President of Georgia assumes role of advocate for children’s rights while meeting with UNICEF Deputy Executive Director
Implementation of the National Plan of Action for Children, poverty reduction, using sport for development purposes, and the law on banning import of non-iodized salt were among other issues discussed by UNICEF with the high Georgian authorities
TBILISI. 16 April, 2004. On 14-16 April 2004 Mr Kul Chandra Gautam, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, visited Georgia. This was the first visit of such a high-ranking UNICEF official to Georgia since UNICEF office was established in 1993. Given the recent change in leadership in Georgia, Mr Kul Chandra Gautam’s visit marks an extraordinary opportunity for making sure that the new leadership is putting issues affecting children and women on the top of government and donor agendas.
The main objective of Mr Gautam’s visit was to advocate for children’s rights in Georgia. With the government and donor community, Mr Gautam discussed the main problems faced by the children and women in Georgia and identified obstacles hindering the development of effective social protection mechanisms for this most vulnerable part of the community.
The official programme included meetings with H.E. President of Georgia Mikhail Saakashvili; Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms Salome Zurabishvili; the State Minister for European Integration Ms Tamar Beruchashvili; the Minister of Health, Labor and Social Affairs Mr George Tsereteli. Mr Gautam also met with the UN Country Team in Georgia, the donor community and NGOs. The agenda also included visits to selected UNICEF supported programmes. In Gori, he visited the immunization clinic and the youth centre. He met with young people involved in UNICEF projects such as the children and youth parliament, youth centres and the young people’s media network. Mr Gautam also visited the UNICEF supported street children’s centre in Tbilisi.
The meeting with the President of Georgia attended by the UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Mr Kul Chandra Gautam and UNICEF Representative in Georgia Mr Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, highlighted a few pressing issues concerning children, among them the recently developed National Plan of Action for Children, which defines long-term objectives in sphere of child welfare and serves as the Government’s strategic plan to achieve these objectives. It was noted that the National Plan of Action needed to be translated into the effective plan in more concrete manner as it is not yet supported by adequate financial backing from the state budget, neither is it supported by a clear commitment from the international community. The President took a strong commitment to putting the plan into action.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director appreciated the willingness of the President of Georgia to take a leadership role in Eastern Europe in putting the issues related to children on the regional agenda. UNICEF encouraged Mr Saakashvili to play a crucial role in advocating for human and children’s rights not only in Georgia but also at the regional and even at a global level. The President of Georgia has already taken decisive steps in tackling corruption and advocating for the good governance.
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director during his meeting with the President and new authorities of Georgia underlined that as the country is aspiring to join EU and other European institutions, it would be important for Georgia to put the well-being of children on top of its priority. The issue related to human and children’s rights are of particular importance for the Europan Commission and the Council of Europe where children have very strong advocates among the European Parliament and CE members.
The President of Georgia Mr Saakashvili confirmed that he would attend the UN General Assembly Session to be held in September in New-York. It was agreed with the Deputy Executive Director Kul Chandra Gautam that President Saakashvili will make a strong commitment of new Georgian leadership regading the UN Millenium Development Goals and particularly those goals related to reduction of Infant and Maternal Mortality Rates, universal access to quality basic education, health care, and poverty reduction. The President of Georgia stated that Georgia will strive to set an example of leaders committed to implementation of UN Millenium Development Goals regionally as well as world-wide.
“Poverty reduction starts with Children. Without addressing the problem of poverty and child rights it would not be possible to achieve any progress and build a country with real democratic and European values” – stated UNICEF Deputy Executive Director during his meeting with the President of Georgia.
The problem of iodine deficiency in Georgia was also adressed at the meeting with the President. Over the past few years, Georgia has acheived substantial progress in regards to iodine deficiency. According to a recent survey conducted by UNICEF, 67 per cent of families now have access to and use adequately iodized salt in comparison to that of 8 per cent in 1999. But the country has yet to adopt a law banning the import of non-iodized salt. Mr Gautam encouraged that such a law which has already been drafted, be quickly adopted by the Parliament.
“Adoption of this law is critical as it will help the country to achieve universal salt iodization by 2005, the commitment undertaken by Georgia and other member states of the UN before the international community. The goal of universal salt iodization by 2005 is within our reach and we cannot miss this momentum” – noted Mr Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, UNICEF Representative In Georgia.
The President of Georgia pledged to push the adoption of the law banning import of iodized salt at the nearest session of the newly elected Parliament. Besides, the President Saakashvili, in his role as the leader for children, will raise the issue of the importance of salt iodization with the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma during his forthcoming visit to Ukrain.
“All salt produced in Georgia as well as in Ukraine should be appropriately iodized for the health and wellbeing of the children of our two countries”- stated President Saakashvili.
The President Saakashvili also underlined the imortance of sport as an effective medium for promotion of healthy lifetsyle, peace-buidling and development. UNICEF Deputy Executive Director made a commitment that UNICEF will support the Government of Georgia through providing sport equipment and materials as well as strengthening efforts to mobilize necessary resources. In an earlier meeting in the morning, the issue of promoting various sport initiatives for development purposes was also raised with the First lady of Georgia who expressed her strong commitment in this regard.
“Use me more… Use me more for the well-being of our children” – this was the statement of the President of Georgia at the end of the meeting with UNICEF representatives.