UNICEF's State of the World's Children 1996
A ten-point agenda for children

The latest report from UNICEF announces a ten-point, action-oriented anti-war agenda with concrete measures to reduce the impact of war on children.

‘Wars are not going to disappear but we can at least mitigate their effects and ensure that they do not target children,’ explains Carol Bellamy, the UNICEF Executive Director. ‘To that end, this anti-war agenda sets out a series of steps that we believe to be both realistic and effective and that would dramatically improve the well-being of children in situations of conflict.’

In particular, the agenda includes a call for a universal ban on the production, stockpiling, sale, export and use of anti-personnel landmines and commits UNICEF to a boycott of any company involved in the manufacture or sale of landmines.

It also calls for a ‘child impact assessment’ prior to the application of any sanctions and breaks new ground by insisting that the concept of children as ‘zones of peace’ should be elevated to a tenet of international law. Children as zones of peace involved the establishment of geographical zones or time periods within which children can be protected from harm and provided with the essential services to ensure their survival and well-being in the midst of conflict.

The agenda also demands that increased investment be made in conflict prevention and in efforts towards reconciliation and rehabilitation. A cornerstone of rehabilitation must be the provision of psychosocial trauma programmes to help heal the emotional wounds of children affected by war. UNICEF also argues for special protection and support for women and girls because of the likelihood of sexual violence in wartime.

UNICEF estimates that during the last decade two million children have lost their lives, four and a half million have been disabled, one million have been orphaned or separated from their parents and some ten million have been psychologically traumatized.

The State of the World’s Children argues above all that the welfare of children is inseparably linked to world peace. Poverty and lack of development fuel hatred and escalate hostilities.

‘It was the suffering of children that prompted the founding of UNICEF 50 years ago,’ says Carol Bellamy. ‘It is the continued suffering of children that reminds us how much more we need to do.’

Cheesy treats
Dutch scientists have discovered why an African mosquito, Anopheles gambiae, which causes thousands of malarial deaths, finds humans so attractive. Researcher Bart Knols sat in his underwear inside a mosquito net allowing mosquitoes to bite him. Most headed straight for his smelly feet. When he washed his feet they were less keen on heading south but bit him on other parts of his body. The team then decided to bait a trap with air passed over some Limburger cheese (which has an odour resembling unwashed feet) and the mosquitoes went for it. The point of all this is to find a substance that mosquitoes will find irresistible and use it to trap them. A similar principle is already working to trap and kill tsetse flies.

New Scientist, Vol 148 No 2002

Chained women
British Jewish women who are chained to their ex-husbands by discriminatory religious divorce laws held a vigil outside the Chief Rabbi’s office in London. Thousands of Jewish women find that even where a marriage has broken down irretrievably and a civil divorce has been granted, a significant number of ex-husbands refuse to grant a get or religious divorce. They may refuse the get to gain the upper hand in negotiations over money and property or out of vindictiveness. These ex-wives who are known as agunot (chained women) may not remarry in an Orthodox or United Synagogue. A civil remarriage is considered by religious authorities as adulterous and any subsequent children are deemed mamzerim (bastards) and are effectively outcasts from the community.

Two years ago the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, had announced his intention to introduce mandatory pre-nuptial contracts which would make it impossible for a husband to refuse a get once a civil divorce had been granted. So far it has not been implemented. Gloria Proops, who was at the vigil and who had to wait 20 years before being granted a get, says: ‘I was deprived of the chance to remarry. This is an unjust law which allows vindictive or greedy men to deprive their ex-wives of another chance. If men suffered this agony, a solution would have been found long ago.’

Adrienne Baker

Yitzgak Rabin

Murderous words
‘One less murderer!’ screamed the headline of Jordanian newspaper Al Sabeel when Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated – the paper is allied to the main opposition party, the Islamic Action Party. No prizes for originality though. It seems they were merely echoing the words of Israel’s current acting Premier, Shimon Peres, who said the same thing of the earlier killing of Islamic Jihad leader Dr Fathi Shkaki, presumably by Israeli agents. The headline angered King Hussein who warned the press: ‘Do not destroy in the name of democracy’, then promptly urged parliament to reconsider the press law with a view to greater governmental control.

Amy Henderson, Gemini News Service

A tomb too far
Predictions vary on when exactly the ‘sarcophagus’ that encases the highly radioactive core of the damaged Chernobyl reactor could fall apart. Some say this year, others give it up to six years. Solutions aren’t forthcoming. A second double-layered concrete enclosure that would stand for a century has been suggested, but it would take a decade to build. And with a price-tag of $1.3 billion, Ukraine cannot afford it.

World Press Review, Vol 42 No 11

Lost in music
Lifvon Guo is a betel-nut grower from the Amis tribe of southern Taiwan. Through many of his 76 years he has sung traditional chants in his deep, resonant voice while working on his farm. One day a friend of his in Taipei called him up to tell him that his voice was on the radio and sure enough it was. His chants were the vocal line on Enigma’s hit single ‘Return to Innocence’ which stayed for 32 weeks in Billboard magazine’s Top 100 chart. The album sold more than five million copies. Yet Lifvon didn’t even know his voice had been used. Enigma came by Lifvon’s chants on a disc of recordings made without his knowledge when the ministries of Taiwan and France had invited him to perform in Europe in 1987 for the grand sum of $15 a day. Enigma paid the French cultural ministry $6,000 to use Lifvon’s voice. Lifvon is now preparing to spar with EMI and Enigma for failing to acknowledge him. World beat music today uses aboriginal chants to a great extent, but the native singers have little legal authority over the use of their voices.

Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol 158 No 44

Innu imprisoned
Nine Innu Indians from Labrador, Newfoundland and one supporter from Toronto were sent to prison for 14 days at a cost of more than $50,000 to the Newfoundland Government because they refused to pay fines for protesting on their own land. The Innu protesters were convicted on charges arising from the occupation of Dutch F-18 fighters during a runway protest at Goose Bay on 8 September 1993. Their protest was against low-level flights by NATO air forces – over 8,000 a year – which threaten their best hunting grounds and make their lives a misery. Amongst those sentenced was the Innu Nation President Peter Penashue who said: ‘This is not an issue of guilt or innocence, but one of justice; and justice is certainly not served when Innu people have to spend time in jail for defending their land and way of life.’

Survival International

Diminished labour
Bangladesh’s fertility rate has declined from 6.3 births per woman in the early 1970s to 3.4 births in 1993-94. And the decline is accelerating according to the Dhaka-based National Institute of Population and Training. Despite poverty and a low rate of literacy, family-planning programmes have made tremendous headway, defying all demographic theories. No doubt Bangladesh’s 50,000 family-planning fieldworkers (more than half of whom are women) have contributed greatly towards making the idea of small families widely accepted.

Roushan Zaman, Gemini News Service

Shell Oil Disaster
Secret photographs from Nigeria
[image, unknown]
Flaring up: 28 million cubic metres of gas burnt off every day in teh Niger Delta (above). [image, unknown]
Explosive mix: water supplies contaminated (top); swamp polluted after 1993 explosion (bottom). [image, unknown]
Explosive mix: water supplies contaminated (top); swamp polluted after 1993 explosion (bottom). [image, unknown]

The photographs above were taken secretly by a German photographer in Ogoniland using a miniature Leica camera. They are the last photographs to be smuggled out of the area – a previous attempt by a Canadian photographer to do the same led to his being beaten up by Military Police and imprisoned for a week. He was only released because he was very ill, both from being beaten up and from conditions in the prison. Needless to say, he left Nigeria without film or cameras.

[image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Chlorophyll by Sacha [image, unknown]
Cartoon by Sacha Cartoon by Sacha Cartoon by Sacha [image, unknown]

Medellín murderers
Armed youth gangs take the city

Drugs search - but for dealers the riches are worth the risk.

Most of the killers and victims in the Colombian city of Medellín, ‘murder capital of the world’ are young men from the barrios laderas, the poor hillside neighbourhoods. Armed youth gangs are a legacy of cocaine’s boom years and are major contributors to Medellín’s incredible homicide rate, almost 5,000 murders a year.

For 21-year-old Dario belonging to a gang offers steady work with good money. ‘Everyone starts as a chichipato (greenhorn). You work your way up – robbing shopping chains in the centre, breaking into houses, and then you can buy your first gun. You get to know more people and in the end, if you want to make good money, you work as a sicario (hired killer). It’s like working for a company, but you earn more money.’

Dario’s gang’s most lucrative work has been stealing cars to order and taking them to the coast. There they are handed over to corrupt police who pay for them in cash, guns and ammunition. Much of the arsenal available to the gang has been bought from police and demobilized guerrillas. It includes sawn-off shotguns, mini-Uzis, revolvers and pistols, and even Israeli-made Galil assault rifles, used by the Colombian Army.

Of course the problem with Dario’s line of work is the greatly increased likelihood of being killed. Victims are often rival gang members or others who cross into gang territory or suspected informers. ‘You can’t be on the corner, armed and with your parceros (mates) if you don’t feel okay about it,’ says Dario. ‘But you’re always worried whether someone is going to kill you, or if the police are going to get you. You make a lot of enemies in a gang, and almost always you can’t get out of it. You die in it.’

A traditional Sunday activity for the gang (when the Atletico Nacional soccer team is not playing at home) is to visit the cemetery to smoke marijuana and chat to dead comrades.

Dario’s reasons for staying in such a high-risk vocation is fuelled, as it is for many, by the desire to have a flash life as opposed to the limited rewards of more traditional forms of work in Colombia. ‘If you work you get a few hundred pesos a month – you have nothing. And robbing... you hit someone and in a couple of hours you have cash, you have clothes, you have shoes. You get used to living with money, and it’s such a drag to be young without money.’

Paul Smith, Gemini


‘Most of us have got some skeletons in our cupboard and we can’t be
too insistent about looking into other people’s cupboards.’

Malaysian Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamed
to Commonwealth Heads of State.

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996

New Internationalist issue 276 magazine cover This article is from the February 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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