|Epsy Campbell Barr, member of the Black Parliament of the Americas and the UNICEF Consultative Group of Afro-descendant Leaders, speaks at the board session. Secretary ‘ad interim’ of the UNICEF Executive Board Ado Vaher is at left.|
By Kun Li
NEW YORK, USA, 7 September 2006 – At the second regular session of the 2006 UNICEF Executive Board, representatives of indigenous and Afro-descendent groups in Latin America and the Caribbean voiced concerns about the exclusion facing their communities.
“There are about 150 million of us living in every country of the region, and we represent almost one third of the total population here, but we are considered minorities,” said Epsy Campbell Barr of Costa Rica, representing Afro-descendents.
“The biggest problem facing Afro-descendent children is exclusion,” she told the Executive Board. “We can see exclusion in the face of health, education and social justice. We have the highest HIV infection rates, the highest infant mortality rates, and many of our children run into trouble with the law.”
|Representative of Peru’s Candoshi indigenous group Guillermo Sundi (left) speaks to the board. UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg is beside him.|
Ms. Barr’s concern was shared by Guillermo Sundi, a member of Peru’s Candoshi – an indigenous group that once faced near-extinction.
In 2003, a Hepatitis B epidemic infiltrated all the communities of the Candoshi and the Shapra indigenous group. If the outbreak had not been contained quickly, both groups could have been wiped out.
“We undertook early vaccinations for newborns against Hepatitis B within the first 24 hours of birth,” Mr. Sundi said about the massive campaign carried out by the Ministry of Health, UNICEF and other partners. Still, for an isolated group like the Candoshi living far away from the outside world, “the problem of hepatitis will not go away in a few years – it will take many years to resolve,” said Mr. Sundi.
Regional progress on MDGs
UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg told the board that many strides have been made towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals in the region, especially with education, but challenges remain.
|Director of Brazil’s National AIDS Programme Mariângela Batista Galvão Simão speaks during a panel discussion at the UNICEF Executive Board.|
“At the national level, for example, infant mortality rates are low and school enrolment rates are high. But when you look at the indigenous and Afro-descendent children, the infant mortality is much higher, and many of their children are not in school,” said Mr. Kastberg.
“Across the region,” he continued, “we have chronic malnutrition that particularly affects indigenous and Afro-descendent children. We also see more violence within the families, and increasing HIV/AIDS cases among young girls – another item UNICEF and UN agencies are committed to stop.”
Mr. Kastberg and the other delegates asked the board to ensure that future country programmes focus attention not only at the national level but also locally. ”We need to see how state resources are used, so that they can improve the lives of children,” he said.
8 September 2006
Board wraps up final regular session of 2006 [with audio and video]
7 September 2006
Indigenous and Afro descendents facing exclusion [with video]
6 September 2006
UNICEF honours William Sergeant for his work fighting polio [with video]