UNICEF Executive Director Calls for Greater Focus on the Most Vulnerable Children
Dhaka, 11 January 2012: Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF today concluded a three-day visit to Bangladesh by noting that children who are the most vulnerable and neglected must be the focus of the government’s work for children.
While in Bangladesh, he visited a UNICEF-supported drop-in centre for the protection of children at risk in old Dhaka where homeless girls receive shelter and education.
“I was impressed with the girls I met, who told me their stories and ambitions for the rest of their lives. We often speak of the importance of protecting such children, seeing them only as victims to be pitied and in need of charity, but in fact they are among the strongest and most courageous children in the world, capable of overcoming the most tremendous obstacles,” Lake said.
“They are not only victims, they are an inspiration,” he added.
The Executive Director met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health and discussed opportunities offered by UNICEF’s new country programme (2012-2016) to reduce deprivation among children in low-performing rural areas and urban slums.
“Bangladesh has made very real progress on achieving the Millennium Development Goals,” said Lake. “To build on that progress, we have to focus new effort on reaching the most disadvantaged, weaving equity throughout all the efforts of the government, UNICEF and all of our partners.”
He paid special attention to the often overlooked issue of malnutrition and stunting in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the developing world.
“Food security does not mean nutrition security,” said Lake. “Children who don’t receive enough of the right nutrients in the first 1,000 days of their lives suffer irreversible physical and cognitive harm that can in turn make it harder for them to learn in school and earn as adults,” Lake explained. “Around the world, almost 180,000 million children are stunted – including 40 per cent of children in Bangladesh,” he added, “Stunting is not only a tragedy for the child, but a tremendous drain on the development of a nation.”
Describing micronutrients as a highly cost-effective intervention, he said that addressing stunting was one of the main issues raised during his meetings with the government and donor community in Bangladesh and underscored the need for increased policy attention on this issue.
Lake also focused on the issue of children with disabilities, saying that, “If we are serious about equity, we should also be serious about the issue of disability.”
A focus on equity for children has long been a moral imperative based on the Convention of the Rights of the Child, which is founded on the principles of universality, non-discrimination and accountability. A UNICEF study found that an equity focused approach is also strategically sound; helping accelerate declines in child and maternal mortality rates more cost-effectively than the current path.
“Therefore by re-focusing our efforts on those most in need, we have more chance to achieve our targets by 2015,” Lake said, “I believe that we have an extraordinary opportunity to not only do the right thing, but the most practical thing.”
Lake noted that the Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has already lent her government’s unequivocal support to UNICEF’s equity agenda when she took part in the high-level panel entitled ‘Children and the MDGs: Reaching the Most Vulnerable’, at UNICEF’s closing event for the UN Millennium Development Goals summit at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City.
Bangladesh is “on track” in relation to most of the MDG targets. Yet, gross inequities in socioeconomic development to persist and child poverty and socio-economic disparities remain a grave concern. Almost half of the country’s 68 million children live below the upper poverty line and one-quarter lives in extreme poverty.
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