UN meeting for South Asia seeks end to violence against children

UN meeting for South Asia seeks end to violence against children

A United Nations-backed regional meeting dealing exclusively with violence against children, the first of its kind to be held in South Asia, opened today in Islamabad, Pakistan, amid calls for countries in the region to do more to prevent physical and psychological harm to young people.

More than 165 people, including delegates from all governments in the region, staff from UN agencies and child care organizations, are taking part in the groundbreaking three-day meeting as part of the global consultation for UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's study on violence against children.

"We know many children in South Asia are extremely vulnerable and that a beaten child is a damaged child who may be killed, maimed or psychologically damaged for the rest of their lives," said Cecilia Lotse, Regional Director for the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF).

"Underlying so much of what is going on in South Asia is gender discrimination and inequality affecting children," she said, adding: "This meeting is extremely important and comes at a time when there is more knowledge about abuses that used to go unseen. We all have to take up the challenge."

The global consultation calls for reports to focus on how children are affected by violence in five settings: the home and family; schools and other institutions; work situations; the community and on the streets. The South Asia contribution to the process will highlight specific issues of gender related violence, child sexual abuse and physical and psychological punishment.

The meeting was to be opened by Pakistan's First Lady, Begum Sebha Pervez Musharraf, who was expected to welcome this initiative to discuss issues affecting so many children in the region. The event was preceded by a two-day meeting of youngsters from across the region who presented their views to the participants, including Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the Secretary General's Independent Expert for the global study.

In 2001, the UN General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to conduct "an in-depth study on the question of violence against children." The following year, the Geneva-based UN Commission on Human Rights suggested that he appoint an independent expert to direct the study, in collaboration with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNICEF and the UN World Health Organization (WHO). Mr. Pinheiro was named in February 2003 as the independent expert to direct the study, to be completed by 2006.