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New York, 19 June 2015: UNICEF Executive Board concludes with a presentation of field visits to Madagascar and Malaysia


Watch: Executive Board's mission to Malaysia

 
By Kun Li and Sasha Surandran

19 June 2015, NEW YORK, United States of America – Members of the UNICEF Executive Board routinely conduct field visits to UNICEF programmes in the countries in which we operate. These visits provide an opportunity for Board Members to meet with partners and key stakeholders – including from governments, civil society and the private sector – and to witness first-hand UNICEF’s activities in the field in order to achieve results for children.

Yesterday, during the final day of the Board’s Annual Session, delegates heard reports on recent field visits by members of the Bureau and the Executive Board to Malaysia and Madagascar, respectively.

Malaysia: On track to achieving high-income status

From 30 March to 3 April 2015, a delegation from the UNICEF Executive Board visited Malaysia – the first visit of its kind to that country, and one that came during an exciting time. It is not only the year in which Malaysia marks the twentieth anniversary of its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is also a pivotal time in the country’s development.

“The timing of this visit is ideal,” said UNICEF Representative in Malaysia Wivina Belmonte as she met the delegation. “This moment offers the delegation of UNICEF’s Executive Board a perfect chance to witness UNICEF’s privileged partnership here, supporting Malaysia as it moves forward on social inclusion, the well-being of children and adolescents and ensuring that talent… is harnessed to contribute to the country’s move towards high-income status. Having achieved so much for so many children, the next five years need to include a special effort to reach all children.”

Gains for children in Malaysia have been significant: The rate of child survival is similar to that of industrialized countries, primary education is virtually universal, and the rate of households living below the national poverty line has been reduced from more than 50 per cent in the 1960s to less than 1 per cent today. Progress that remains to be achieved revolves around the need to reduce lingering inequity by ensuring that every child has a chance to reap the benefits of the country’s achievements.

Read about UNICEF’s commitment to equity

The delegation had opportunities to review UNICEF programming that strives to narrow such gaps. Partnerships include a collaboration with Sime Darby, a Malaysia-based multinational, to provide education to the children of migrant workers on remote plantations; a pilot project with the Federal Special Task Force and the Ministry of Education to provide education to undocumented children who would not otherwise be in school; and a partnership with Microsoft to teach children with disabilities the basics of coding.

“We have been very impressed to witness the incredible development leap that has taken place in Malaysia as the country prepares to become a high-income nation," said H.E. Ms. Laura Elena Flores

Herrera, Permanent Representative of Panama to the United Nations and Vice-President of the UNICEF Executive Board, as she presented the report of the field visit.

A challenge often seen globally is one the delegation witnessed in Malaysia. “[H]aving improved the lives of most children,” Vice-President Flores Herrera continued, “how do we make sure we improve the lives of all children – no matter who they are or where they come from…harnessing the talent we all need to build the world we want?”


Watch: Executive Board's mission to Madagascar

 
Madagascar: Overcoming complex challenges

Member State Representatives of the UNICEF Executive Board had the opportunity to learn, first hand, about the challenges facing Madagascar during a field visit from 13 to 17 April 2015. The delegates met with the Prime Minister, government ministers and local officials. The purpose of the visit was “to shed some light on Madagascar and the problems of its children,” explained H.E. Mr. Stephan Tafrov, Permanent Representative of Bulgaria to the United Nations and head of the delegation.

There are many complex challenges in Madagascar, which is emerging from a prolonged political crisis that led to socioeconomic decline and deteriorated social services, which have in turn exacerbated the vulnerabilities of ordinary households. In 2013, 91 per cent of the population lived on less than $2 per day, making Madagascar one of the world’s poorest countries. Indeed, poverty remains Madagascar’s primary barrier to development and yields compounding deprivations that affect the health of children and women and their access to basic services.

Between 2008 and 2013, the rate of children who die before celebrating their fifth birthday declined, but the rate of neonatal mortality increased marginally over the same period. Rates of maternal mortality remain very high. Conditions such as limited access to nutritious food and inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene services contribute to Madagascar’s having the world’s fourth highest rate of stunting. Rates of enrolment in primary school have fallen since 2005, and violence against and exploitation of children also remain major concerns.

During the visit, the delegation had the opportunity to see examples of UNICEF’s work to overcome such challenges. Sites visited by the delegation in the eastern regions of Fenerive Est and Tamatave included a community nutrition centre and community health post, a preschool, a primary school and a health centre.

“I can point specifically to UNICEF because both before the crisis and now, while it is still ongoing, they were always there for us, and they did a lot to keep the health system running,” said Regional Director of Health in the Analanjirofo Region, Mr. Isaie Jules Andriamiandra, who was among the government officials with whom the delegation met.

“We will continue to be here for Madagascar’s children,” said H.E. Mr. Tafrov, “but we need support to help us carry on our lifesaving work and also help Madagascar reach its potential.”

Closing of the 2015 Annual Session of the Executive Board

As she delivered a closing statement on behalf of the UNICEF Executive Board President, H.E. Dr. Mwaba Patricia Kasese-Bota, Permanent Representative of Zambia to the United Nations and Vice-President of the UNICEF Executive Board, stated that challenges remain for children in countries in all regions and across all income categories, but striving to achieve equity is the path to realizing critical gains for all children.

Reflecting on the Board’s special focus session on equity [video] that was held earlier this week, Vice-President Kasese-Bota said, “In this room, we appear to have all reached a consensus: that equity, prioritizing the most vulnerable children, is an engine of sustainable development and, as such, must be deeply embedded in the Sustainable Development Goals and the post-2015 development agenda. That, without such a focus, the gains the world seeks for children, families, communities and nations will fall short of our ambitions for current and future generations.”

In his own reflections on the special focus session, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake remarked, “We found that an occasion to look back on where we’ve been, to take stock on where we are and then to use that to move forward. And of course that question…we will continue to address is: How do we move forward in a world that is increasingly brutal and increasingly fractured?”

The only way to respond, he emphasized, is for UNICEF to continue to do what it does best. What matters most, he said, are the results achieved by UNICEF staff as they work in support of governments to equitably develop societies.

The Executive Board session ended on a high note, with all five draft decisions presented for consideration by the Board unanimously adopted, and with several Member States reaffirming their commitment to fully embed equity in the final negotiations ahead of the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals and the start of the post-2015 development agenda later this year.

 

 
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