November 17 2005
Universal Children's Day
17/11/2005 - Universal Children's Day on 20 November has served to promote the plight of children around the world since 1954. This year, SOS Children's Villages would like to draw special attention to the importance of quickly providing protection for children in regions affected by natural disasters.
Over the past year, natural disasters have destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people around the world. To name just a few: the tsunami in South Asia, the hurricanes that hit North and Central America, the famine in Niger, and the recent earthquake which devastated large areas of Northern Pakistan and India.
Children are among the most vulnerable victims of natural disasters, and they often die or become ill from the resulting food and water shortages, as well as the lack of shelter, healthcare and sanitation.* In addition, affected children are also exposed to exploitation, abuse and trafficking. Therefore, providing adequate and immediate protection for children is as imperative as the provision of emergency aid.
Delays in ensuring child protection in natural disasters can result in children landing in the hands of criminals, where dangers faced range from violence and sexual abuse, to children being sold to labour and prostitution, as well as being offered up illegally for adoptions. Child trafficking today has sadly become a lucrative industry with revenues estimated to be in the billions of dollars.*
Children who are especially exposed are those who have lost one or both parents in the natural disaster, or those who have been separated from their families. Adequate protection requires close cooperation with authorities and the registration of all displaced children. Temporary care in safe shelters with specialised and screened caregivers must also be provided. In addition, all efforts to reunite the children with their families or extended families must be undertaken, and it must be ensured that the families are given the means and resources to provide proper care for the children.
In Pakistan, SOS Children's Villages is currently working closely with the governments of both Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir to identify unaccompanied children in and around quake-hit Muzaffarabad. The organisation's search and rescue team collects as much information as possible about the children, and then accompany them to the SOS Emergency Shelter in Rawalpindi, near Islamabad. The children are registered with Pakistan's National Database and Registration Authority, and in a specially designed database of SOS Children's Villages. These databases serve for the tracing of families and the reunification process.
In the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, SOS Children's Villages fully supports government decisions to temporarily ban the national and international adoption of children, as a means of preventing child trafficking. "Based on our extensive experience of providing protection to unaccompanied children in natural disasters, we know that it can take many months to find a child's relatives. It is imperative that all measures are exhausted to find a child's relatives, assess their capacities of caring for the child, and provide the necessary support," said Richard Pichler, Secretary General of the umbrella organisation SOS-Kinderdorf International.
In the tsunami-hit regions of India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Thailand, SOS Children's Villages is providing support to families whose livelihoods were washed away by the 26 December 2004 disaster. This includes start-up help and the building of 2,195 family homes for 11,500 people. In addition, the organisation is also constructing various community buildings which will serve as hospitals and schools.
In order to further protect children from exploitation and abuse in natural disasters, appropriate care solutions must be found for children who cannot be reunited with their families or extended families. One such solution is offered at an SOS Children's Village, where children are offered a home within a family environment.
November 20 is an important day for children. On 20 November 1954 the United Nations General Assembly established Universal Children's Day. Five years later on November 20, the UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed on 20 November 1989 and has been ratified by 192 countries.