A year for children
End of year Op-ed by UNICEF Representative Edward Carwardine
As another year draws to its close it seems like a good moment to pause and reflect on the lives of children – those youngest citizens who came into the world in the first decades of a new century. And the year just ending itself marked a significant anniversary for children around the world –30 years since the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally embraced human rights instrument in history, came into effect.
Here in Azerbaijan, we have witnessed continued progress for children over the last year. Even if we look only at UNICEF’s work with the Government and people of Azerbaijan, we have much to be proud of
From the earliest moments of a child’s life through to adolescence, UNICEF has been committed to support measurable change for thousands of youngsters across the country. Community-based early learning centres reached more than 6,000 children aged 3-4 years old, more than 5,000 primary school teachers and university tutors received training and guidance on delivering education for children with disabilities in a mainstream classroom setting, a new model for integrated social services saw over 1,500 vulnerable children and their families supported by trained social workers, child psychologists and legal experts in an initial three districts.
Whether supporting improved standards in Baby Friendly Hospitals or by delivering packages of basic life skills, volunteering opportunities, health awareness, counselling and recreational opportunities to more than 3,000 young people across the country, UNICEF has been determined to contribute to the best possible start to life for every child.
We have promoted positive perceptions of girls and young women through our #GirlsCan campaign with AFFA, challenged misconceptions about disability through sporting and cultural events that showcased the talents of young people with disabilities, supported stronger parenting skills and championed the role of fathers, and created opportunities for young people to play an active, constructive role in their communities.
We have taken tried and tested technologies such as simple SMS systems and adapted them to deliver life-saving information for pregnant women in rural areas. Behind the scenes, we have helped monitor the situation of children living in institutional care, provided inputs to the new national health insurance programme so that essential child health and nutrition services are included in the initiative, and assisted with the procurement of high-quality nutrition supplements and essential vaccines for the national health programme.
We have also recognised that we have more to do. From the tragic, unnecessary death of a 14-year-old schoolgirl in April we learned our own sombre lesson – we must do more to support children and young people experiencing personal crises, bullying and other forms of violence. Since that terrible Spring day, we have redoubled our efforts to provide information and support to parents and children to recognise, prevent and respond to bullying, trained hundreds of school counsellors, and started to develop new components for our youth programmes focusing on prevention of self-harm and strengthening self-confidence amongst adolescents.
It is our privilege to work with so many in Azerbaijan to achieve these results - our partners in government, in civil society, in national bodies such as the National Youth Foundation, ASAN and the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, in the United Nations family, and in the international community – notably this year our friends from the European Union, Belgium, the Netherlands and Italy.
But for me personally, the highlights of the last year have been found in the stories and experiences shared by the mothers, fathers, children, teachers, social workers, youth workers, nurses and others I met around the country, who every day make it their goal to create the strongest possible foundation for children in Azerbaijan.
In the year ahead, we will finalise our new country programme to begin in 2021. My promise is that we will build on what we have achieved, address the new challenges that we know children encounter, reach out and work with all those who share our vision for every child, and above all play our part in investing in Azerbaijan’s most important asset – its children.
I hope you will come with us on that journey. For now, my best wishes for a happy, peaceful and enjoyable New Year.