on Tuesday. Ansar Al-Sharia is another name given to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

The UN team in Yemen verified cases of girls as young as 13 being forced into marriage and a case of two girls offered as ‘gifts’ by their brothers who had been allowed to join armed groups. It says the majority of girls forced into marriage soon become pregnant.

“In all of the verified cases the girls reported being abandoned along with their children when their husbands fled from Abyan as government forces regained control.”

Recruitment of children by armed groups, including the government, is continuing, the report says, with 69 verified cases of boys between the ages of 10-17 recruited to fight in armed conflict last year.

Yemen also has the highest rate of child labor in the MENA region at 23 percent, double that of the next highest country, Iraq, and also the only MENA country where the proportion of girls in child labor exceeds that of boys.

There were 18 attacks on hospitals and 242 attacks on schools in Yemen last year, the report says. “Attacks on schools are a deliberate targeting of children:  their safety, their right to an education and their essential development.”

More than 100 of the schools were destroyed by shelling while other schools have been occupied by armed groups.

One bright spot appears to be a gain in gender parity in primary education with 8 girls enrolled for every ten boys, but the report cautions that the rate of boys dropping out of school is also increasing “and thus gender parity rates in enrollment may not reflect actual gains for girls education in
Yemen.”

The full report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Brazil Becomes 38th Country to Ban Corporal Punishment

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June 5, 2014 - The UN envoy for child rights is calling for other countries to follow Brazil’s example after the South American country’s senate on Thursday passed a law banning all forms of corporal punishment against children.

Brazil is the 38th country to ban physical punishment of children in homes and schools and the second this year after Malta’s ban which was passed in March. Sweden was the world’s first country to ban corporal punishment in 1979.

“With this historic decision, Brazilian children can grow up in safety and in a protective environment, and violence can be made part of a distant past,” Maria Santos Pais said in a statement.

“With the enactment of this legislation, the percentage of the world’s children protected by a legal ban on all forms of violence will increase from 5 percent to 8 percent,” she stated.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however slight,” and it calls physical punishment “invariably degrading.”

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Image/Wikimedia

Child Mortality Highest in Sierra Leone

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Jan. 30, 2014 – More children are living beyond school age than ever before but child mortality rates in sub-Saharan Africa remain high with almost 10 percent of children dying before their fifth birthday.

The under-5 mortality rate globally has decreased from 75 deaths for every 1,000 children born in 2000 to 48 deaths for every 1,000 children born in 2012, according to UNICEF’s 2014 State of the World’s Children in Numbers report. This progress is still not enough to meet MDG4 which calls for a two-thirds reduction by 2015.

Sierra Leone has the world’s highest under-5 mortality rate with 198 deaths of children under-5 for every 1,000 children born. Angola, Chad, Somalia and Democratic Republic of the Congo all have rates of about 150 deaths for every 1,000 children while sub-Saharan Africa as a whole has a rate of 98/1000.

India (56/1000) and Nigeria (124/1000) account for more than one-third of all under-5 child deaths globally.

The under-5 mortality rate is considered a principal indicator of a country’s development as it is the result of a number of factors including the health of mothers, the level of immunization, availability of maternal and child health services, income and food availability, availability of clean water and safe sanitation and the overall safety of the child’s environment.

The countries with the highest rate of under-5 child mortality are:

1. Sierra Leone 182 (deaths before the age of five for every 1,000 children born)
2. Angola 164
3. Chad 150
4. Somalia 147
5. Democratic Republic of the Congo 146
6. Central African Republic 129
7. Guinea-Bissau 129
8. Mali 128
9. Nigeria 124
10. Niger 114

Other countries with high child mortality include Afghanistan (99/1000), Pakistan (86/1000) , Haiti  (76/1000) and Bangladesh (41/1000).

The 2014 State of the World’s Children in Numbers report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

Photo: child in Bangladesh receiving polio vaccine/wikimedia

Horrific Abuses Against Syrian Children – U.N. Inquiry

Feb. 18, 2013 – Almost half of Syria’s population is under the age of 18 and they are bearing the brunt of the violence in the conflict that is now entering its third year.

Accounts of the killing, rape, torture and detention of minors as well as attacks on schools and hospitals are documented in the latest report from the UN Commission of Inquiry (CoI) on Syria, which was released on Monday and covers the six months from mid-July 2012 to mid-January 2013.

“Children of both sexes have been unlawfully killed and wounded; they have been subjected to, and possibly singled out for, sexual violence,” the report says. “They have been subjected to other forms of torture in detention facilities, checkpoints and during military and security force operations.”

The CoI says it has “documented a substantial number of deliberate and indiscriminate attacks, and disproportionate attacks” that have resulted in the death and injury to children, including “attacks on refugee camps, bakeries, schools, village houses and other everyday locales” by government forces using artillery and air power.

Children as young as twelve, and in one case as young as eight, have been held in adult detention centers, where they have been tortured and deprived of adequate food and water, according to people interviewed by the CoI.

A 14-year-old boy told the Inquiry that he was arrested after taking part in a protest outside his local mosque in early June: “He described being beaten with electric wire and a hosepipe while being hung, suspended from the ceiling; being burnt with cigarettes and hot metal; being hit in the face resulting in a broken nose; and being threatened with rape.” He was released in late October, the report says.

The UN investigators conducted 41 interviews in relation to sexual violence and “direct accounts were sought from victims and eyewitnesses.” They write that “there are particular difficulties in collecting evidence in cases of sexual violence against women and girls due to cultural, social and religious beliefs surrounding marriage and sexuality.”

In one case that the CoI has recorded, a girl whose mother had worked with the Free Syrian Army was abducted  by four men, two in military uniform, and taken to an unknown building for questioning.

The girl “described her kidnapping and rape in [location withheld] in December.” 

“During the interrogation, she was beaten with electrical wire, given injections, beaten and had cigarettes extinguished on her chest. She was denied food and water for extended periods of time. On the fifth day of her detention, four young men were brought into the room where they raped her,” the report states. 

“Two days later, she was released. Her father took her to a gynecologist outside Syria. In a separate interview, the doctor confirmed bruises, cigarette burns, injection marks on arms, and sexual injuries to the victim. This 14-year-old girl has tried to commit suicide three times, saying, ‘My life has no value. I lost everything, what has gone will never come back.’”

In another incident, a local resident told the UN investigators that a neighborhood in Homs was searched by Government security forces and Shabbiha in September.

“Security forces went from house to house detaining men. If men were not found in the house, the soldiers claimed they must be fighting with the FSA. The resident said that his aunt had been one of the women captured by Shabbiha along with between 40 and 50 other women from different streets and taken to a wedding hall in the town. He said women were raped, and daughters raped in front of their mothers. Some were kept for hours and others were kept for a few days with one woman kept up to 12 days.”

The full report is here.

- Denis Fitzgerald