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Giving a Child a Chance

26 May 2000

Bonn, Germany: A UN Volunteer in El Salvador goes to detention centres where she meets hardened, teenage criminals who have been robbed of their childhood. Recognizing that children represent the future of any society, UNVs support the governments of seven countries in Central America and the Caribbean in addressing their concerns about sexual exploitation, child labour and unemployment. Since early 1999, 21 UN Volunteers have been working on a regional project with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Focusing their efforts mainly at the legislative level, UNVs help draft laws and train judges, lawyers and government officials on how to apply the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The mixed teams of international and national UN Volunteers also focus on country-specific problems.

In Nicaragua, they promote a national registration system for newborn children. In El Salvador and Panama, countries where national children's codes have not yet been introduced, UN Volunteers play key negotiation and advocacy roles. Bringing their message to the affected children, the UNVs help them come to grips with the emptiness and despair caused by neglect. Through theatre performances, these children learn from experiences how to seek out alternatives for their lives. Around the world in 1999, UNVs were active in helping young people:

Operating its own restaurant, bakery and catering service, a vocational school for youth run by Vietnamese women in Hanoi offers scholarships and training to 300 students. UN Volunteers assisted the school's management and established an extensive support network involving volunteer chefs. As a result, the expanding list of clients now encompasses embassies and international organizations. More than 90 per cent of graduates have found a job.

In Ethiopia, Ecuador, Brazil and Viet Nam, UN Volunteers helped street children get back on track by providing training in handicrafts, introducing teenagers to potential employers and teaching language skills.

One hundred sixteen UN Volunteers worked on UNICEF projects in 1999 worldwide. During the year, UNV worked with 32 UN and international organizations.

Belén Torres Martínez

Spanish UNV Belén Torres Martínez, 32, has a solid background in voluntary service. In Spain, where she earned a university degree in social work, Belén worked with NGOs focusing on street children, women and sex workers. Later, she coordinated a project to reintegrate drug addicts into society. As a UNV adviser in El Salvador's Ministry of Justice, she explores ways to implement the country's juvenile delinquency law in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. One of her challenging tasks is to help single teenage mother criminals gain an education or take up an apprenticeship. To unwind from her demanding work, she leaves the hectic pace of city life. "I like everything which allows me to be in touch with nature."

UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)