India

Rajasthan welcomes UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman

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© UNICEF/2005/Christie Johnston
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman in Tonk, Rajasthan, on her first trip to India as head of the agency. She reviewed integrated programmes covering immunization, water and sanitation, education and protection.

By Rob McBride

JAIPUR/NEW DELHI, India, 12 December 2005 – In terms of social development, it is one of the most backward corners of rural India, but there was certainly nothing held back in the warmth of the welcome. Hundreds of villagers in the remote district of Tonk in Rajasthan turned out to greet UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman at the end of her week-long trip to India.

With 419 million children, India is home to UNICEF's largest country programme by far. It is here in this dusty corner of this vast country that a programme is being developed to improve conditions for all children in India and, ultimately, around the world. The programme, which integrates services for children and mothers, has been having a remarkable impact on child survival and development.

Infant mortality in this district runs at 93 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared with a national average of 60 per 1,000. Less than a third of women and girls are literate and more than half of all young children are malnourished. To add to hardships in this desert landscape, just over half of all water sources are contaminated with excess fluoride. But as challenging as the picture is, this district at least has seen big improvements thanks to the integrated approach.

“It is an approach that we know produces greater results," said Ms. Veneman. "When you integrate the kinds of interventions for children from immunizations to – later in life – getting an education and dealing with the mother’s health, all of these are critical to a healthy child and a healthy childhood.”

In Rajasthan as a whole literacy rates have been raised from 39 per cent in 1991 to 60 per cent in 2001. She congratulated the state government on the achievement, but urged greater efforts by all agencies to curb the unacceptably high malnutrition rate among young children and protect them from vaccine-preventable diseases.

For UNICEF integration is the key, which will ultimately help children, to acheiving the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. "I think what you have seen this morning," said UNICEF Representative in India Cecilio Adorno at the end of the extensive visit, "is actually proof that when a strategy with committed people is applied in a locality, your Millennium Development Goal is not very far away.”

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© UNICEF video
UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman met with women and children during her visit to Rajasthan, India.

Parliamentary Forum on Children

During her visit to India the Executive Director also attended a gathering in New Delhi of Indian Parliamentarians for the announcement of a special ‘Parliamentary Forum on Children’, which aims to give greater prominence to children’s issues.

India’s young have not had their own representation in Parliament until now and, as a result, they have suffered. While the country has enjoyed remarkable economic progress during the past decade children living on the margins of society have largely been left out and remain vulnerable to poverty, hunger, exploitation and maltreatment.

It is hoped as many Members of Parliament as possible will become involved in the forum, which is intended to redress this disparity by fostering effective strategic partnerships with all stakeholders in addressing the challenges in child development.

UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman gave a lecture on the topic in a series entitled ‘Children’s Development: Challenges Facing India’.

“All of us have the power to transform the lives of millions of children,” she said. “It is up to you as lawmakers to help make the vision a reality. A vision to reach and serve those on the margins of this country’s unprecedented economic leap forward, and to bring into the fold the deprived and the invisible.”

Giving prominence to children’s issues is particularly important in a country which is home to nearly 20 per cent of the world’s children. And in the world’s largest democracy the role of lawmakers in effecting changes in the child’s environment is crucial. “Parliamentarians can, and should, be champions for children,” Ms. Veneman told MP’s. “You can lead and alter attitudes, simply by asking tough questions and demanding answers.”

As Ms. Veneman reminded the meeting, “Anything that is good for your nation, begins with what is good for your children.”

The ultimate goal is for India to undergo the social development needed to match its economic progress – for the benefit of all its children.


 

 

Video

10 December 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman’s visit to Rajasthan.

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10 December 2005:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on the launch of a special ‘Parliamentary Forum on Children’ and UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman’s lecture on the challenges facing child development in India.

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Journalists:
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