UNICEF in 2009: Protecting and shaping children’s futures in challenging times
By Youssouf Oomar
KUALA LUMPUR, 4 January 2009 – In the best of traditions, a new year offers much hope as we forge ahead with renewed optimism and dedication to protect childhood and build bright futures for our children.
While 2009 is no different, the global economic crisis casts a deep shadow over social safety nets which protect the pillars of child survival and development, namely nutrition, health, education and protection.
In 2008, the implications of this crisis on vulnerable populations, in particular children, youth and women, cannot be underestimated. Reduced incomes, unemployment, poverty and deepening disparities from tough economic times influence trends around drug abuse and crime, weakening the social and community cohesion in today’s world.
Investments needed more than ever
Tragically, these stresses and frustrations result in hazardous situations for children and women in their home environments as well as the communities they live in. Children face possible neglect as parents struggle to make ends meet. More newborn babies may be dumped from unwanted teenage pregnancies. Domestic violence increases, and with social safety nets stretched thin, predators will continue to prey on children for sexual and exploitative gains.
The economic crisis also has a number of implications for those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS, including vulnerable communities such as women and children. The loss of a job in an AIDS-affected household may lead to children being taken out of school and put to work. In countries with high treatment costs, it can also mean the end of HIV treatment for parents and their children.
Investments in social services and public health are needed more than ever to withstand the shocks of the economic crisis. Without continued and sustained government expenditure and development aid in these sectors, the progress and achievements of the Millennium Development Goals will be derailed, and the wellbeing of children compromised.
Shielding children from threats and insecurities
While challenges exist, 2009 also holds promise for children. After all, this year will mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In two short decades alone, the push for children’s rights has accelerated and expanded, growing into a child rights movement that has shaped and developed the lives of millions of children across the world.
Guided by the Convention, UNICEF will continue to work with the Government, our sister UN agencies and the media to shield children and women from the associated threats of the global economic crisis and food insecurity. We also look forward to embracing and strengthening partnerships with organisations with strong roots within communities, such as religious-based organisations to protect our most vulnerable citizens from violence, exploitation, and HIV. Ultimately, we work towards ensuring that no child will miss out on the joy of growing up healthy, well protected and happy.
As it is the season to be making New Year resolutions, I am reminded of my own childhood, where resolutions and ambition meant little, and all that mattered was the joy of discovery and adventure every day. As I grew older, I understood what it meant to aspire for something…to inspire others and I resolved to become a successful citizen of my country.
This year, my resolution is to ensure that the children of Malaysia continue to be guided, protected and cherished, so that they are able to enjoy their childhood to the fullest.
* Mr Youssouf Oomar is the UNICEF Representative to Malaysia. This Op-Ed was published by the New Sunday Times on 4 January 2009.
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