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Civil society partnerships

Parliamentarians as frontline advocates for children

© WHO/2008/Pirozzi
Dr. Gertrude Mongella, President of the Pan-African Parliament, delivering the keynote address at a joint UNICEF/IPU Panel on Maternal Health and Child Survival.

“We are 44,098 parliamentarians globally. Can’t we do something individually and collectively that can change the lives of mothers and children? We have the power. We have the voice. Do we have the courage?”  -- Dr. Gertrude Mongella, President, Pan-African Parliament

Parliamentarians have the power to create real and lasting change for children. They can use their power to create and enforce legislation that protects children, allocate adequate resources from national budgets and establish strong policy direction.

As frontline representatives of ordinary people, their voice has a unique resonance. By asking tough questions and demanding answers, parliamentarians can hold governments, industries and civil society accountable, and send the message that the well-being of children is not just the responsibility of people who work with children, but of all society.

Progress through partnership

UNICEF’s partnership with the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) is critical to mobilize parliamentarians for children. Established in 1889 and headquartered in Geneva, the IPU currently has members from 146 parliaments and seven regional assemblies.

The partnership between IPU and UNICEF dates back many years, with the IPU having supported the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and – more recently – organizing regional workshops on child protection and joint UNICEF-IPU panels at annual IPU assemblies.

UNICEF has also collaborated with the IPU on a number of joint publications dealing with child protection, child trafficking, and violence against children.

© UNICEF video
Parliamentarians visit UNICEF supported projects during the 118th IPU Annual Assembly in Cape Town, South Africa.

‘Pushing Back the Frontiers of Poverty’

The 118th IPU Annual Assembly, which took place 13-18 April 2008 in Cape Town, South Africa, focused on the theme, ‘Pushing Back the Frontiers of Poverty’. Fifty-two speakers of parliament and 1,700 MPs and parliamentary staff from 135 countries attended the assembly, which was opened by the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.

Throughout the assembly, speakers emphasized the link between responding to the needs of children and combating poverty.

“Poverty reduction starts with children,” said the head of the UNICEF delegation, Philip O’Brien, at the general assembly debate. He emphasized that early childhood is the most opportune time to break the poverty cycle, and that investments in children are the best guarantee of achieving equitable and sustainable human development.

Joint UNICEF-IPU panel and field visits

UNICEF played a key role at the 2008 assembly by organizing a joint UNICEF-IPU panel and field visits – and by bringing parliamentarians and health experts together to discuss progress toward Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, which address maternal health and child survival. 

Over 200 MPs participated in the joint UNICEF-IPU panel focusing on the role parliamentarians can play in improving maternal, newborn and child survival.

“Care for mothers, newborns and children is at the heart of human progress and a country’s well-being,” said Dr. Gertrude Mongella, President of the Pan-African Parliament and keynote speaker. Recent years have seen some progress in child and maternal health, particularly in areas of disease prevention. Dr. Mongella cited an example in her own country, Tanzania, where immunization coverage rates have jumped from 40 to 80 per cent in two years.

Twenty-two MPs from diverse geographic regions visited three UNICEF-supported projects that work with vulnerable mothers and children, and reported their experiences to the larger IPU Assembly at the closing ceremony.

“There’s a lot that MPs can do throughout Africa and throughout the world,” said Zambian Parliament Member Chitika Molobeka, following her visit to “Mothers 2 Mothers,” a UNICEF-assisted programme assisting young HIV-positive mothers. “That’s why we’ve come to attend, so that we will be able to share experiences.”

This story was compiled by Genine Babakian and Stephen Hanmer in UNICEF’s Civil Society Partnerships office.




Parliamentarians take action for children during the 118th IPU Annual Assembly in Cape Town, South Africa.
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Members of Parliament reflect on their experiences during the IPU assembly in South Africa.
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Joint UNICEF-IPU Publications

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