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Massive campaign across the country needed to fight female foeticide: Cecilio Adorna

Mr. Cecilio Adorna, the UNICEF Representative in India has vast experience in planning and managing social development programmes in various countries across the world with particular emphasis on women, children and the poor.  Heading UNICEF in India since August 2004, Mr. Adorna has been advocating for quality education and playing an important role to expand UNICEF’s outreach in the country. In an exclusive interview with Aruna Chatterjee (student of class XII) and Alphy Geever (student of class VIII), Mr. Adorna talks about the State of the World Children Report 2007 and on many other issues.

Alphy: Sir, the State of the World's Children 2007 attributes the well-being of children to Gender equality. But there has been an increase in female foeticide and infanticide and even cases where women advocate these. Please comment.

Cecilio Adorna: Female Foeticide and infanticide are very complex topics. A society that respects both human rights and child rights should desists from such practices. We need to bring in our religious leaders and people who have good rapport with the community. The fact that 80 per cent of the districts in India are affected by cases of female foeticide and infanticide is worrying.  But I think if there is a will, there is a way.  Again the mass media and young people have to play a pro-active role. These should be the change agents and need to be used to influence the community. We need to look at these problems from the perspective of the individual, family, community and the clan.

Aruna: The State of World’s Children-2007 says that ‘Legislations like inheritance rights of property should ensure a level playing field for women’. India already has such legislations but it doesn’t seem to have made much progress in giving the women their rightful position in society?

Cecilio Adorna: There are stages of reality and one stage is legal reality. It is always good to have norms and realities to which you can compare the actions. The very fact that the Government has passed a law should be lauded. What we need to do is to promote more action. The youth and children can play a crucial role in furthering action.
 
Alphy: Sir, the situation of the skewed male-female sex ratio is worsening in areas like Haryana and Punjab. There has been a widespread campaign against the female  foeticide by the Government and NGOs but still it has not given the desired results. What steps is the UNICEF taking in this direction?

Cecilio Adorna: A massive campaign across the length and breadth of the   country needs to be taken up. We need to bring together Government agencies, civil society, religious leaders, artists and the media to fight these heinous crimes. We need to ensure that all these agencies and people reach out to the community. I agree the efforts have not yielded the desired results so far.  The UNICEF has contributed to the analysis of the issue at the state level and had participated in Swami Agnivesh’s Yatra last year to create awareness on female foeticide. But UNICEF needs to play a much bigger role, for example, in coordinating with the Government, civil society and the religious leaders.
 
Aruna: What do you think has been responsible for the selective sex determination tests in the Third World nations? How do you think we can promote girl-child friendly societies?

Cecilio Adorna: This practice has been prevalent in China and in India. They are the emerging world powers. It is not a question of poverty but a question of values and respect that we give to girls and women. The fact that we undervalue girls and women is what prompts societies to perpetuate violence against women. Empowering girls and women and ensuring gender equality are the very core of fighting foeticide and infanticide.

 Many things can be done to close the gender divide but first and foremost girls have to be in school as much as boys. Education is the most leveling intervention of all, as nobody can take it away once a person is educated. We, at UNICEF, strongly believe in the value of a girl’s education.

Aruna: Sir, what kind of role, do you think, a child reporter should/would play in the nation’s development and also in the development of the world community?

Cecilio Adorna:  A child reporter has to be the ‘objective witness’ to the progress as well as the challenges that the children and young people face in India and to report them to those who have the ability, the resources and the power to make a difference. In this, the children themselves are participants andnot just mere witnesses. For example, we can take the case of HIV/AIDS. We cannot win the war with HIV/AIDS if we keep the other lessons behind. Also take for example the issue of sanitation.  Children can play pro-active role in not only promoting sanitation in their schools but also in the communities. As child reporters they should take the leadership in fighting against diseases of varied kind by advocating for sanitation.

I also think that children are very good instruments of peace not only in India but worldwide. If we focus on their holistic development and enhance their capacities they can play an effective role in bridging the gap with those who are excluded. This is very important for peace.

Alphy: This is a SAARC decade of the Rights of the Child. Sir, we are also hosting the 14th SAARC Summit in New Delhi. Can we think of a parallel SAARC Children's Summit during the same time, which the UNICEF can  take the lead in organizing?

Cecilio Adorna:  I think it is an initiative that young people need to take. If they are very committed and motivated, I am sure UNICEF would find a way of supporting the initiative.

Aruna: You have been in India for almost 2 years and 4 months; what has been your most challenging experience?

Cecilio Adorna:  Every day one finds new challenges. But the most challenging experiences were:

 The first is to understand how to be effective in India? India is a very complex society with layers and layers within it. It took me 19 months to understand the basic issues and what can work here. We make sure that we are not doing the things right, but the right things and in the right way. I think the UN system in India can have a catalytic role to play in the development process but we need to understand how that role can be portrayed.

Then during the Mumbai floods, I realized that we were on the verge of a possible multiple epidemics in Mumbai. There were strong possibilities of people having leptospirosis, cholera and dengue. Not much action was being taken. So we had to mobilize the BMC to ensure a massive clean-up operation in order to prevent the epidemics. The UNICEF was the convening broker for this and the epidemic was avoided.

 

 

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