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UNICEF hails upcoming entry into force of key treaty on children's rights

UNICEF hails upcoming entry into force of key treaty on children's rights

Welcoming the upcoming entry into force of a treaty on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) said today the event would be a major step forward in the protection of children from exploitation, trafficking and sexual abuse.

With the submission of Romania's 10th ratification last Thursday, the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child will become a legally binding instrument on 18 January 2002, according to a statement released by UNICEF from its Headquarters in New York.

The agency estimates that one million children, mainly girls, are forced into the multi-billion dollar commercial sex trade every year. The children are often lured with promises of an education or a "good job." Girls appear to be forced into the sex industry at increasingly younger ages partly as a result of the mistaken belief that younger girls are unlikely to be infected with HIV/AIDS virus. It is often very difficult for the children to seek help, not just because of their young age, but because they have no birth certificates or official documents and are therefore "invisible," the statement said.

Child prostitution, child pornography and the sale of children occur within countries and across borders, with perpetrators and victims in both industrialized and developing countries. It is therefore essential, said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, that governments urgently commit to implementing Optional Protocol and "work together to ensure that no child is again forced into this cruel trade."

Once ratified and translated into national law, the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography places responsibility squarely with the adults involved in the activities, criminalizing the violations of children's rights. It also calls for measures towards increased public awareness and international co-operation in efforts to combat them.

Ms. Bellamy congratulated the first 10 countries ratifying the treaty - Andorra, Bangladesh, Cuba, Iceland, Kazakhstan, Panama, Sierra Leone, Norway, Morocco and Romania - and called upon all States to swiftly move to making this same commitment to their children.

"At this time, a total of 69 countries have signed the Protocol and still need to proceed to ratification," she said. "It would be a marvelous testimony of our commitment to children if this Protocol were to enjoy overwhelming support before the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children to be held in Yokohama, Japan in December this year."