December 14, 2005

Millions of children “invisible”: UNICEF

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Millions of the world's neediest
children are not even a blip on the radar of their own
governments because there is no record of their birth, the
United Nation's Children's Fund UNICEF said on Wednesday.

In its annual State of the World's Children report
"Excluded and Invisible," UNICEF said one-third of the
estimated 150 million children born worldwide each year were
not registered -- and the number was growing.

"Birth registration is vital to really start to know the
extent of the problem, how many children there are out there,
how many abuses are going on," report author David Anthony told
Reuters in an interview.

Children not registered at birth may never officially
exist, making it easy for governments to ignore them and for
traffickers to make them disappear without risk of retribution.

From that stemmed an array of problems from pedophile abuse
to slavery, the report said, estimating that 1.8 million
children entered the sex industry, 5.7 million were sold into
slavery and 1.2 million were trafficked each year.

"These numbers are huge, and we do have to push several
buttons in every case," said UNICEF child protection chief
Karin Landgren. "So we have to start by shining that light on
the plight of these children."

But equally AIDS orphans and those forced into early
marriages accounted for millions of children who simply
disappeared either through being cast out by their communities
and taking to the streets or just ceasing to be seen.

"Part of what this report does is to highlight the issue to
the public to create an outrage about what is going on," UNICEF
chief Ann Veneman said.


She said sex trafficking was an increasing phenomenon --
driven in part by cheap flights making sex tourism easier and
in part by the spread of the Internet.

"Trafficking needs to be looked at as a global problem that
is not just a developing world problem ... because the demand
often comes from the developed world," she said.

And it was not just governments that bore the
responsibility for taking action -- although they had the
primary function of monitoring their own populations and
ensuring that they enforced their own basic laws.

"The recommendations in this year's report particularly
make it clear that it is not just governments that are involved
here. Civil society has a huge role to play, communities have a
huge role to play," the report's author Anthony said.

"It takes bold and courageous action to tackle some of
these things in many countries," he added.

But matters were slowly improving.

"Just looking at governments' reactions in recent years, we
have seen enormous changes. If governments talk about these
issues -- as we have seen with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa
-- it sends a signal that it is OK to talk about these things,"
protection chief Landgren said.