|© UNICEF Niger/2007/ Degen|
|Children welcome UNICEF Executive Board delegates to the village of Garin Gaja in Niger.|
By Gaelle Bausson
NIAMEY, Niger, 7 April 2008 – Members of the Executive Board have concluded a working visit to Niger that provided them with an overview of UNICEF’s contribution towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in one the world’s poorest countries.
Led by the Permanent Representative of Australia to the UN, Ambassador Robert Hill, the six-person delegation held discussions with the President of Niger, Tandja Mamadou, and a range of government ministers, on how UNICEF can work with governmental and non-governmental partners to further improve the lives of children.
Ambassador Hill noted that significant progress on issues such as reducing child mortality and increasing school enrolment is “commendable and must be reinforced.”
‘A fragile background’
During their week-long stay in the country, the delegation of UNICEF’s governing body visited six UNICEF-supported programmes.
First, the group went to the minor ward of Niamey Prison to see the Juvenile Justice Project, which protects children in conflict with the law. The project, which has been supported by UNICEF since 1998, led to the adoption of incarceration alternatives in Niger, such as the Educative, Preventive and Judiciary Service (SEJUP).
“Many of these kids come from a fragile background,” said Matthew Cannell, Adviser to the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the UN. “SEJUP is giving the opportunity to interact with peers and social workers so that they can move away from crime.”
Addressing the needs of children
Board members also toured Sarkin Yamma, one of the 12 municipalities where UNICEF implements a comprehensive package of activities to promote community development and address the needs of children.
In the village of Garin Gaja, the delegates met a team of local women who have been trained by UNICEF to screen children’s health and educate mothers on key practices, such as exclusive breastfeeding and improved hygiene.
|© UNICEF Niger/2007/ Degen|
|UNICEF Representative in Niger Akhil Iyer with Executive Board Members Raja Nushirwan (left) and Robert Hill (right) in Garin Gaja.|
“I am convinced of the need to empower communities to tackle the issues of malnutrition and change behaviours to ensure child survival,” said the Minister-Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Colombia to the UN, Francisco Alberto Gonzalez.
In the village of Moule Safoua, the board members visited a school that exemplifies the work UNICEF is carrying out in promoting child-friendly schools, especially for girls.
“I was impressed by the efforts made by UNICEF to enrol children to school and in reducing the gender gap, including by engaging the community,” said the Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Malaysia to the UN, Raja Nushirwan.
‘A major challenge’
The delegation also met with the Emir of Gobir, one Niger’s traditional chiefs and an instrumental UNICEF partner.
Surrounded by village chiefs, the Emir presented the work that his Good Conduct Brigades are doing in the region of Tibiri to promote child development and combat harmful practices, such as early marriage and refusal of immunization.
“Demographic growth is a major challenge to Niger’s development, and if not addressed it could undermine efforts deployed by UNICEF and other partners,” noted Alain Biya of the Permanent Mission of Cameroon to the UN.
In Makalondi, board members witnessed a local UNICEF-supported NGO that facilitates open discussions on human rights.
Progress has been made
“We clearly see the need for further and consistent investments in favour of the children of Niger,” said Ambassador Hill, the delegation leader. “UNICEF will continue to work in all the key areas for child survival, development – especially education and protection – to make strides toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals for the benefit of future generations.”
According to UNICEF Representative in Niger Akhil Iyer, tremendous progress has been made in reducing acute malnutrition since the 2005 nutrition crisis.
“I am very much moved by the expression of appreciation of the work undertaken with UNICEF support,” said the Minister-Counsellor of the Permanent Mission of Croatia to the UN, Jasminka Dinic.