Child Magazine

Magazine 1                                                      Unicef warns
 Magazine 2                                                    Charley’s story
 Magazine 3                                                      Paulo Coelho
Magazine 4                                                  Strange Bedfellows

of psychological impact of conflict on millions of children

Children’s rights: what matters most to young people around the world? – interactive
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A quarter of a century after the UN convention on the rights of the child, the international community must match promises with funding to safeguard children’s rights in a volatile world where conflict exposes young people to profound shocks, a leading campaigner said.

As the world marks the 25th anniversary of the convention (CRC), gains made in education, reducing child mortality and recognising the inalienable rights of children have been hailed, but UN member states have been criticised for failing to deliver on promises contained in the world’s most widely ratified rights treaty.

“We really need to see a global partnership … and the creation of a funding mechanism for the protection of children. What has been neglected historically is a pulling together of all the actors – civil society, governments and the private sector,” said Susan Bissell, Unicef’s global chief of child protection.

Bissell, who spoke as she prepared to fly to Sierra Leone to take part in Ebola relief efforts, said there was not enough investment in implementation, nationally and internationally. “It’s moving from promise to action,” she said, adding that social change was required as well as more funding. “We need to accelerate social change … [That takes] a lot of political will, and leadership and bravery,” she said.

In the past 18 months, conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Gaza have spawned new perils for young people.

“We are extremely concerned about the generation of children growing up experiencing Syria, and the migration and the mobility,” Bissell said. “This really merits attention for the psychological impact on millions of children, not just those directly affected or recruited … but [those] indirectly witnessing violence or seeing the family experience violence.”

In a report to mark the CRC anniversary, Unicef asked whether today’s children are better off than young people growing up 25 years ago. It concluded that the answer was yes, but not for every child.


“We cannot afford to continue at the same pace for the next 25 years. Unless efforts are stepped up, the rights of millions of children will continue to be violated. When we come together to focus commitments, investments and actions on the right interventions, true progress ensues,” it said.

UN member states have a historic opportunity to end child poverty by child-focused budgeting and expanding social protection programmes, the report said. “While no silver bullet, child-sensitive social protection programmes have proved to be extremely effective in addressing risks and vulnerabilities related to chronic multidimensional poverty,” it said.

To mark the anniversary, UCLA’s World Policy Analysis Centre compiled an online resource bank looking at how specific articles from the convention have been implemented. Only three countries have not ratified the convention – Somalia, the US and South Sudan – and only the US has not signalled an intention to do so.

“With the passage of the CRC, the rights of the world’s youngest citizens were recognised. Yet, we still lag far behind on the implementation of universal protections important to children’s healthy development,” said Dr Jody Heymann, founding director of the World Policy Analysis Centre and dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

The centre said 74% of countries no longer allow children to engage in hazardous work, but once legal exceptions were taken in account, nearly half of these countries still allow children to work in jobs that endanger their health and safety, including mining and factory work.

On child marriage, 88% of countries have set a minimum age of 18 or older but when exceptions with parental consent are included, only 49% of these protect girls from early marriage.

Unicef said a baby born in 2014 had a “dramatically improved chance” of living to the age of five, compared with one born in 1990. The number of children under five years old who die each year fell by almost half – from 12.7 million in 1990 to 6.3 million in 2013 – it said. However, deaths in the first year of life, and the neonatal mortality rate, which covers the first 28 days, improved less swiftly.

Kevin Watkins, executive director of the Overseas Development Institute, wrote that the convention was widely and systematically violated in near total impunity. “Under the terms of the treaty, governments have a responsibility to ensure that every child has access to schooling. Yet 115 million school-age children are working in the most extreme forms of child labour,” he wrote.

Watkins said around 150 million girls, mostly in Africa and south Asia, still marry before the age of 15; child trafficking and slavery had reached “epidemic proportions”; and schools and children had been targeted by armed forces.

“A quarter of a century after the inception of the convention on the rights of the child, it is time to deliver on its promise … We need a new global civil rights movement that turns principles into the practical interventions that can transform the lives of children,” he wrote.

Watkins called for the creation of an international court for child rights to investigate systemic abuses, and urged the UN committee overseeing the convention to “ruthlessly investigate” violations.

Bissell said Unicef was happy with the child-related content of the proposed sustainable development goals, which are being discussed over the coming year. “What we are going to be rallying around over the next six to nine months is the partnership – what will it take to make it happen? They say it takes a village to raise a child. It really takes a global partnership to protect the world’s children,” she said.

The latest crisis to affect children is the Ebola outbreak in west Africa, where thousands of children have lost one or both parents, and face stigma surrounding survivors.

“The good news is that … the extended family and kinship care are part of the culture, so we have that to build on,” Bissell said. “The quicker there’s a sense of normalcy in these kids’ lives the better.”

Charley’s story

How Childline helped Charley break the silence around her sexual abuse”My step-father came to live with us when I was 2. My mum said that I didn’t like him even then, so I must have sensed that he wasn’t a good person.

“He was a violent alcoholic who regularly beat my mum up. The sound of the key turning in the lock after he had been at the pub all day on a Sunday filled us all with dread.

“When I was 4 he asked me to perform a sex act on him. I’ll never forget that moment. I still remember what I was wearing. Afterwards he told me not to tell anyone. He said ‘Your mum won’t believe you, and if you do tell her I will kill you’.

“It carried on from there and got worse. He also made my brother and I do things to each other while he watched. I knew what he was doing was wrong. I kept fighting back and saying that I didn’t want to do it but he continued to beat me. I used to beg my mum to leave him but she said she didn’t know where else to go.

“I felt very isolated and didn’t know who to tell. I was kept a prisoner in the house; the only time I could go out was to go to school, so school became my sanctuary. But he often kept me off school to abuse me while my mum was at work. As soon as he said I wasn’t going in that day my heart would fill with dread.

“When I was 10 I tried to kill myself by taking an overdose of tablets. My mum had come home early from work and found me. I was rushed to the hospital and had my stomach pumped. My mum didn’t ask me why I did it. She and my step-father just told me to tell the psychiatrist that I was depressed as I had to look after my half-brothers a lot. I got pregnant at 14 as a result of the abuse. They paid for me to have an abortion at a private clinic. But I was never asked who the father was.”Most children my age looked forward to Christmas – but I never did. My step-father was a drunkard and the more drunk he got, the more nasty and violent he became. Knowing that I would be off from school and that he would be drinking more was horrible. I absolutely used to dread Christmas. I just prayed for the holiday to be over.

“Christmas Eve was probably the worst because my step-father would go to the pub, get drunk, come home, beat my mum up, and then beat us up. He would then sexually abuse me. When he was drunk the sexual abuse was 10 times worse and went on for hours.

“I ran away from home when I was 17 and lived rough for a while. After a few months, I got a bedsit and a job. I became friends with a woman called Alison and one day we started talking about abuse. I broke down in tears and told her what happened and she encouraged me to call Childline.”I was terrified to call Childline at first. I was worried about how it would affect the rest of the family, so it was important to me that I didn’t have to give my full details. I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I was too old to call but I was reassured that I wasn’t.

“I spoke to a woman called Veronica who sounded so kind. I knew that if I didn’t get it all out I’d do something really bad to myself. So I told her everything. I was worried that if I didn’t I’d end my own life. I was tearful and broken up but knowing that she believed me really helped. She said that he shouldn’t be allowed to get on with his life while I suffered. She encouraged me to call the police. I thought about it a lot and decided to do it.

“My step-father was taken to trial and was found guilty. He was sentenced to 12 years in jail and served 6. I don’t think it’s enough for what he did. I suffered from anorexia, bulimia and depression because of his actions and went through some tough years.

“I’ve managed to stay strong and be a decent person though. I really do believe Veronica from Childline, and having my own child, saved my life.”

Paulo Coelho

A boy was watching his grandmother write a letter. At one point he asked:

‘Are you writing a story about what we’ve done? Is it a story about me?’

His grandmother stopped writing her letter and said to her grandson:

I am writing about you, actually, but more important than the words is the pencil I’m using. I hope you will be like this pencil when you grow up.’

Intrigued, the boy looked at the pencil. It didn’t seem very special. ‘But it’s just like any other pencil I’ve ever seen!’

‘That depends on how you look at things. It has five qualities which, if you manage to hang on to them, will make you a person who is always at peace with the world.’

‘First quality: you are capable of great things, but you must never forget that there is a hand guiding your steps. We call that hand God, and He always guides us according to His will.’

‘Second quality: now and then, I have to stop writing and use a sharpener. That makes the pencil suffer a little, but afterwards, he’s much sharper. So you, too, must learn to bear certain pains and sorrows, because they will make you a better person.

‘Third quality: the pencil always allows us to use an eraser to rub out any mistakes. This means that correcting something we did is not necessarily a bad thing; it helps to keep us on the road to justice.’

‘Fourth quality: what really matters in a pencil is not its wooden exterior, but the graphite inside. So always pay attention to what is happening inside you.’

‘Finally, the pencil’s fifth quality: it always leaves a mark. In just the same way, you should know that everything you do in life will leave a mark, so try to be conscious of that in your every action.’

Brazilian author Paul Coelho’s best-selling books, including The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage, enchant readers from around the world. He has won numerous international awards for his works, which have been translated into more than 65 languages. Through the Paulo Coelho Institute, he uses his global appeal to combat poverty and help underprivileged members of Brazilian society.

Clowns in the United States do not have a sterling reputation. Their mere mention is likely to conjure up images of horror film fiends or social pariahs—manic, makeup-wearing, troubled individuals who shouldn’t be allowed near children. Because they are seen as outcasts, clowns are frequently dismissed as dangerous exploiters of innocent imagination.

Ironically, it is the ability of hospital clowns to stride the line between reality and fantasy that bestows on them a special role in pediatrics. For over three decades, medical clowning has been shown to have significant beneficial effects on the stress levels of children in pediatric care.

The hospital setting is the antithesis of a nurturing environment. Sterile and cold, it hardly inspires imagination and playfulness. Large, intimidating equipment fills small rooms, ominously beeping and squeaking. The setting is controlled by professionals who poke and prod patients or check written charts. These professionals rarely have time to fully explain the procedures to the children who are undergoing them. Children kept in the dark have high anxiety that interferes with the procedures and may cause psychological trauma.

By promoting play and treating children with compassion and dignity, clowns quell unease and encourage strength and self-esteem. Studies, including one published in the European Journal of Pediatrics and another published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, have shown that hospital clowns lower the anxiety of children while making them feel confident and less fearful during their stay.

Hospital clowns are vastly different from the typical clown at a child’s birthday party. Though their job is to make light of a distressing situation, hospital clowns are trained to be aware and respectful of hospital protocol. Hospital clowns know how to stay with the children and entertain them while not interfering with the doctors and nurses.

Even their appearance is carefully thought out. Clowns need to be able to stand out in a crowd but also be relevant to the environment. Stark white makeup may be effective at a circus, but it is not the norm when working one on one with a sick child. Instead, many hospital clowns choose to mimic doctors, donning white coats and carrying oversized bags stuffed with basic medical supplies and clown props. A big red nose or silly hat adds a touch of absurdity and prevents the clown from being viewed as an authority figure.

Hospital clowns thus do not have to adhere to the same social rules as those in charge. They are unique characters gifted with empathy, impish jokers who turn the absurdities and tragedies of real life into comedy, but most notably they add a spark of color to an otherwise bleak environment.

When a child who has been the victim of sexual or physical abuse enters a hospital, there can be shame and guilt associated with the visit. The child goes through medical examinations that often cause him or her to relive the trauma. But in such a situation hospital clowns can mitigate retraumatization.

At Baruch Padeh Medical Center in Israel, doctors found that hospital clowns were able to create an atmosphere that calmed young victims. The simple establishment of trust between a child and a clown ensured cooperation from the child during the examination and even eliminated the need for anesthesia, reducing recovery time and costs. Numerous other studies confirm the finding that clowns lower procedural anxiety.

Clowns are not always the first people we think of when we need comfort, but they deserve a closer look, as there is ample evidence that they are antidotes to anxiety. Proven to lower stress, increase self-esteem, and even reduce health care costs, clowns maintain joy in an environment that can be disconcerting or unpleasant. Clowning is a job that we can no longer dismiss as trivial or disreputable. Hospital clowns are more than goofy adults in costume; they are the protectors and preservers of comfort and