About one third of families in Assam live below the poverty line and the state has a high rate of infant and maternal deaths. Assam has had a history of civil strife but is gradually emerging from this as development is becoming a priority.
UNICEF works closely with the State Government, civil society, media and communities, including children and young people, to ensure children’s rights and wellbeing.
UNICEF supports efforts to encourage women to breastfeed their babies and give healthy meals to older children. Health workers are learning to better manage pregnancies and deliveries and assist in effectively handling neonatal and childhood illnesses. Special efforts are being made to reach out to those who are most isolated and excluded, particularly communities on the vast Brahmaputra River and families working in tea plantations.
To improve education standards in the state, UNICEF is supporting teacher training and working towards making schools child friendly. Providing better access to clean drinking water and sanitation through the promotion of sanitary toilets and water security is another key area of UNICEF’s work.
Challenges and Opportunities
Across Assam, families and children regularly face uncertainty on account of natural disasters. Along with flooding and landslides, they are vulnerable to cyclones and earthquakes. Assam lies in a region which is one of the six most seismically active in the world and has recorded two of the largest earthquakes in India’s recent history.
Key challenges and opportunities:
• The state has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in India. Far too few women get regular antenatal check-ups and a large number of them are anaemic
UNICEF in Action
With emergency preparedness as a one of the priorities in flood and disaster-prone Assam, UNICEF is working to provide critical health, nutrition, water, sanitation and shelter support for use in the event of an emergency. Concurrently, communities are being taught search and rescue techniques and survival strategies.
Malnutrition and high child and maternal mortality rates are also priority areas for UNICEF programming in the state. UNICEF supports programmes that encourage early breastfeeding, improve access to childbirth assistance and extend services to isolated families on tea plantations and in riverine communities.
UNICEF initiatives include:
• Working closely with the State Government to support implementation and raise awareness of the Right to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009.
• Supporting the building of a ‘protective environment’ for children in Assam that addresses issues such as child labour, child marriage, trafficking and abuse, as well as the needs of children in conflict with the law. To do this, partnerships with the juvenile justice system, police, NGOs and communities are being developed.
• Supporting the development and implementation of state and district action plans against child trafficking and child marriage.
• Supporting adolescent girls in marginalized tea communities and villages to come together into collectives to discuss and take action on issues that concern them such as child marriage, child labour, birth registration, education and corporal punishment.
Children and AIDS
• Supporting the State Government in the prevention of HIV/AIDS, and in the care of and support to children infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
• Engaging closely with children and young people and supporting them to understand their issues, voice their concerns, and participate in development as agents of change.
• Supporting young reporters bring out a newsletter, called Mukta Akaash (Open Sky), participate in forums and carry out street plays, rallies, discussions and other activities to focus attention of duty bearers on their issues and rights.
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