Diane Spencer reports on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the children's charter ratified by most countries, is something of a sham, according to a report by the pressure group, Index on Censorship.
The seven-year-old convention "is being violated, systematically and contemptuously, and no countries violate it more energetically than those that were quickest to sign", says Caroline Moorehead, the writer of the report and a director of Index.
"Almost every ill it set out to remedy has grown worse in the years since it was drafted. At the same time, the world has never had more human rights organisations devoted to the interests of children, and never have the international agencies proved as concerned for their welfare."
Yet over the past decade, some two million children have been killed in wars, six million seriously injured or disabled, and almost 30 million turned into refugees. One in four children was wounded in Sarajevo; in Rwanda, 114, 000 had been separated from their families by the end of 1994; and nearly 3,000 children were murdered in Colombia in 1991.
The depressing fact-file also says that an infant born in New York is less likely to live to five than one born in Shanghai; in 1979, one in 10 children in the UK lived below the poverty line compared with one in three in 1996; one million children work in the Asian sex trade; a third of children in developing countries do not complete four years of schooling; 100 million children work as bonded labourers in India.
Eight out of 10 families live below the poverty line in Russia. Education, career prospects and entertainment are reserved for the privileged few, notes a report by Irena Maryniak. "The rest are relegated to the stairwells, out of the way of parents weighed down by job losses, inflation and personal distress. "
Child crime in Russia doubled between 1992 and 1994. Young offenders await trial in cells built for four inmates and shared by up to 15 for up to three years. Many end up in "educational labour colonies", ruled by inmates who treat them as masters, lackeys or slaves according to strength, wit and will, she says.
"These cells and colonies are as much of an insult to east European democracy today as labour camps were to the original Communist utopia. Deprived of cultural or educational grounding, and of any credible political, economic or social point of reference, the unwanted children of eastern Europe live on a plane of shifting sands."
However, not all the developments are negative. More progress has been made in terms of child health and education in the past 50 years than in the previous 2000. Largely because of programmes run by UNICEF - the United Nations children's fund - the number of children who die every year has been halved, while in just under 20 years the percentage of children vaccinated against diseases has risen from 5 to 80 per cent.
Looking at Kids, Index on Censorship, February 1997, Pounds 7.99