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Number of unaccompanied refugee and migrant children hits ‘record high’ – UNICEF

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2017 – The number of children traveling alone has increased fivefold since 2010, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said today, warning that many young refugees and migrants are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of traffickers, to reach their destinations.

At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011, according to the new UNICEF report A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation, which presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way.

“One child moving alone is one too many, and yet today, there are a staggering number of children doing just that – we as adults are failing to protect them,” said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth yesterday in a news release.

Among a raft of alarming statistics, the report finds that children account for approximately 28 per cent of trafficking victims globally. In Sub-Saharan Africa and Central America and the Caribbean have the highest share of children among detected trafficking victims at 64 and 62 per cent, respectively. Further, as much as 20 per cent of smugglers have links to human trafficking networks.

“Ruthless smugglers and traffickers are exploiting their vulnerability for personal gain, helping children to cross borders, only to sell them into slavery and forced prostitution. It is unconscionable that we are not adequately defending children from these predators,” stated Mr. Forsyth. 

Frist and foremost, the agency says, children need protection, highlighting the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, through which State Parties commit to respect and ensure the rights of “each child within their jurisdiction, without discrimination of any kind.” 

Six-point agenda for action

The information is coming to light just ahead of next week’s G7 Summit in Italy and UNICEF is calling on governments to adopt its six-point agenda for action, which includes: 

  1. Protect child refugees and migrants, particularly unaccompanied children, from exploitation and violence; 
  2. End the detention of children seeking refugee status or migrating, by introducing a range of practical alternatives; 
  3. Keep families together as the best way to protect children and give children legal status; 
  4. Keep all refugee and migrant children learning and give them access to health and other quality services; 
  5. Press for action on the underlying causes of large scale movements of refugees and migrants; and 
  6. Promote measures to combat xenophobia, discrimination and marginalization in countries of transit and destination.

“These children need a real commitment from governments around the world to ensure their safety throughout their journeys,” said Mr. Forsyth. “Leaders gathering next week at the G7 should lead this effort by being the first to commit to our six-point agenda for action.”

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UN envoy urges defusing tensions over Palestinian hunger strike in Israeli jails

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2017 – The United Nations envoy on the Middle East peace process today called for an immediate resolution to the growing tensions over a hunger strike by Palestinian detainees in Israeli jails.

“I am following with great concern the ongoing hunger strike by Palestinian detainees protesting against their conditions in Israeli jails,” said the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, in a statement. 

“The strike is now entering its second month and it is imperative that a resolution be found as soon as possible in line with international humanitarian law and Israel’s human rights obligations,” he added.

Expressing hope that current efforts will result in an immediate resolution to the matter, which is in the interest of ongoing initiatives to revive a political process, he called on all actors to exercise maximum restraint, show responsibility and take all necessary steps to avoid escalating tensions.

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Mosul: 200,000 more people could be displaced as battle nears Old City – UN

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2017 – As military operations against terrorists intensify and move closer to Mosul's Old City area, up to 200,000 more people could be displaced, a senior United Nations humanitarian official in Iraq warned today.

“The numbers of people fleeing their homes in western Mosul are overwhelming,” saidHumanitarian Coordinator for Iraq Lise Grande in a press release from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

Since military operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/Da'esh) began in Mosul seven months ago, nearly 700,000 people have been displaced, including 500,000 people from the city's western neighbourhoods. 

Iraqi Security Forces have made rapid gains in north-west Mosul and ISIL terrorists are reportedly surrounded in the west of the city.

“The military battle in Mosul isn't over yet and even when it is, the emergency will continue for months… Hundreds of thousands of lives are at stake,” said Ms. Grande, stressing the need to re-double efforts to mobilize more resources to assist the people in need.

She said many are lacking food and haven't had access to safe drinking water and medicines for weeks or months.

Acknowledging the generosity of people in other parts of Mosul who are opening their homes for displaced families, she said: “Without this support, the camps would have been overwhelmed long ago.”

To date, the $985 million appeal for Iraq is less than 30 per cent funded. About $331 million is being sought for the Mosul assistance.

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Industry leaders agree to implement UN agency's standards on clinical trial reporting

INTERNATIONAL, 18 May 2017 – With about half of all clinical trial results unreported, some of the world's largest founders of medical research and international non-governmental organizations today agreed to adopt standards – based on United Nations health agency's recommendations – to register and publicly disclose results of all clinical trials they fund or support.

“Research funders are making a strong statement that there will be no more excuses on why some clinical trials remain unreported long after they have completed,” said Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director-General for Health Systems and Innovation at the UN World Health Organization (WHO).

The concern is that unreported trials result in an “incomplete and potentially misleading” understanding of the risks and benefits of vaccines, drugs and medical devices, and could lead to the release of harmful products. 

The standards are based on a 2015 WHO published position on public disclosure, which defines timeframes within which the results should be reported. 

Today's joint statement that future standards will be in line with that 2015 position, was signed by the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Norwegian Research Council, the UK Medical Research Council, Médecins Sans Frontières and Epicentre (its research arm), PATH, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Institut Pasteur, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Wellcome Trust.

According to a press release, the entities agreed to develop and implement policies within the next 12 months that require all trials they fund, co-fund, sponsor or support to be registered in a publicly-available registry.

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UN expert urges Dominican Republic to place child protection at core of tourism strategy

INTERNATIONAL/CARIBBEAN, 18 May 2017 – Those who come to the Dominican Republic to sexually exploit children must know that they will be punished, a United Nations independent expert said, urging the Government to put child protection at the centre of its tourism strategy.

At the end of her first official visit to the Dominican Republic, the UN Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, urged the Government to “send a strong signal that the target of 10 millions of tourists by 2022 is not reached at the expense of exposing further children to the scourge of sexual exploitation.” 

During her eight-day mission, the Special Rapporteur visited child care institutions, and met with children in vulnerable situations to fall victims of sexual exploitation such as girl vendors on beach locations. 

She noted that blame for rape and other sexual exploitation is often put on the families and the exploited children “while perpetrators – often foreign male from Western countries whose crimes are facilitated by all sorts of intermediaries – walk around with a complete sense of impunity.”

The Special Rapporteur called on the Ministry of Tourism to incorporate prevention of this scourge in its plans, and to lead efforts already deployed by the private travel and tourism sector, together with local actors of affected communities, to implement the Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism.

The expert commended measures adopted by the specialised units of the Attorney General's Office to combat trafficking and high technology crimes, which have led to a series of convictions, including of foreign nationals.

She also called for better coordination between the police and the body in charge of tourist security (CESTUR) to improve detection and referral of cases for criminal investigation. 

“International police and judicial cooperation are also crucial to combat impunity,” she added. 

Ms. de Boer-Buquicchio also called for a strengthened cooperation between the Dominican and Haitian authorities to address the situation of unaccompanied children living and working around the Haitian border, and reminded that “while these children remain in the country, they must receive the Dominican authorities' assistance and protection.” 

Among other statements made during her visit, the expert called for absolute prohibition of child marriage.

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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Big data can have a 'big impact' on achievement of Global Goals, UN says on IT Day

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2017 – Mastering and measuring 'big data' – to map poverty from space or use mobile phones to track food security – could boost evidence-based decision-making at local and global levels and drive the implementation of all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the United Nations telecommunications agency said today.

“The theme for 2017 is Big Data for Big Impact, which will explore the power of big data for development and examine the opportunities to convert unprecedented quantities of data into information that can drive development,” said the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication, Union Houlin Zhao, in his message on the Day. 

Mr. Zhao projects that the insight brought about by more focused data analysis will enable evidence-based decision-making at national, regional and international levels and help to advance the UN 2030 Agenda and its corresponding Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

The World Telecommunication and Information Society Day is celebrated annually on 17 May to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.

This year's commemoration also provides an occasion to take a closer look at the importance of governance and regulation, says Mr. Zaho, highlighting the implications for personal privacy and security given the future exponential growth in data and connectivity.

The ITU Secretary-General further states that activities undertaken by the ITU membership will contribute towards building momentum to embrace big data on a global scale and to seize new opportunities to address development challenges.

Recently ITU announced the top-90 winning Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) initiatives from around the world competing for prestigious WSIS Prizes 2017, with over a million online votes casted for 345 nominated projects. The winners will be announced during ITU's World Summit on the Information Society Forum in June.

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As four countries face famine, world 'must step up now' says top UN food security forum

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2017 – With famine looming in four countries, the United Nations-backed Committee on World Food Security (CFS) stressed today the need to rally support for both immediate relief to people at risk and for longer-term initiatives. 

“Governments, civic groups and businesses need to rally support for both immediate relief to people in countries at risk of famine and longer-term initiatives that will allow them to recover and restore their livelihoods,” Ambassador Amira Gornass, Chair of the CFS, saidtoday in Rome. 

Famine has been declared in some counties of South Sudan, and the number of people close to sliding from emergency to disaster is perilously high in north-eastern Nigeria, Somalia and Yemen, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and other UN agencies. 

The risk of famine in all four countries – where some 30 million people are uncertain as to where their next meal will come from or rely on humanitarian assistance – is mostly induced by conflict, which has disrupted food production, blocked aid and commodities from accessing vulnerable communities and driven food prices beyond what people can afford. 

“I urge you to take action now to relieve the impending suffering and to prevent further damage to livelihoods,” Ms. Gornass stated in a letter to CFS Members and stakeholders, as well as the international community at large, to step-up their response to the crises in the four countries. 

Reiterating calls made by Secretary-General, António Guterres, the Ambassador wrote: “The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC), the primary mechanism for the coordination of humanitarian assistance, emergency and relief responses, can meet immediate needs if adequately funded.” 

“Everyone should do what they can to support the IASC and to mobilize the necessary resources to enable emergency and relief activities to continue,” she added. 

While emergency relief is an immediate priority, plans for medium and longer-term assistance to support recovery and prevent future famines must be supported, the CFS Chair emphasized. 

“The affected populations of these four countries need our help now. We, as the international community, need to act urgently and come together with effective actions,” she said. 

In 2015 CFS approved the Framework for Action for Food Security and Nutrition in Protracted Crises that sets out concrete policy approaches that can build resilience. All stakeholders, public and private, should apply the principles and actions laid out in that document in the four countries and wherever there is a protracted crisis that threatens food security and nutrition. 

“I am counting on you to respond in a way that will ensure that short-term relief is properly funded while medium and long-term measures are taken to build resilience and to eradicate hunger and malnutrition for good,” concluded Ambassador Gornass. 

The Committee on World Food Security (CFS) is the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all.

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Innovators, UN discuss using tech to tackle world's development challenges

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2017 – From drones dropping food and medicines, to handheld devices that can diagnose Ebola with a drop of blood, the latest technological advances are converging to make the “unthinkable happen,” said global innovators and heads of tech companies invited to the United Nations today to discuss how to emerging technologies can boost achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Living up to his promise to be “disruptive,” Peter Thomson, the President of the UN General Assembly, using the famous Silicon Valley catchphrase, told those gathered for the High-level SDG Action Event on Innovation and Connectivity that he had refrained from wearing a jacket and tie, while Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed kicked off her shoes before addressing the room.

“Today, in this world, everyone is closing their border,” she said, but partnerships are necessary for the SDGs to reach every corner of the globe. Indeed, many innovators know no borders, “like we do in these halls when we negotiate and we talk about red lines, blue lines and green lines.”

Ms. Mohammed underscored: “There are no red, blue or green lines as you walk through the Internet, social media, communicating across those borders. That is what is exciting. Because with that you can share knowledge, with that you can go to scale, with that you can partner to de-risk environments where ordinarily you would not go.”

“We are all here because we have a common belief: that innovation and connectivity have a huge role to play in implementation of the SDGs,” said Mr. Thompson, telling the event that this is important because the Goals are at the heart of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. That framework, together with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change is “our recipe for providing a secure place in this world for our children and grandchildren.”

“We need fidelity to those agreements and we need action on their implementation,” he stressed.

The Action Event, which sought to get leading innovators from major global corporations to interact with UN Member States, featured two keynote speakers, with Dr. Peter Diamandis, Chairman of XPrize Foundation and Singularity University, telling the gathering that he believed that in seven years, the entire planet will be connected.

This is what he called the “dematerialization” of things that people used to own, and that are now free on our cell phones.

“The son or daughter of a billionaire here in Manhattan, or the son or daughter of the poorest person in Kenya, has access to the same free applications, the same knowledge and information. It's an incredible world. What we are seeing here is a dematerialization as all of these things become cheaper and cheaper and ultimately, a democratization where we have a billion handsets in Africa.”

Mr. Diamandis then asked participants to imagine the power of five billion new minds that had never been connected before.

“Change the world,” was his response.

The second keynote speaker, Astro Teller, Chief Executive Officer of Google X, said partnerships between inventors, technologists, governments and local communities are what matter the most.

The majority of 7.5 billion people living on the planet do not have access to the internet, he remarked.

“This is a picture in Brazil. There are so many people who climb up the trees in order to get cell phone signal that they call them fireflies because at night, all you can see in the darkness is all of the flashing lights of the cell phones high up in the trees as they are hoping to get a signal. In Peru, they climb to the top of water towers or walk for many kilometres for the hope of getting a signal,” he said.

In order to get more people online, Google Ex launched a balloon-powered Internet project, Loon, in Latin America with the help of the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Partnering, Mr. Teller stressed, is important for everyone, from the innovator to Governments. “No one can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals alone.”

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Amid 'alarming rise' in obesity, UN study finds one in three European adolescents overweight

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2017 – Citing eating habits, physical activity and sedentary behaviours, the United Nations health agency launched a new publication today at the European Congress on Obesity in Portugal which revealed a rising number of obese adolescents in many countries across Europe.

“Despite sustained efforts to tackle childhood obesity, one in three adolescents is still estimated to be overweight or obese in Europe, with the highest rates found in southern European and Mediterranean countries,” said Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Regional Director for Europe of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Noting with particular concern that the epidemic is on the rise in eastern European countries, where historically rates have been lower, she called for ambitious policy action to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target to halt the increase in childhood obesity. “Governments must target efforts and break this harmful cycle from childhood into adolescence and beyond.” 

The latest WHO study on Adolescent obesity and related behaviours: trends and inequalities in the WHO European Region, 2002-2014 points to evidence suggesting that up to one in three boys and one in five girls aged six to nine is now obese. 

Childhood obesity is considered one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century, according to the study. Globally, around one in 10 young people aged five to 17 is overweight or obese – with rapidly increasing levels in recent years. 

Most young people will not outgrow the condition: about four in every five adolescents who become obese will continue to have weight problems as adults – UN study

According to the publication, “the primary causes of overweight and obesity can be traced to energy-related behaviours – physical activity, sedentary behaviour, eating behaviour and sleep – which contribute to an energy imbalance between calorie intake and energy expenditure.” 

While trends have previously been reported on separately, this study compiles together the Health Behaviour in School-aged Children (HBSC) data on obesity and obesity-related behaviours – reviewing the latest evidence and studying the range and complexity of influences on childhood obesity. 

The health consequences of excess body weight are well documented. As the report points out, obesity increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnoea and cardiovascular disease. It also diminishes adolescents' quality of life and is related to various emotional and behavioural problems. 

Additionally, the chronic nature of obesity can limit social mobility and perpetuates an intergenerational cycle of poverty and ill health. Many inequalities in obesity and related behaviours exist, with young people from lower socioeconomic groups generally reporting worse outcomes. 

The study also notes that longitudinal studies have found that obesity early in life relates to less educational attainment and lower incomes in adulthood – even after differences in childhood socioeconomic position (SEP) are controlled. Furthermore, low SEP in childhood increases the risk for becoming obese in adulthood over and above the impact of adult SEP on obesity.

“Most young people will not outgrow the condition: about four in every five adolescents who become obese will continue to have weight problems as adults,” the study underscores. 

The HBSC survey is a WHO collaborative cross-national study that monitors the health behaviours, health outcomes and social environments of boys and girls aged 11, 13 and 15 years every four years.

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Côte d'Ivoire: UN chief welcomes country's return to calm after unrest

INTERNATIONAL, 17 May 2017 – United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has commended the Government of Côte d'Ivoire for restoring security following a mutiny over pay, his spokesperson said. 

“The Secretary-General welcomes the return to calm in Côte d'Ivoire following the unacceptable acts of violence committed by soldiers of the Forces Armées de Côte d'Ivoire (FACI) over the past few days,” said Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, in a statement issued overnight.

“The Secretary-General expresses the United Nations continued support to the Government of Côte d'Ivoire in its efforts to sustain the hard-won gains of peace and stability in the country, including with the assistance of the United Nations Operation in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) and other international actors,” Mr. Dujarric said. 

The unrest took place as UNOCI prepares to complete its mission on 30 June. The Mission was established 13 years ago by the Security Council, following a peace agreement by parties to a civil war.

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