|© UNICEF Morocco/2005/Koch|
|UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah (right) addresses the First Islamic Ministerial Conference on the Child.|
By David Koch
RABAT, Morocco, 7 November 2005 – Representatives of over 50 Islamic countries today opened a landmark conference on children’s issues. The conference seeks to provide a foundation for real and lasting progress for the 600 million children – more than a quarter of the world’s child population – who live in Islamic countries.
The First Islamic Ministerial Conference on the Child – organized by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), UNICEF and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) – reflects the commitment of Islamic leaders to address the many challenges facing children in their countries.
More than 200 participants and members of the international and Moroccan press corps packed the conference hall to take part in the opening ceremony, which featured readings from the Koran, welcoming statements, and the presentation of two prizes for children’s literature.
“This conference is a good opportunity for ministers with responsibility for children to share their positive experiences, and to learn from each other,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, who addressed the conference through a video message. “Much remains to be done, and greater collaboration is needed. The momentum that is demonstrated in Rabat is a strong sign of determination to build a better future for the 600 million children in the Islamic world and for us all.”
OIC Secretary-General Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu described the purpose of the conference: “OIC countries are building upon the strength of Islamic values — self-help, solidarity and protection of the vulnerable — to reaffirm their commitments to children.”
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah, who is heading the UNICEF delegation to the meeting, said: “There are many noteworthy examples of progress for children in Islamic countries, but the situation for a disproportionate number of them continues to be a cause for grave concern.”
Solidarity for children
The three-day meeting is focusing on themes of particular relevance to OIC member countries, including: protection against abuse, exploitation and violence; health and HIV/AIDS; quality education; and mobilizing resources for children.
After the opening ceremony, ministers, delegates and panellists took part in two panel discussions where issues were debated in depth.
Later in the day, after an audience with Moroccan Prime Minister Driss Jettou, Ms. Salah hosted a reception in honour of the delegates attending the conference.
Among the world leaders who have expressed strong support for the conference is United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He said: “I can think of no better focus for Islamic solidarity than the welfare of children, and I congratulate the OIC, ISESCO and UNICEF on this important initiative.”