Friday, January 14, 2005
A Carlisle resident speaks out about UNICEF's role in relief efforts
Ah, yes, you do remember the ubiquitous mantra many of us repeated nearly nonsensically as children: "Trick or treat.for UNICEF!" I would put a few pennies in my orange and black box before starting out on that journey of delight each Halloween, so I could jingle it when I walked. Since that brilliant educational campaign's inception in 1950, the Trick or Treat Program has raised $123 million and has allowed two generations of children to participate in betterment of children's lives in far away places, and generated a deeper understanding of all children's rights.
In the last three weeks, UNICEF has been seeking to raise $145 million for the tsunami recovery efforts. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says overall the initial need is about $1 billion. Time is still a critical factor for many children affected by the tsunami. It is estimated that 13,000 children were orphaned. The recovery will be long-term and will require years of effort from government and relief organizations.
UNICEF was created by the United Nations in 1946 to aid children in Europe after WWII; children orphaned, dislocated, and suffering from the long-term effects of undernourishment, lack of health care and social structure. UNICEF became a permanent part of the UN family in 1953, but receives no funding from the UN. All monies going to programs are privately raised by the 37 National Committees, who review and establish policies, programs and budgets that serve children in more than 160 countries and territories.
Services to children
How does UNICEF serve children in need? We have heard so much about the struggle to save the countless number of children affected by the tsunami last month and the staggering problems of getting urgently needed supplies and assistance to remote areas where social order and local governmental structure has been severely strained or destroyed. The priorities in this massive effort are not dissimilar to the long-term goals in areas not in crisis; however, the time factor, hours and days, counts heavily for the children in Africa and Asia right now. Other efforts by humanitarian organizations are hindered or arrested by danger and chaos in areas of armed conflict. Organizations consider the relative safety of their volunteers a high priority, and have found it difficult or impossible to deliver badly needed services to children in parts of Africa and the Middle East, for long periods of time. The loss of children's lives, due to political violence, is heartbreaking.
UNICEF approaches their goal of improving children's lives in four interconnected ways. The early years of a child's life are crucial. Of 100 children born in the world in 2000, 30 suffer from malnutrition, 26 will not be immunized, 19 will lack access to safe drinking water, and 17 will never go to school. Every day, 30,000 children under the age of five die. Those who survive often do not thrive. It is estimated over 10% of children suffer physical disability or cognitive or developmental delay. It is crucial that if improvement is to come in a child's life, it come as early as possible, even before birth. Education, access to information and simple health care can reduce maternal and infant illness and death. Informed mothers will also understand the effectiveness of good nutrition, clean water and immunization and the importance of education for their children in breaking the cycle of illiteracy and poverty.
Because females are so underserved in education, UNICEF is actively seeking to close the gender gap. Two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults are women. Unfortunately it is not so simple as to make programs available and wait for girls to enroll. It requires the cooperation of local governments and overcoming cultural norms that favor boys. Education, at present, is our only defense against the spread of HIV. And in emerging nations, it has become imperative to educate both genders on the importance of behavior in the prevention of transmission. Getting girls into school can be one of the most powerful actions in reducing the spread of HIV, in promoting childhood immunization, and the importance of prenatal and early childhood care. Until girls receive a basic quality education, there will be no significant or sustainable transformation in the quality of the lives of children and no enduring reduction in global poverty. Registering and enrolling girls in school and changing the cultural norms around the role of females in society can also have an enduring impact on another enormous problem we face: human trafficking and exploitation.
Other than early childhood and prenatal services, basic education, immunization, access to clean water and sanitation, and HIV/AIDS prevention, UNICEF is profoundly involved with the dark and disturbing problem of child trafficking and exploitation. The global community is clearly outraged at the exploitation children endure. However, it is met with resistance on every level, from governments to heads of families who publicly deny but privately tolerate criminality and corruption. It is estimated that 246 million children are engaged in exploitative child labor, millions in near intolerable conditions or bonded slavery. Estimates of one million children, mostly girls but not an insignificant number of boys, are forced into the multibillion-dollar-a-year sex industry and are forced into prostitution in commercial establishments. In Eastern Europe, girls as young as thirteen are sold as mail order "brides." It is estimated that 300,000 children, mostly boys, some as young as eight years, are forced into the military in areas of armed conflict. The CIA estimates 18 to 20,000 people are trafficked into the United States, many for the lucrative sex trade, many for forced labor. All these statistics are difficult to quantify. UNICEF is attempting to educate susceptible people, and inform the global community of the vastness and seriousness of the problem encountered in protecting children.
The world's response to the urgent needs of the disaster victims in Asia and Africa has been gratifying to the humanitarian organizations that are dedicated to alleviating the suffering that has followed the tsunami. Coordination among different organizations has reportedly been robust and synergistic. UNICEF is clear on its goals of keeping children alive, caring for separated children, protecting children from exploitation and getting children back into school as quickly as possible. Getting children back in school will help in accounting for and identifying children, protecting them, getting their health needs met and addressing longer term psychological trauma. It may take a generation to recover from this disaster. But as in all disasters, one may find opportunity and hope, and in time, there will be opportunity and hope for the victims of the tsunami.
Other UNICEF programs have not lost their urgency in spite of the magnitude of the current disaster. UNICEF is active in over 160 countries. Lack of clean water and sanitation continue to be a silent emergency worldwide. There are thousands of children and families displaced by the tropical storms in Haiti who are in urgent need of the most basic care. UNICEF has initiated a massive immunization campaign with Rotary International and the WHO to attempt to stem the polio epidemic in Central Africa. Days count for children who have been living in a severe drought in the Horn of Africa. UNICEF has successfully demobilized thousands of child soldiers in Afghanistan this year. UNICEF has actively sought to bring attention to the dangers of land mines, the violence of Darfur, the efforts to keep commitments to the children of Iraq. None of these errands have been rendered any less urgent, and there are countless more to which UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations are committed.
An informative and educational site for children and adults is www.unicefusa.org. If you wish, you may donate to UNICEF online. You may also send a donation to US Fund for UNICEF, 420 Boylston Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02116.
Annie Halvorsen is a member of the board of directors for the New England Chapter of the US Fund for UNICEF.
© 2005 The Carlisle Mosquito