|A volunteer feeds porridge to a child in need at a UNICEF-supported, community-based nutrition centre in Chabahar, Iran.|
By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, 30 April 2008 – UNICEF Representative in Iran Christian Salazar has called for a deeper understanding of Islam to more effectively fight poverty in Islamic nations. He told an international conference in New York last week that while Iran has successfully tackled poverty in recent decades, disparities in income remain.
“The religious charities play a huge role in poverty reduction,” said Mr. Salazar. “If we want to improve the situation of those children, we need to enter into dialogue with [the charities], discuss our successful experiences from other countries and how their programmes can achieve even better outcomes for children.
“We need to broaden our understanding but also inject new thinking, new experiences and new concepts,” he added.
A rights-based approach
Mr. Salazar’s comments came during a presentation at ‘Rethinking Poverty: Making Policies that Work for Children’, a conference jointly hosted by UNICEF and the graduate programme in international affairs at the New School university in New York.
World Bank figures show that the poverty rate in Iran has fallen from an estimated 40 per cent before the Islamic revolution in 1979 to around 20 per cent in 2003 – this despite war, economic sanctions and little international support. Religious organizations form the backbone of Iran’s social welfare network.
However, there are still large disparities between rich and poor, and more children might benefit from a change in approach, according to Mr. Salazar.
|Children practice a chorus during a music class with Mehran Dawoodi, a musician and the director of the Association for Labour and Street Children in South Tehran.|
Gains in understanding
“We know that many programmes are family-based but we don’t know how strongly they reach the child,” he said. “Asking these questions from a child rights perspective, we help also the international policymakers looking into issues of whether their programmes are sufficiently relevant to children.”
Mr. Salazar noted that while gains have been made in understanding Islam, more work is needed.
“That’s not just UNICEF, that’s for the world to understand Islam better,” he said. “Where are the opportunities and where are the challenges? That’s our role – to channel these experiences back and forth, to help children no matter where they live in the world.”
Abbas lives for football in a tough neighbourhood in Iran