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Children continued to be abused and mistreated around the world in 1998, condemned to serve as child soldiers or bonded laborers; beaten and arbitrarily detained by police; locked up, often with adults, in appalling conditions in correctional facilities; or confined in inhumane conditions and treated cruelly, sometimes to die of neglect, in state orphanages. For the most part, children did not have advocates working actively on their behalf in the political sphere. Children were seldom organized into political action groups and could not argue for their own rights. Most international children’s organizations worked on important economic and social issues—such as children’s health and sheer survival—but few worked on other aspects of the protection of children or carried out research and action on systemic abuse. To fill this gap, coalitions needed to be built, local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) needed to become involved, and massive efforts needed to be made to raise awareness internationally of the often life-threatening abuses perpetrated on children around the world, and to persuade governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, and ordinary citizens to join together to end them. Research was needed on a broad spectrum of children’s rights issues, including the means by which people and governments could be moved to take constructive action to end the abuses as they were identified.

In 1998 the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), fifty-two years after its creation, established a Child Protection unit as a demonstration of its commitment to protecting children’s rights. The unit included the division formerly known as Children in Exceptionally Difficult Circumstances. Its establishment reflected UNICEF’s mission statement which, in 1996, mandated that action for the protection of children’s rights be guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. UNICEF thus acknowledged the centrality of rights to its agenda, which previously had been dominated by issues of health and poverty. The convention was adopted by the General Assembly in 1989 and entered into force in 1990. One hundred ninety-one countries had ratified the convention; only Somalia and the United States had not.

Children’s rights issues that required research and action for change in 1998 included:

· Child soldiers: about three hundred thousand children around the globe served as soldiers. Many were killed in combat or forced to kill others, and committed atrocities on their own or on threat of death. These children were often maimed physically and psychologically, denied education and a normal life. Most faced overwhelming difficulties at war’s end in becoming normal, productive members of their communities.

· Children, some as young as six, continued to work as bonded laborers—slaves, really—in bad conditions, often physically abused, receiving little or no pay and no education. Some worked as domestics, toiling from dawn until late at night, six or seven days a week, for little or no pay, suffering physical and sexual abuse.

· Police continued to beat street children and to lock them up simply for being on the street. Children in institutions, both orphanages and penal facilities, continued to be confined in inhumane conditions, denied decent educations, and often physically abused. With little being done for their rehabilitation, care, and development, children confined in these institutions often ended up far worse off than before entering.



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Human RIghts Watch