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UN partnership with Andhra Legislative Assembly triggers quick action

© UNICEF/ 2008
Sub committe members lead by Mrs P Suneetha Reddy watch adoloscent girls perform a play Malli

Vikas Verma

Hyderabad, 27 September 2008: The support of political leadership to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is a must, but how to make it happen is a question high on everyone's agenda. Andhra Pradesh (AP) – a state in southern India - is showing the way. Lead by the Speaker of the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, Mr. Suresh Reddy, legislators cutting across party lines are coming forward to participate in MDG related activities in partnership with the United Nations organizations in India.

In the last two years legislators have had the opportunity to engage with UN agencies through seminars, exhibitions, special publications and field visits. Starting in November 2006, these activities have been under the aegis of Andhra Pradesh Legislators' Forum for Human Development and MDGs established as part of the Knowledge Partnership between Andhra Pradesh State Legislative Assembly and the United Nations.

A special exhibition and film show on the issue of "child marriage" was organized to sensitize legislative members including the Chief Minister and Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD) Minister on the serious problem of underage marriages of girls, an issue which is fuelling a development crisis in the state.

The hopes expressed by UN Resident Coordinator in India, Ms. Maxine Olson, at the launch of the partnership are translating to action. "Elected representatives at the state and local levels are a vital link in strengthening state, civil society, corporate and community partnerships in taking the MDG agenda forward. The broad aim of this knowledge partnership is primarily to use a variety of approaches and tools to support legislators to bring a human development dimension to the state level dialogue on policy issues" she stated. The activities of the forum have been in line with these objectives and have in fact broken new ground with various activities being undertaken since the start of this year:

March – A special exhibition and film show on the issue of "child marriage" was organized to sensitize legislative members including the Chief Minister and Department of Women and Child Development (DWCD) Minister on the serious problem of underage marriages of girls, an issue which is fuelling a development crisis in the state.

April - UN publications were donated to kick start a special corner in the legislative assembly library premises.

August 12 – A detailed presentation based on the district-wise data was made to the AP sub-committee on Women, Children and Disabled Welfare to highlight the issues faced by the children in AP.

August 30 – A field visit to UNICEF's focus district Medak in Northern part of AP was undertaken by ten women legislators lead by the Chairperson of the sub-committee, Ms. P. Suneetha Reddy.

September – A seminar and film show on sanitation challenges in AP in the context of International Year of Sanitation was held for the AP assembly including the Chief Minister. As envisioned, the partnership has resulted in increased awareness, ownership and clarity of MDG targets amongst legislative members and state ministers.

Viewing the Child Marriage exhibition, the Chief Minister, Dr. Y. S. R. Reddy commented "it is a nobel effort". He asked his secretary to issue orders to all District Collectors of the state to prepare a report on the issue and monitor the situation regularly. Women's Development and Child Welfare Minister, Mrs. N. Rajyalaxmi addressed the media and promised to take firm action against perpetrators of the offense.

The field visit to Medak was an unqualified success as women legislators realized the development possibilities in their own constituencies. They clearly saw:

"It is really distressing to know that 74 percent people in India are going for open defecation as compared to just 18 percent of people in the world "

• How adolescent girls can be empowered to create awareness in their community    through plays on the issue of child marriage.
• How a little help in adding colorful furniture to a school can increase attendance.
• How providing learning material can make a difference in creating interest and increasing retention.
• How encouraging villages to go for Nirmal Gram Puruskar – (NGP : Clean Village Award) can lower health related problems.
• How a little support and focus can revitalize Anganwadi centers (government sponsored early child care centre in village).
• How committed Gram Panchayat (Village governing body) members, youth village volunteers and front line workers can help change old behaviour patterns through Behaviour Change Communication (BCC) exercises.
• How children can become a part of the development process if made aware through child reporters and participatory programmes.

The UN action has also received support in sizeable measure through partnerships with local administration, NGOs and celebrities. During an interaction on sanitation issues, famous local TV personality and UNICEF’s supporter, Ms. Jhansi, presented a small five minute film titled "Sanitation - The reality check". Introduced and compeered by Jhansi, the film showcased the ground reality of sanitation in a nearby urban slum right in the neighborhood of plush environs of high rise buildings.

In immediate response to the film, the Chief Minister instructed state officials to take stock of the situation and ensured that all slum dwellers in the area were shifted to a permanent low cost housing colony with complete sanitation facilities. He commented, "It is really distressing to know that 74 percent people in India are going for open defecation as compared to just 18 percent of people in the world ". He thanked UNICEF for the focus on sanitation.

The whole partnership spearheaded by the Speaker's secretariat has been ably supported by a committed brigade of young Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) of the state lead by Mr. Sridhar Babu - Chairman of the Knowledge Partnership between Andhra Pradesh State Legislative Assembly and United Nations System in India and Mr. N. Manohar - AP Assembly Library Chairman.

It is hoped that this partnership will be further strengthened in the coming months with a new initiative of "question and answer" analysis and institution of a "Child Friendly Legislator Award" for AP legislators.

UNICEF’s Representative for the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, Mr. Michel Saint – Lot says, "We have just made a start. With the assured commitment from the Speaker's office, I foresee this partnership will continue in the years to come and make a tangible difference to development issues faced by AP".

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