President highlights need to empower children


SOCIETY must be more creative and imaginative as to how it looks after the rights of children, the President, Mrs Robinson, told an Amnesty International conference on the rights of children, in Cork at the weekend.

Mrs Robinson told delegates to "Towards 2000: the Rights of the Child" that governments, NGOs and people must seek to empower children. She cited the example of a project for street children in Calcutta she had visited.

The shelter, which was established by GOAL in partnership with an Indian NGO, did not institutionalise orphaned children but rather empowered them and gave them a sense of self esteem and their own worth as human beings, she said.

The President also spoke of the work of a judicial group in Chicago that set up a 24 hour centre for juveniles attached to the courts as yet another imaginative way of working for children's rights.

The international conference, which was attended by over 50 delegates, was told by Ms Anna Mghwira from Amnesty in Tanzania that more than one million children in Tanzania had lost one or both parents to the AIDS virus and had taken to living on the streets. She believed the problem to be even more serious in Uganda.

There were also 100,000 children living among the camps set up to cater for the refugees from the conflict in Rwanda and Burundi. Western governments should be helping Rwanda and Burundi to prepare for the return of such refugees, she said.

Mr Andrew Anderson, of the Amnesty international secretariat in London, said the UN High Commission on Refugees estimated there were 30 million refugees worldwide and about half of these were children.

Allied to this was a huge problem of internal displacement which again affected children, said Mr Anderson, citing the case of an Ecuadoran school where just three of the original 500 pupils remained following the war between Ecuador and Peru.

Amnesty International's Irish director, Ms Mary Lawlor, pointed out that children not only witnessed their parents being killed and tortured but were often killed and tortured themselves in many countries including Iraq. Bangladesh and Pakistan.