The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners today launched a regional advocacy campaign to create an inclusive environment in which no children in Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) are left vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse.“Exclusion from basic services and a dignified start in life creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage, with harm passed from one generation to the next in a legacy of poverty, ill health, lack of education, and lack of prospects,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, told representatives of hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from 27 countries at the launch in Istanbul of the “Leave No Child Out” campaign. Arguing that the exclusion of millions of children in the countries of Eastern Europe and the CIS is undermining the development of those nations, Ms. Bellamy said exclusion “undermines stability and democracy and holds societies back economically due to over-burdened public services and lost productivity.” Of the region’s 117 million children, nearly 18 million are living in poverty, often denied basic services and opportunities to which they are entitled, according to UNICEF. Around 1.5 million children are living in public care instead of with their families – around 1 million of them live in institutions. Children belonging to minority groups bear the brunt of discrimination and exclusion. The yearlong campaign will include efforts to raise the issues of exclusion with governments, communities, key institutions and the media. Seven main forms of discrimination and exclusion – poverty, ethnicity, institutionalization, disability, the impact of conflict, gender discrimination and the stigma of HIV/AIDS – will be targeted. Based on the non-discrimination principle of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, the campaign follows on the heels of the UNICEF-organized “Say Yes for Children” initiative that gathered 26 million pledges in the region in 2001-2002, identifying “Leave No Child Out” as the number one priority from among ten key issues facing children globally. The Regional Network for Children (RNC) in Central and Eastern Europe, the CIS and the Baltic States – an association of non-governmental organizations that work with children in partnership with UNICEF – is spearheading the campaign.