UN Agencies Pin Hopes on Kuwait Pledging Conference for Syria Funds

An example of a World Food Program package delivered to Syrians in need.

An example of a World Food Program package provided to Syrians in need.

Kuwait City, March 29, 2015 – Representatives from UN agencies started gathering in Kuwait over the weekend ahead of the Third International Pledging Conference for Syria with hopes that donors will stump up much needed funds for the at least 12 million Syrians in need.

A combined total of almost $4 billion was pledged at the previous two donor conferences – $1.5 billon in 2013 and 2.4 billion last year – but almost double that amount is needed at the March 31st gathering to meet basic needs for the remainder of the year.

The World Food Program requires $30 million weekly to feed six million Syrians inside and outside the country while the World Health Organization’s (WHO) requirements to provide life-saving medicines and services for 2015 is over $1 billion.

The WHO’s Tarik Jasarevic told UN Tribune that new crises continue to emerge and with the warmer season approaching the risk of cholera increases.

A crisis that continues to worsen is the decreasing amount of medical facilities and professionals in the country. Barely half the hospitals in Syria are fully functioning while more than half of the country’s doctors and health staff have left the country due to insecurity.

Procuring essential medicines is another growing challenge. While Syria once produced 90 percent of the drugs it needed in in the country, that figure is now less than 30 percent.

A hidden crisis is emerging in the mental health sector with a lack of facilities and a lack of medicine. Syrians with chronic diseases, including an estimated 10,000 children with cancer, are also at risk due to diminishing availability of life-saving treatment while a lack of dialysis treatment for diabetes sufferers is yet another growing crisis.

The UN Children’s Agency (UNICEF) requires $903 billion for 2015. Two years ago, 2.5 million Syrian children needed help, the agency’s Juliette Touma told UN Tribune, but that figure has increased three-fold to 8.5 million, including 2.6 million children who are not in school.

Another UN agency hoping for a big response in Kuwait is UNRWA, the agency responsible for Palestinian refugees, including more than 500,000 residing in camps in Syria. UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness said it urgently needs $415 million as 95 percent of Palestinian refugees in Syria cannot meet their daily needs.

Some 78 governments and more than 40 aid agencies are expected in Kuwait for the pledging conference on Tuesday which Ban Ki-moon will chair.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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

Female Genital Mutilation Affecting 3.6M Girls Annually

The 29 Countries Where FGM is Most Common and the Percentage of Girls Affected ©UNICEF

The 29 Countries Where FGM is Most Common and the Percentage of Girls Affected © UNICEF

July 22, 2014 – The number of girls who will undergo female genital mutilation is set to increase by at least 15 percent in the coming decades, data released on Tuesday by the UN children’s agency shows.

The practice of FGM is most common in 29 countries in the Middle East and Africa with some 133 million women and girls living today having undergone the practice, according to UNICEF.

The risks of FGM, which is typically carried out between infancy and the age of 15, include infertility, complications in childbirth and an increased risk of newborn deaths.

“In addition to excruciating pain, cutting can cause girls to bleed profusely,” the agency said. “It may also lead to infections, including HIV, since typically the same unsterilized blade is used for all girls being cut.”

While the practice has been reduced in a number of the 29 countries, 90 percent or more girls born in Egypt, Djibouti, Guinea and Somalia have been cut.

UNICEF projects that by 2050 one in three child births will occur in the 29 countries where FGM is practiced with almost 500 million more women and girls living in those countries than there are today.

The agency projects that if the rate of decline in FGM is maintained, the number of girls affected annually will go from 3.6 million today to 4.1 million in 2050 but if there is no progress it will increase to 6.6 million.

More than half the female population in Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Gambia and Egypt think the practice should continue but in 19 of the 29 countries most women and girls think it should end, according to UNICEF’s research.

Prevalence in Somalia stands at 98 percent, where the number of girls and women will more than double by 2050 while in Mali, where prevalence is 89 per cent, the female population will nearly triple.

UNICEF cites Kenya and Tanzania as positive examples – countries where FGM was highly prevalent in 1990, but despite a surge in the number of women and girls born since then, the number who have undergone FGM has declined from 1990 figures.

It says that “finding ways to make hidden attitudes” favoring the abandonment of FGM more visible is key to eliminating the practice.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz

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

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

Preliminary Evidence Suggests Polio in Syria Came from Pakistan

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Nov 10, 2013 – Foreign fighters appear to be the source of the outbreak of polio in Syria that risks infecting hundreds of thousands of children in the region.

Initial tests indicate that the poliovirus detected in Syria is of Pakistani origin, according to UNICEF and the World Health Organization.

Pakistan is one of only three countries – along with Afghanistan and Nigeria – where the virus remains endemic. The BBC reported in July that the Pakistan Taliban had set up a base inside Syria to join the fight against the Assad regime.

Syria had been polio free for fourteen years prior to the outbreak and the virus had not been detected in neighboring countries in the past decade but so far this year has been found in sewage samples in Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Polio affects the nervous system and can cause paralysis within hours. It usually affects children under five and is typically spread through contact with contaminated feces.

Children usually require four doses of the polio vaccine before school-age to provide lifelong protection against the virus.

As a result of the conflict, immunization rates have plummeted from 92 percent before the conflict to 67 percent as of 2012, according to UNICEF.

WHO and UNICEF aim to vaccinate 20 million children in Syria and neighboring countries in the coming months to prevent an epidemic.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter: @denisfitz

photo/UN Photo