Look, we still have a long way to go!
December 31, 2002
1) Children Must Be Given a Voice, Says UNICEF (IPS)
2) UN 'Names and Shames' Recruiters of Child Soldiers (IPS)
3) Thousands of Children Could Die of Hunger (IPS)
4) Every Day More Children Go to Work (IPS)
5) Society Sees Child Domestic Labour as Normal (IPS)
6) Lead Poisoning Is Not Child's Play (Tierramérica)
Los Angeles Times, "Enrique's Journey" a 6-part series by Sonia Nazario and Don Bartletti (Photographs), Sep 29 - Oct, 2002.
Full story URL: http://www.latimes.com/news/specials/enrique/
Synopsis: On this personal yet dynamic story of a Hondran-born child named Enrique, in his journey from Honduras to find his long-lost migrant mother in North Carolina.
Between May and September 2000, LA Times' Nazario and Bartletti spent three months working their way north through Mexico just as Enrique had, riding the tops of seven freight trains and interviewing and photographing people Enrique had encountered, along with dozens of other children and adults making the same journey. Nazario and Bartletti walked around immigration checkpoints and hitchhiked with truckers, exactly as Enrique had. To retrace Enrique's steps, they traversed 13 of Mexico's 31 states.
world spending on war:
one billion dollars a year
more than two million dollars a minute
200 dollars a year for every inhabitant of the planet
Ignacio Gonzalez Janzen (Peace News)
Thirteen million children died of hunger in the world's poorest countries in the last two months, according to data compiled by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The organization points out that every day 35,615 minors die from hunger and malnutrition, in conditions of extreme misery.
In contrast, military spending and business transactions of the military industry on a global scale, which exceed a billion dollars annually, exhibit the enormous waste of resources that could avoid this affront to the human race.
The information on the global costs of military and weapons spending shows that their promoters and beneficiaries spend two million dollars a minute. And if these amounts were divided among all the inhabitants of the planet, it would work out to 200 dollars for each person. Let's remember that a Trident submarine costs more than 600 million dollars, and a B-1 bomber exceeds 400 million dollars.
In these days which mark the first anniversary of the deplorable attack
on the Twin Towers in New York, in which many innocent people of different
nationalities died, we must take notice of the dimension and seriousness
of the conflicts of our time, and of the many kinds of violence which breeds
all kinds of confrontation with a distressing
Hunger, a brutal scourge in our planet's poorest countries, and even in
the pockets of misery and heartless marginalization in the rich countries,
is a combined product of the ideology of indifference, the absurd concentration
of wealth, the cruel inequality of the distribution of the world's resources,
the abuse of power in business relations
between countries, the control of new technologies, the pillaging of most people's labor, hypocritical talk of "equal opportunity," and a very widespread corruption in the political classes of every stripe.
Thirteen million children dead of hunger a year are much more than a frightening statistic. A bit of memory and a bit of math shows that it's a number almost six times greater than the yearly toll of the 9,000,000 human beings who died victims of the First World War (1914-1918), as well as greater than the annual death toll of the Second World War (1939-1945), in which 40,000,000 people died. And every two days more poor children die of hunger than all the US soldiers who died in the Vietnam War (1957-1975), although the western film industry doesn't concern itself with them.
This coming September 11th the only logical tribute to the victims of the
Twin Towers, and to the millions of victims of so many other attacks, conflicts
and less visible forms of violence, would be to uproot once and for all
the causes of misery and confrontation. The generals and merchants who propose
new wars as a "final solution" give
rise to an endless spiral of death, which recycles over and over the huge scarcities that humanity suffers.
MEXICO CITY, Dec 11 (IPS) - The world's two billion children deserve the
right to be heard and to fully participate in society, says the United Nations
Children's Fund (UNICEF) in its flagship report, deploring that millions
of minors continue to suffer neglect.
Allowing children to participate in the decisions that affect them would contribute towards improving the world, in which 150 million children are undernourished, 120 million school-aged children do not attend classes and 6,000 children become infected with HIV daily, says the UN agency.
The focus of "The State of the World's Children 2003", the UNICEF report presented in the Mexican capital Wednesday, is promoting children's participation in family, school, community and national life.
Achieving such participation ensures that minors develop an appreciation of and contribute to democracy, peace and social development, says the text. "We will see a generation much better prepared and capable of addressing the problems, inequities and injustices that they have inherited."
"Democracy begins with children," says UNICEF, adding that children and youth who participate and share their opinions in a context of tolerance and respect will improve the health of any democratic system.
"If children's rights and well-being are not addressed by governments, national agencies and various international partners, development goals will never be met," states the report. "Poverty will surely persist and democracy will surely wither."
There are more than 80 democratic nations in the world today, nearly twice as many as there were two decades ago, according to the United Nations Development Programme's 2002 report.
Nevertheless, the strength of this political system is currently in question, as the opinions of children from around the world indicate.
Two out of three children polled in Latin America and the Caribbean said they distrust their governments partially or completely, according to surveys conducted by UNICEF.
In Europe and Central Asia, just four of 10 children consider elections to be an effective way of improving the situation of their respective countries.
Of children surveyed in the East Asia-Pacific region, only three percent mentioned a head of state among the people they admire.
The process of promoting democracy must target the population in early childhood, says UNICEF.
"The place to start building democracy is with children -- from what they learn in the process of their own growth and development," says the report.
To do so requires optimising children's participation, and "depends on adults sharing control, power, decision-making and information."
In some cases, the failure to share such responsibilities can have life-or-death consequences for a child, as in the case of information about HIV/AIDS.
Surveys conducted in 40 countries, cited by UNICEF, indicate that more than 50 percent of youths aged 15 to 24 consulted have "serious misconceptions" about how HIV, the virus that leads to AIDS, is transmitted.
Furthermore, 14 million children under age 15 have lost one or both of their parents to AIDS-related death.
"To build a world fit for children in the 21st century," writes UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the report's prologue, will happen "only if governments fulfil their promise that the voices of children and young people will be heard loud and clear; if we ensure the full participation of children in the work to build a better future."
As one measurement of children's well-being around the world the UN agency included in its report a list of countries based on child mortality rates, that is, deaths of children under age five.
The countries with highest child mortality are found on the African continent, with Sierra Leone in the lead. Sweden has the lowest rate, according to the UNICEF ranking.
As far as infant mortality rates -- deaths of children under a year old -- Afghanistan suffers the highest rate, followed by Angola and Guinea.
With regard to another social indicator, life expectancy, Malawi, Rwanda and Sierra Leone are the countries with the lowest average, just 40 years. The country with the longest average life expectancy in the world is Japan, with 81 years.
UNICEF acknowledges that it might sound pretentious to promote children's participation when a world of poverty and inequality exists in which millions of adults continue to go unheard and ignored.
However, says the UN agency, if the world's adults and governments truly want to tackle poverty and inequalities their best chance is to listen to children, to respect and take into consideration their opinions, because it is children who are key for building societies that are more egalitarian, democratic and tolerant.
The United Nations is for the first time ''naming and shaming'' governments
and armed groups that continue to deploy child soldiers in violation of
international agreements, identifying 23 insurgent groups and five member
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 16 (IPS) - The United Nations is for the first time ''naming and shaming'' governments and armed groups that continue to deploy child soldiers in violation of international agreements.
In a 14-page report to the U.N. Security Council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has identified 23 insurgent groups and five member states - Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Somalia - that still recruit or use children as soldiers.
''This report breaks new ground,'' U.N. Under-Secretary-General Olara Otunnu told reporters Monday.
Otunnu, U.N. special representative for children and armed conflict, said that ''for the first time in an official report to the Security Council, those who violate standards for the protection of war-affected children have been specifically named and listed''.
The 23 armed groups listed include Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), the Juba Valley Alliance and Rahanwein Resistance Army in Somalia, Mai-Mai and the Union des Patriotes Congolais in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Front pour la defense de la democratie of Burundi and several factions associated with the former Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.
Last year, the Security Council asked Annan to submit a report on child soldiers - specifically naming governments and insurgent groups - involved in conflicts currently on its agenda.
In requesting the list, Otunnu said, the Council sent a message that those who violate children's rights during conflicts cannot continue to do so with impunity and that they will be held accountable for their actions.
''It is a bold step forward in global efforts to render unacceptable the exploitation and victimisation of children during times of conflict,'' he added.
The study also lists several countries whose conflicts are not on the Security Council agenda but where armed groups continue to use child soldiers. These include some of the world's worst offenders - Colombia and Myanmar - along with Nepal, the Philippines, Sudan, Uganda and Sri Lanka.
The study also singles out Angola, Kosovo, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau as nations where demobilisation of child soldiers is under way.
The London-based 'Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers' reacted positively to the report.
''We see this report as a solid foundation for acting to end this shameful practice. Now that the names of some governments and armed groups abusing children are public, the challenge to the Security Council is to demand accountability and take action to stop children being used as soldiers,'' Coalition Coordinator Casey Kelso told IPS.
The coalition, which includes Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Defence for Children International, the Quaker United Nations Office and the International Save the Children Alliance, has also urged the 15-member Council to make field visits ''to the gravest situations threatening children''.
In a 195-page study released last month, the Coalition listed 72 parties to armed conflicts that continue to use children in war and more than 25 others that have recruited children in the past.
The study described Myanmar (formerly Burma) as the world's largest single user of child soldiers, estimated at more than 70,000. ''Children as young as 11 are forcibly recruited into Myanmar's national army,'' said Kelso.
Ranking behind Myanmar is Colombia, which is estimated to have 6,000 to 14,000 child soldiers. Boys and girls as young as eight years old there are recruited into armed groups, para-militaries and militias.
In Sri Lanka, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which has been battling a separatist war in the north-east of that country, ''has a long record of using child soldiers as well as a record of breaking commitments to end their recruitment and use'', the coalition said.
Kelso said he hopes that when the Security Council discusses the report in January next year it will also focus on child soldiers in conflicts that are not on its agenda.
Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch said her organisation has documented large-scale forced recruitment of children by Burma's national army, and believes the country may have the largest number of child soldiers in the world.
In northern Uganda, she pointed out, the abduction of children for use as soldiers by the Lord's Resistance Army has increased dramatically in recent months. At least 10,000 children have been abducted over the last 15 years.
''We urge the Security Council to actively monitor the countries named on the Secretary-General's list, and to demand progress or suffer possible sanctions,'' Becker added.
''The Security Council should also expand its scrutiny to include all countries where children are being recruited or used in violation of international law.''
The 1990 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) set the legal minimum age for recruitment at 15.
But an 'Optional Protocol' to the CRC, which came into force in February
this year, outlaws the involvement of children under 18 in any hostilities
and sets strict standards for the recruitment anyone younger.
SAN JOSE, May 2 (IPS) - Some 700,000 Central Americans are suffering from hunger today, including 6,000 children at risk of starving to death, while the international aid needed to finance a 4.8 million dollar World Food Programme (WFP) emergency plan is only slowly trickling in.
The situation is at its most dramatic in Guatemala, but in the mid-term, food shortages and malnutrition will also worsen in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, warned the WFP, which reported that it has only received one-third of the funds pledged by the international community.
''The current situation, especially among the children in Guatemala, is terrible. I can't remember ever seeing images like these in Latin America,'' Olga Moraga, WFP information officer for Latin America and the Caribbean, told IPS.
''We are in a high risk situation, with serious difficulties,'' WFP director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Francisco Roque, also commented to IPS.
Roque explained that the drought, hurricanes and earthquakes that have hit the region in the past five years compounded the slump in international coffee prices to create severe social difficulties for this poverty-stricken region of nearly 37 million.
The WFP estimates that around 60,000 Guatemalan children are suffering some degree of malnutrition, representing a 16 percent rise on the number of undernourished in 2000. Of that total, 6,000 youngsters are at serious risk of dying of hunger.
''We must not let the children die of starvation,'' said a visibly anguished Roque.
Aid has come in from the United States, Germany and Norway, but the desperate situation means more is urgently needed from the international community, he added.
The non-governmental organisation Friends of WFP is collecting aid for the hungry children in Guatemala from private individuals and companies, at the following address: Friends of WFP, PO Box 11856, Washington, DC 20008, telephone (202) 530-1694.
The WFP's biggest concern is that new climate changes are being seen in the region, apparently the result of another El Niño, a current that warms the waters of the Pacific Ocean, starting in Australia, which appears every three to seven years.
A lack of rain has been reported along Central America's Pacific shoreboard, where the region's main cities are located, while rainfall has been excessive along the Caribbean coast.
The last El Niño occurred in 1998, causing billions of dollars in damages around the world, including substantial losses in Central America.
''If the rains are not good in May, there will be big problems in October,'' said Roque, who explained that the WFP is currently conducting a needs assessment in the highest-risk areas.
The study, which is to be ready by the end of the month, is evaluating the most pressing problems faced by 30 communities in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, in order to design proposals for short, medium, and long-term solutions.
The populations affected by the famine are the same ones that over the past few years have suffered the brunt of natural catastrophes - including two major earthquakes early last year in El Salvador - and severe economic difficulties, said WFP spokeswoman Moraga.
Hit hardest by the hunger and malnutrition are poor peasant farmers who lost their crops last year to the drought that swept the area along the Pacific coast.
According to a report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), drought caused 189 million dollars in losses last year in Central America. Researchers warn that the damages will worsen if the region continues to suffer difficult weather conditions.
''In Guatemala, we have undertaken a special six-month operation aimed at assisting 155,000 people, including 59,635 children under five suffering varying levels of malnutrition,'' said Moraga.
Central America, a region of 523,000 square kilometres, is made up of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Belize.
The gap between rich and poor is enormous - with the exception of Costa Rica, which has the highest standard of living in the region - and poverty affects up to 80 percent of the population in countries like Nicaragua and Guatemala.
A study by the United Nations chidren's fund (UNICEF) found that drought led to an increase in acute malnutrition - from 2.7 to 5.9 percent of children - in the hardest-hit parts of Honduras between July and November 2001.
The Red Cross reported that it provided food aid to 7,700 families in Honduras from August 2001 to January 2002.
''This is a silent emergency,'' Roberto Escoto, UNICEF health and nutrition officer in Honduras, told IPS. He underlined that although the visible effects of malnutrition and drought are perhaps not as dramatic as those of a hurricane or earthquake, they are steadily undermining the physical and mental capacities of broad segments of society.
SAN JOSE/LIMA, May 6 (IPS) - An estimated 17.4 million children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean must work in order to help feed their families or to survive on their own, says the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
A new ILO report released Monday, "A Future without Child Labour", states that less than 50 percent of child workers complete primary education, and less than 20 percent finish high school. The vast majority lack any possibility of continuing education at the university level.
The international community has engaged in an intense campaign, promoted by the ILO, to eliminate child labour, an effort that began in earnest in 1989 with the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
According to the ILO, child labour is both a cause and a consequence of poverty. The existence of child labour perpetuates poverty across generations, slowing economic growth and social development.
The Geneva-based ILO released its global report on child labour simultaneously Monday in several cities around the world, including Lima and San José, as part of its follow-up on the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.
In Latin America, 50 percent of the boys and girls who are employed work in the agricultural sector.
On the South American continent, the country with the highest proportion of minors in the labour force is Paraguay, with nearly 40 percent of children under 15 working, while the lowest rate is in Chile, where just 1.9 percent of children work.
Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru share the second worst record, with 20 percent of their children having jobs, while in the rest of the South American countries the rate ranges from eight to 14 percent of children under 15 in the labour market.
The ILO report states that 246 million children ages five to 17 work worldwide, including 179 million who are engaged in tasks that are dangerous to their physical, mental or moral well-being.
"In other words, one in every eight children in the world are exploited in the worst forms of child labour," said ILO director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Agustín Muñoz in Lima.
In Central America and the Dominican Republic, meanwhile, a total of approximately 2.4 million children under age 15 work, which is an offence against their right to education and recreation, said the ILO representatives Monday in the Costa Rican capital.
In six Central American countries and in the Dominican Republic there is more than one child worker for every five children under 15.
Children's rights activists gathered in San José to express their concern about the situation in Central America and urged the region's governments to take immediate and concrete action to halt child labour, which has seen a dramatic increase since 1993, when the total was 1.5 million girls and boys.
The Central American governments are concerned about the magnitude of the phenomenon, but "it is no secret that child labour represents a complex problem," said ILO director for Central America and the Dominican Republic, Enrique Bru, a Uruguayan national.
Several international conventions define child labour as work performed by minors under age 15 - who in Central America number more than 12.7 million - and as an offence against children's and adolescents' right to education and recreation.
In six countries of Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama) and the Dominican Republic, the ILO calculates that 2,456,902 children hold a job, said Bru.
The figure is based on preliminary studies that are still under way in the region. Belize, although located in Central America, is not included in the research.
The numbers announced Monday show a marked difference with the ILO's estimates of nearly a decade ago, in 1993, when it estimated there were 1.5 million children working in those countries.
"We do not know if this change represents a considerable increase or if we have improved our counting systems," said Carmen Moreno, an expert from Spain who is the regional coordinator of the ILO's International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC).
"The Central American country that causes greatest concern is Guatemala," said Moreno. There, 23 percent of the children, or 937,321 boys and girls, have a job.
Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to the United Nations. In the last few years, its 12 million inhabitants - and the children in particular - have suffered the consequences of drought and hunger, on top of social inequalities.
Farming, handling toxins, manufacturing fireworks, scavenging in garbage dumps, work in construction, fishing and markets, and victims of the sex trade are the areas in which most child workers can be found in Central America and the Dominican Republic, according to the ILO.
These sectors subject girls and boys to conditions that are very dangerous.
"Undoubtedly, the major employer of children is agriculture. The bad part of farming is not the work itself, but rather the difficult conditions the children face and the long workdays," said Moreno.
After Guatemala, Honduras has the highest incidence of child labour in Central America, with 484,305 minors working (21 percent of the population under age 15).
Next comes the Dominican Republic, with 470,436 child workers (18.9 percent); El Salvador, 185,283 (17 percent), Nicaragua, 182,333 (13 percent), Costa Rica, 147,087 (15.4 percent), and Panama, with 50,137 child workers (6.6 percent).
"Hearing those figures is like being hit by a heavy blow," said the Children's Defender (Ombudsman) of Costa Rica, Mario Víquez. In many cases, he pointed out, child workers not only work extensive hours, but they also suffer discrimination in wages.
According to the Children's Defence Office of Costa Rica, working minors aged five to 12 receive just 12 percent of the minimum wage, those aged 12 to 15 receive 27 percent, and those 15 to 17 receive 47 percent of the minimum wage.
ILO Convention 138, adopted in 1973, establishes 15 as the minimum working age (14 in Latin America), and Convention 182 bans what it defines as "the worst forms of child labour". All Central American countries have ratified both conventions or are in the process of doing so.
Central America's major challenge is to implement the laws and take concrete actions to guarantee children their rights to education, recreation and development, said Costa Rican children's rights official Alberto Quiñones.
Meanwhile, 10 countries of South America - in addition to making the commitment to progressively eliminate child labour - have agreed to take part in IPEC, an alliance of more than 90 donor and recipient countries.
The ILO's definitions of child labour take into account local and cultural circumstances, as well as the desire of parents to contribute to the training and education of their children, allowing them to carry out certain types of work that the ILO considers admissible.
"Millions of children around the world perform legitimate work, remunerated or not, that are appropriate to age and level of maturity. By working they learn to take on responsibility, acquire training and help their families," Muñoz said.
However, working minors too often suffer abuse and dangerous working
conditions, he admitted.
SAN JOSE, May 15 (IPS) - An estimated 250,000 children and adolescents in Central America work long hours, often without pay, as domestic workers - a practice that is seen as normal by society, according to the preliminary results of a regional International Labour Organisation (ILO) study.
A full 85 percent of the minors working as domestics in the region are girls, said the report's authors. IPS had access to the initial results of the study, which is to be released next month.
''It is hard to work at my age, because I don't have any time to have fun. I want to leave this job because I feel exhausted,'' a 12-year-old Nicaraguan girl told the ILO researchers.
The study shows that domestic labour can be one of the worst forms of child labour, even though it is seen as a completely natural phenomenon in Central America.
Nevertheless, our main aim is not ''trying to sound the alarm, but to gain a clear understanding of an ageold global problem,'' Rigoberto Astorga, who coordinated the ILO study, which was financed by the Canadian government, told IPS.
Astorga said young domestics work extremely long hours, in many cases merely for room and board, and are uprooted from their families.
In addition, tens of thousands of young domestics in the region are victims of violations of their human rights, like access to education, breaks, time off and recreation, not to mention cases of sexual, physical and psychological abuse.
''Since I'm in her (the employer's) house, I have to put up with whatever she wants,'' said another young maid.
The team coordinated by Astorga interviewed 250 young domestic workers, 75 families, 35 employers and 30 organisations that defend the rights of children in the Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama, as well as the Spanish-speaking Caribbean island nation of Dominican Republic.
The field work for the study was carried out from October to March. The data collected is currently being processed, and the authors are drafting the final report.
One of the main findings was the large number of domestic workers under 15, the great majority of whom find themselves caught in a vicious circle of poverty without prospects for social ascent in the future.
The preliminary data indicates that child domestic workers in Central America number around 250,000, which means they account for roughly 10 percent of all child workers in the region.
''The problem is that child domestic workers do all of the household work all day long, working 15 to 16 hours a day on average,'' said Astorga.
Young domestics in El Salvador usually work from 5:00 or 6:00 AM to 10:00 or 11:00 PM, and 52.7 percent of those interviewed said they slept in their employers' homes.
In Costa Rica, which has a large middle class and where the extremes between rich and poor are not as marked as in the rest of Central America, 40 percent of young domestics work full-time, 41 percent work part-time, and the rest work on a job-by-job basis.
The results of the survey in Nicaragua found that 43.6 percent of domestics do not go to school, 15.6 percent attend school only sporadically, while 40.8 percent attend regularly.
''Sometimes I feel sad because I don't have time to play, since I'm working so much,'' said another 12-year-old interviewee.
The researchers reported that in Guatemala many young domestics are indigenous girls, in Costa Rica a large proportion are immigrants, while in the rest of the nations studied, most of the young domestics come from impoverished rural areas.
''This is one of the first studies carried out on this subject,'' Carmen Moreno, regional coordinator of the ILO's International Programme for the Eradication of Child Labour, told IPS.
But Moreno said much more work was needed, due to the difficulty in gathering data in some of the countries included in the study.
The initial phase of the ongoing ILO project on child domestic labour in the region is aimed at collecting and compiling information, holding workshops and seminars, and carrying out consciousness-raising efforts.
The next stage will focus on reviewing the laws in the countries under study and providing technical assistance. In addition, pilot programmes aimed at pulling 100 girls out of domestic labour will be implemented in two of the nations included in the project.
''Child domestic labour exists in many areas, and it is especially dangerous because it is largely an invisible phenomenon,'' said Moreno.
The ILO presented another report, ''A Future Without Child Labour'', simultaneously in Geneva, Lima, Mexico City and San Jose on May 6.
That study reported that in Latin America and the Caribbean, around 20 million youngsters aged five to 17 - the equivalent of one out of five minors - works for a living or to help support their family.
''In Central America, we have made much progress in adopting laws against child labour,'' said the coordinator of Costa Rica's inter-institutional technical secretariat on children's affairs, Alberto Quiñones, at the presentation of the report on May 6.
''The big challenge facing the region today is enforcing the laws and undertaking concrete actions to guarantee that minors have opportunities for education, recreation and development,'' he underlined.
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 1 (IPS) - Children in Latin America can no longer play freely on the ground, say health and environmental experts, pointing out that industrial waste has contaminated the soil, with lead in particular poisoning their blood, causing stunted growth, deafness and mental disabilities.
A study by the Pan-American Health Organisation (PAHO) conducted in the mid-1990s found that the concentration of lead in the blood of Latin American children in urban areas of several countries averaged 15 to 20 percent higher than the limit of 10 micrograms of lead per decilitre (10 ug/dl), established by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Lead is one of the most dangerous threats to children's health, says the WHO. Every day, 5,500 children worldwide die of illnesses related to environmental pollutants.
The main source of lead contamination in cities is leaded fuel, particularly gasoline used by motor vehicles. But exposure to the lead used in several types of industries (mining, paints, ceramics, batteries) is increasingly common, and these hotpoints of contamination are sometimes not discovered until years or decades later.
Such is the case of the neighbourhood of La Teja, in Montevideo, Uruguay, which in the last century was home to foundries, metal workshops and various industries, most of which have been shut down as a result of a series of economic crises.
Two years ago, a child from La Teja was found to have more than 30 ug/dl of lead in his blood, three times the limit set by the WHO. Later, numerous other cases of lead poisoning were found in that neighbourhood, in other districts of the capital, and in other Uruguayan cities.
The community affected by the lead contamination launched a broad mobilisation to demand answers from the authorities, but ended up in a clash with the government.
Of the approximately 7,500 children examined, the Health Ministry only recognises a few hundred cases: those with more than 20 ug/dl.
The government "still does not have concrete data about the number of people affected," Raquel Rosas, a director at the Public Health Ministry, told Tierramérica.
There is no reliable information about the true scope of lead poisoning among children in a given area, and the levels of exposure vary dramatically from country to country. Measurements made by PAHO in the mid-1990s ranged from concentrations of 3.4 ug/dl in Trinidad and Tobago to as high as 28.8 ug/dl in Ecuador.
Peru, the world's fourth exporter of lead, is one of the most contaminated countries, largely because there is a lack of appropriate environmental standards or prevention measures, say experts.
In several areas of the mining town of Oroya, 150 km east of Lima, the blood of 13 of every 30 children under age three is contaminated with at least 42 ug of lead per decilitre, according to a study conducted in July by toxicologists from the U.S.-based Columbus Children's Hospital.
There are 2,000 children age two whose future is threatened, but the Peruvian authorities have yet to impose stricter environmental standards on the mining industry.
Lead penetrates the body through inhalation, ingestion or through the skin and is more harmful to children because the metabolism of a child absorbs the lead more readily than does that of an adult.
Furthermore, children are more exposed because games and play tend to put them in greater contact with the contaminated ground.
In 1998, Peru's Health Ministry acknowledged that 5,000 children living near the mining areas in the port city of Callao registered 20 to 40 ug/dl of lead in the blood. Nearly 100 percent of the 350 students at the María Reich public school have more than 40 ug/dl.
A mobilisation led by Ida Ballasco, mother of two children with lead poisoning, convinced the city of Callao to close six mining installations that did not comply with standards for preventing contamination of the surrounding areas.
In Brazil, the authorities of the southern city of Baurú closed the Ajax battery factory in January because it violated environmental laws. In April, the first cases of lead poisoning were found.
Of 860 children living within a one-km radius of the factory, 301 surpass the WHO limit of lead in the blood, Jaira Rocco Kirchner, director of the city's mobile health units, told Tierramérica. The 22 who registered more than 30 ug/dl were hospitalised. All will be subject to medical observation and follow-up over the next 10 years.
A major challenge facing neighbourhoods like Tangarás, in Baurú, is how to decontaminate the soil. Under consideration is the removal of the surface layer, where the lead particulate is concentrated, but then the problem is how to store such a large volume of contaminated soil.
The situation is worse in the slum settlements of La Teja, in Uruguay, where the ground has 3,000 to 15,000 parts lead per million units of soil (ppm).
Acceptable limits in industrialised countries like Canada and the United States range from just 140 to 400 ppm, says Luis Lazo, director of environmental development for the Montevideo municipal government.
"Nobody should be living in those parts of La Teja," comments Lazo.
At the first Summit of the Americas, held in the U.S. city of Miami in 1994, the presidents of North and South America declared that lead poisoning among children was a serious public health problem and agreed to eliminate leaded gasoline by 2000.
To date, 15 countries have eradicated or dramatically reduced the lead in fuel (Mexico, Guatemala and Brazil were the pioneers), but few regulate the handling of industrial waste, which often ends up contaminating the ground where children play.
(IPS correspondents Abraham Lama/Peru and Diana Cariboni/Uruguay contributed to this report.)
YOKOHAMA, Japan, Dec 20 (IPS) - Saman (not his real name) was 12 years old when he was lured into becoming the sex partner of a foreign man living in a large house in a famous beach resort in Sri Lanka .
''I first went because I was offered work by the man who wanted me to weed the garden. A few weeks later I was seduced by my master in his swimming pool,'' he later told a counselor.
''I kept seeing him because I could send money to my mother, who was working alone to support my five siblings and also because he showed me a lot of love and affection,'' he added. Saman is one of the estimated 30,000 male children in Sri Lanka known as ''beach boys''.
Often, they get money or material goods in return for sex -- and this has become an integral part of the sexual services in tropical tourist destinations across the globe.
Experts who met at the Second World Congress for the Commercial Exploitation of Children, which ended Thursday, report that the number of male children working as prostitutes, beggars or cheap labour is growing. The issue of child soldiers, as young as eight years old, is another form of male child abuse, they add.
But experts also point out that the sexual exploitation of boys was often sidelined at the high-profile international conference, where the focus was more on the sexual exploitation of girls, since most of the time they are most affected by sexual abuse.
''Statistics for abused boys are hard to come by, but definitely, there is an urgent need to address this gender problem because boys must be protected,'' says Irwanto, an Indonesian researcher on street children at the Centre for Societal Development Studies at Atma Jaya Catholic University.
Most of the huge number of reports presented at the conference here detailed research on girls, and referred to boys under the general category of children.
The lack of a workshop to discuss male victims - there were more than 100 workshops in the four-day conference -- is also a telling example of the haziness covering the issue, they say.
''Indeed, girls need to be protected as they are the main victims in sex crimes. Violated boys, however, also suffer severe trauma,'' says Guy Thompstone, a training coordinator at End Child Prostitution and Trafficking of Children (ECPAT), a non-governmental organisation and co-organiser of the Yokohama conference.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that there are 250 million working children, between the ages of seven to 14 years, around the world.
Boys comprise the majority of those in bonded labour, drug trafficking, and other types of hazardous work that put them under constant threat of harm and even death.
Experts say the overwhelming number of street children are boys. They are often forced to beg and peddle drugs or act as pimps for girls. Widespread cases of sexual abuse and violence by their peers and exploiters have been recorded.
''In most societies, there is a lot less sympathy for boys. The macho culture expects them to be strong and not express emotions easily even after they are abused,'' says Irwanto, who uses only one name.
There is no gender disparity between the causes of the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, say activists and experts who attended the Yokohama congress.
Male children, like girls, belong to poor families, seek work to support their families, and are illiterate.
Thompstone, who has worked with boys in Britain, his home country, says that street children in developed countries are also not that different from their counterparts from the South. They belong to poor and dysfunctional families, and some children are from refugee families.
However, boys make most of their money from soliciting drugs on the streets, followed by prostitution. They are solicited into homosexual communities, which encourage them to depend on goods and presents in return for sexual services.
Thompstone says boys, some as young as 12 years old, are vulnerable to health risks as a result of their sexual abuse and exploitation. Not least, some suffer physical damage as a result of forced sexual encounters.
According to counselors, another gender difference is boys tend to be more aggressive and enter into risky sexual behaviour, a trait that puts them at a disadvantage compared to their female counterparts.
Likewise, they are more likely to face harsher abuse by police officers who would arrest and put them in prison for crimes -- instead of seeing them as victims and sending them into rehabilitation programmes like the girls who are sexually exploited, says Thompstone.
Parvin Patkar, director of an anti-trafficking centre in Perana, India, says the number of boys in the red light districts of India is increasing. India is also recording the trafficking of male children to the Middle East to work as camel jockeys.
Says Patkar, ''There is a demand for boy prostitutes from both foreign and local clients. What is sad is the lack of rehabilitation programmes to suit their particular needs.''
A paper on the trafficking of Albanian children to Italy, released during the Yokohama meeting, cites that a 1998-99 investigation into 600 cases that showed 80 percent of the trafficked children were boys.
A report on China by the non-governmental group Save the Children indicates
mostly boys under seven years old are trafficked for adoption - because
of the desire for sons -- while young women are abducted to become brides
for Chinese bachelors in towns and villagers.
YOKOHAMA, Japan, Dec 20 (IPS) - Governments, activists and young people on Thursday widened the international consensus on fighting the sexual exploitation of children, by reaffirming their commitment to ''all forms'' of the problem at the close of a world congress here .
Unlike other big conferences, the Second World Congress against the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children was not a negotiating summit. Instead, its 3,045 participants adopted by consensus a ''global commitment'' that goes further than the issues tackled at the first congress five years ago.
''We reaffirm, as our primary considerations, the protection and promotion of the interests and the rights of the child to be protected against all forms of sexual exploitation,'' said the document.
"Sexual exploitation is like a virus. If you expose it to heat and light, it will die -- and we need to do this,'' said Bruce Harris, executive director of Casa Alianza, based in Costa Rica.
''We now understand the scale of the problem and the complexity of the issues, and the scope of our work has to expand too,'' said Mehr Khan, Asia-Pacific director of United Nations' Children Fund (UNICEF).
''We expect action and implementation,'' said a Filipino youth participant, John Maraquinod. ''There is only one way to go now - and that straight forward,'' said a statement by young people at the conference, attended by 134 governments and 148 non-government groups.
''The good side is that from Stockholm until now, the issue has come out more in the open,'' said Thai law professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, rapporteur for the conference. But more vigilance and joint action is needed because ''commercial sexual exploitation of children mutates and intensifies''.
The Stockholm congress focused on describing the problem, especially the child sex trade and sex tourism. But those at the Yokohama meeting redefined the sexual abuse of children by including other, non-commercial aspects of sexual exploitation - from abuse in the family and early marriage to trafficked youngsters.
The Dec.17-20 conference also touched on issues that allowed deeper discussion of child sexual abuse as well as traditionally taboo issues -- cultural practices that lead to it, links to globalisation and consumerism -- and causes that can be traced to lack of education, poverty, conflicts, discrimination.
''This addresses some of the root causes of exploitation. Some of the exploitation has a commercial side, some do not, so this includes the experiences we young people have gone through,'' said Cherry Kingsley, a survivor of the sex trade who now campaigns for children's rights.
''This started mainly as an issue of sex tourism, by foreign tourists,'' recalls UNICEF's Khan. ''But this congress has gone beyond sex tourism.''
Ron O' Grady, founder of the non-government End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT), agrees that it is time to go beyond the sexual abuse of children by foreign tourists.
''This really emerged out of Asia, and that was the trigger years ago, given the number of western men sexually abusing children in the region,'' O'Grady said in an interview.
''We are going to have that word 'commercial' in 'commercial sexual exploitation' eventually disappear,'' he said. ''It's not a bad thing.''
Others said there has been too much focus on sex tourism, which has been discussed here as but one aspect of the sexual exploitation of children.
''We need to progress faster than we have now,'' explained Marc Verwilghen, Belgium's federal justice minister. ''We have had Europeans and African countries saying they face problems of sexual exploitation that have nothing to do with the commercial aspects.''
The EU issued an ''explanatory declaration'' on the Yokohama commitment, stating that ''the fight against sexual exploitation is extended to all forms of sexual violence and sexual abuse''.
The EU also asked countries to ratify legal instruments for child rights protection like the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- remarks directed toward the United States, which together with Somalia, are the only countries that have not ratified it.
The United States did not have much of a voice at the conference, where its role was often cited for Washington's failure so far to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Washington's explanatory statement said it joined the Yokohama consensus, but expressed some reservations about the decriminalisation of acts related to prostitution. The global commitment document exhorts states to fight the criminalisation of the sexual exploitation of children ''without penalising the child victims''.
The EU and other activists also batted for getting more countries to recognise child protection for people up to 18 years of age, separating it from the question of age of sexual consent. This was also discussed five years ago, but did not progress much here and remains a matter of debate.
Verwilghen said there are also other legal areas that could be raised for international discussion, such as having the concept of extraterritoriality of sexual offenses as the norm and the lifting of the prescriptive period during which victims can bring such cases to court.
Other aspects of sexual exploitation discussed here included an increase in the trafficking of children for different purposes, the misuse of technology, especially the Internet, for exploitative purposes. ''We need to humanise this technology,'' Vitit said.
''The implementation process (of efforts against exploitation) is particularly challenged by five 'Cs' which often obstruct the effective guarantee of child rights: Crime, Corruption, Collusion, Clientilism and Complacency,'' he pointed out.
But some said that despite this week's added commitments, governments and campaigners must not forget the fact that only some 50 of the 122 governments in Stockholm have produced plans of action and many have not been able to comply with pledges made there.
''No more empty promises,'' said Raffaele Salinari of the NGO Group for the Convention of the Rights of the Child. ''We need a political commitment beyond world congresses.'' Young people meantime said they have noticed much more participation for them here, but some said they had expected more of it. ''In a way we were just a mere presence here. We have to have more opportunity to voice our opinions,'' one Japanese young person said.
''Commercial sexual exploitation of children cannot be fought by adults
only,'' said April Rose Chiong, a 14-year-old participant from the Philippines.
''They need the cooperation of children and young people.''