UNICEF in Azerbaijan
As in many countries, modernization and globalization are bringing rapid and deep changes to the lives of Azerbaijani families. This new environment leads to opportunities, but also challenges, and even dangers that must be properly dealt with and managed.
Over the past five years Azerbaijan has enjoyed unprecedented revenues from the drilling and export of oil and natural gas. Living standards have improved for almost all people, and Targeted Social Assistance helps some of the very poorest. The poverty rate has plummeted, but many still struggle to make ends meet and provide the basics for their children. Some parents might be better off, but they also work long hours to hold on to their prosperity which could results in a generation of children that cannot count on the full attention of their overworked parents.
In this challenging environment it’s necessary to have a social and legal system in place to protect the rights of children, especially those on the margins of society --families struggling to subsist, and those containing children with disabilities. This is the proven way to guarantee a more equitable and balanced social development.
Failure to implement the necessary changes and to invest in children will put Azerbaijan at a great disadvantage in the 21st century’s highly competitive global economy. Some people consider oil and natural gas to be Azerbaijan’s leading natural resources. Make no mistake, however: children are by far any country’s greatest resource and asset, and they need to be protected, strengthened, and developed.
Azerbaijan’s social development currently inevitably lags behind its fast-growing economy, and many children remain at risk and are not receiving proper education, health care, and social and legal protection. About 10 per cent of Azerbaijan’s 3 million children are internally displaced due to an unresolved regional conflict, and nearly every two hours a baby dies because of inadequate health care and social services.
Due to poor dietary habits, about three out of four women of reproductive age are anaemic, as are two in five children. One in every four children is stunted. Only about one in eight children are exclusively breastfed in the first six months of life, and this later leads to a host of childhood ailments and problems that could otherwise be prevented.
Only one in six children attend pre-school, which puts a brake on their further intellectual development. Among the poorest 40 per cent of children that figure plummets to a very disturbing one in 25 children attending pre-schools. If the current situation is allowed to persist, the country will not have a healthy and educated population to work the growing economy.
UNICEF was chartered some 65 years ago by the United Nations to help children in need, and today it works in almost every country around the world. Since 1993, it has partnered with the Azerbaijani government, and local NGOs and community organizations, to improve the life of the nation’s children. Its role has developed in line with Azerbaijan’s rapid development. In 2007 UNICEF changed its focus in Azerbaijan such that instead of providing direct assistance to mothers and children, it now works with its partners to improve the entire system of child care and protection.
First and foremost, this concerns reform of the health care system, child protection laws, and education; raising standards, providing training and expertise, implementing the most modern programmes and methods, and providing for monitoring. Goals planned to be reached by 2015 include reducing child mortality by 30 per cent, insuring that half of the country’s schools meet child-friendly standards and that children with disabilities are integrated into mainstream society.
Second, UNICEF is working closely with the media, civil society and Government to change attitudes and behaviours, and to eliminate stereotypes and prejudices, on important and controversial issues such as the rights of the disabled, child marriage, nutrition, breastfeeding, and HIV/AIDS.