Addressing a packed hearing room of Congressional aides today, UNICEF Chief of Health Pete Salama brought encouraging news of UNICEF's child survival successes in Africa and called for stepped up action to save even more children from dying from preventable diseases.
What does the word "Jamaica" conjure up in you mind? Long, glittery beaches? Azure-colored water? Fancy resorts? Those are some of the images I would have thought of until recently. But, as I've learned, they're only part of Jamaica's very complicated reality.
UNICEF/ HQ08-0267/Susan Markisz
You see, for years now, Jamaica"that small vacation paradise about the size of Connecticut"has had one of the highest murder rates on the planet. In fact, it's often referred to as "the murder capital of the world." In 2007, more than 1,500 people, out of a population of only 2.7 million, were murdered. That equals more than four people a day, and includes an estimated 100 children. This year over 700 persons have already been killed.
Have you noticed from our recent efforts in China and Myanmar that UNICEF goes to extreme lengths to make sure children always have access to education, even in emergency situations?
Education is like a magic wand for children"it can provide them with a secure, happy and safe place to spend time (ping!); it can turn a scary future into one filled with possibility (swoosh!); it can even make a child healthier (tadaaa!).
For a lot of kids around the world, a job isn't a teenage rite of passage or the means to get some extra spending cash. It's grueling, full-time work done to help their families buy basic necessities like food and shelter. And in the poorest countries, kids as young as five toil in some of the toughest and most dangerous forms of labor out there"mining, construction and mechanical work.
Four-year-old Norma and her six-year-old cousin, Tonio, work 12 hours a day filling bags with charcoal to help their family in El Salvador. The two cousins are not enrolled in school and suffer from respiratory ailments.
UNICEF's first ever comprehensive report assessing the status of Africa's children cited major challenges and some significant gains in the effort to cut that continent's stubbornly high child mortality rates.
The State of Africa's Children 2008: Child Survival, released late last month, noted that among the nearly 10 million children who die each year before they reach age five, half of those deaths occur in Africa.
The extent of the damage means it's no easy task. In the Irrawaddy area, school will not open for another month while repairs are made, with help from 17,248 roofing sheets provided by UNICEF. But in Yangon, 98 primary schools have already been repaired using 7,750 roofing sheets and nails from UNICEF. This has enabled over 31,000 children to go back to school this week.
For years, the world has known about the devastating effects of cluster munitions on civilians"and particularly children. The little "bomblets" that don't explode on impacts are deadly remnants of war, waiting for children to step on them or pick them up"and then lose a limb or a life.
UNICEF/ HQ06-1172/Dina Debbas
LEBANON: A boy stands near an unexploded cluster bomb, marked off by two bricks, in the southern village of Yohmor.