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Asia-Pacific governments agree on importance of universal health care and better protection for children

Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Kathmandu, 8 November 2016 – After two days of impassioned discussion about social protection and child protection, Governments from across Asia-Pacific today heard strong arguments for accelerated investment in good quality primary healthcare, including ensuring that well trained health workers and family doctors are within easy reach of all children and their families.

Ministers, Members of Parliament and other senior leaders from 28 countries across Asia-Pacific met at ‘A Billion Brains: Smarter Children, Healthier Economies’, an event hosted by the Government of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur. Together, they represented a region that is home to more than one billion children, or nearly half the world’s under 18s.

Closing the two-day meeting, Malaysia’s Minister of Women, Family and Community Development YB Dato’ Sri Rohani Abdul Karim re-affirmed that child rights are fundamental to all cultures and societies and crucial to children’s growth and upbringing. She added that child survival, development, protection, health, education, and participation are all vital for development and sustained economic growth.

Minister Rohani said she believed the meeting had been an excellent platform for sharing lessons across the region and that many countries and children would benefit from the best practices shared, which could be adopted and used.

“We have been inspired over the past two days to take action toward critical investments in cognitive capital, or building people’s capacity to think, learn and work together,” UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, Jean Gough said. “We heard compelling arguments, backed by sound evidence, on the importance of quality healthcare, coherent child sensitive social protection systems and preventing violence against children.”

The meeting sought to foster ‘South-South cooperation’ – countries learning from others that have faced similar challenges, in order to make progress for children. Governments looked at three specific focus areas: social protection, ending violence against children, and providing universal healthcare. Their discussion was informed by three expert reports that examined the evidence and data and made recommendations for future action. All three reports concluded that investments made now in these areas will make a significant contribution to the region’s future and its prosperity.  

“Extending coverage of tangible services saves poor families money and saves governments unnecessary expenditure,” UNICEF’s Jean Gough said. “Building cognitive capital and maximizing the potential of all children to fulfil their aspirations benefits families, local communities and nations. Ultimately, this contributes to world peace and prosperity, through more equitable and sustained social and economic inclusive growth and progress.”

During the deliberations, country representatives shared their experiences and heard expert recommendations on critical actions they can take to improve cognitive capital, to protect children against violence, and to improve the universality of health care in their countries. These included:

  • To improve the universality of health care, Governments of countries spending less than 3 percent of their GDP on public expenditures on health should increase their health funding by at least 0.3 percent per year.
  • To prevent violence against children, high-level, inter-ministerial oversight for the design and implementation of national agendas should be established, and data on key indicators should be collected in order to measure progress in violence reduction
  • Laws and policies should be reviewed and reformed to ensure full prohibition of violence against children in all forms and in all settings, accompanied by public education and engagement with parents and communities.
  • Strong investments in more and better data should be made to help Governments better understand child poverty and track vulnerability to hazards and exclusion.
  • Domestic resource mobilization to provide essential support through the first 1000 days of a child’s life, through coherent child-sensitive social protection systems, should be prioritized, as an investment in child rights and in economic growth.

For its part, UNICEF committed to working with Asia-Pacific governments at country, regional and global level, to support the speedy implementation of these recommendations. “Let us not forget that that the rights of girls and boys – to health, protection and an enabling environment – take precedence,” UNICEF’s Jean Gough said. “Behind this huge figure of one billion children, there are real girls and boys, and each one of them has dreams, aspirations and boundless potential.”

A unique element of the third HLM was the direct inclusion and contribution of young people. Delegates heard the views of some 15,000 young “u-reporters” on the major issues they face. 

An ‘Innovation Challenge’ was issued prior to the meeting calling for young people to share their ideas to address challenges around the key themes of social protection, ending violence against children, and providing universal healthcare. Over 660 submissions were received from across the region and the finalists – youmg people from presented top three ideas will be presented at the meeting, to help win support and turn them into action. The projects from young people from Bhutan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nepal and Thailand were chosen as finalists by a panel of experts. The Government delegates heard from the winners: Bonita Sharma from Nepal about her project in the social protection category, Kantheera Tipkanjanarat from Thailand on her child protection innovation, and Sherley Sandiori from Indonesia in the universal healthcare category.

About the High-Level Meeting

‘A Billion Brains: Smarter Children, Healthier Economies,’ is the third High Level Meeting (HLM) on South-South Cooperation for Child Rights in Asia and the Pacific. These meetings began as a forum to strengthen child rights and establish effective cooperation for the benefit of children across the Asia-Pacific region. The first HLM was hosted in Beijing in 2010 and the second in New Delhi in 2013. UNICEF is a partner in the HLM process and supports cooperation between countries to promote the fulfilment of children’s rights.

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UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere. For more information, visit: 

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An online media pack is available, containing press releases, speeches, thematic papers, human interest stories, photographs and infographics:    

For further information, please contact:

  • Christopher de Bono, UNICEF East Asia and Pacific, Bangkok, +66 84 427 7431,   
  • Jean-Jacques Simon, UNICEF South Asia, Kathmandu, +9779801030076, 



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