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Conseil d'administration

Executive Board focusing on indigenous and Afro descendent groups of Latin America and Caribbean region

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© UNICEF/HQ06-1209/Markisz
Epsy Campbell Barr, member of the Black Parliament of the Americas and the UNICEF Consultative Group of Afro-descendant Leaders, speaks at the presentation on the Americas and Caribbean region. Secretary ‘ad interim’ of the UNICEF Executive Board Ado Vaher is beside her.

By Kun Li

NEW YORK, USA, 7 September 2006 – At the Second Regular Session of the 2006 UNICEF Executive Board, representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean’s indigenous and Afro descendent groups voiced their concern about the exclusion facing their communities.

“There are about 150 million of us living in every country of the region, and we represent almost one third of the total population here, but for decades we are considered as minorities,” said Epsy Campbell Barr of Costa Rica, who represents the Afro descendents in Latin America and Caribbean region.

She told the UNICEF Executive Board: “The biggest problem facing Afro descendent children is exclusion. We can see exclusion in the face of health, education, and social justice. We have the highest HIV infection rates, the highest infant mortality rates, and many of our children run into trouble with the law.”

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© UNICEF/HQ06-1210/Markisz
Representative of Peru’s Candoshi Indigenous Group and the Ministry of Health Guillermo Sundi (left) speaks at the presentation on the Americas and Caribbean region. UNICEF Regional Director for the Americas and the Caribbean Nils Kastberg is beside him.

Ms. Barr’s concern was shared by Guillermo Sundi, a member of Peru’s Candoshi – an indigenous group that once faced extinction.

In 2003, a Hepatitis B epidemic infiltrated all the communities in Candoshi and Shapra. If the outbreak had not been contained quickly, both groups could have been wiped out. 

“We undertook early vaccinations for newborns against Hepatitis B within the first 24 hours of birth,” Mr. Sundi said about the massive campaign carried out by the Ministry of Health and partners like UNICEF. For an isolated group like the Candoshi, living far away from the outside world, “the problem of Hepatitis will not go away in a few years. It will take many years to resolve,” said Mr. Sundi.

UNICEF Regional Director of Latin America and the Caribbean region, Nils Kastberg, told the Board that there have been many achievements made towards the Millennium Development Goals in the region, especially with education, but many challenges still remain.

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© UNICEF/HQ06-1211/Markisz
Director of Brazil’s National AIDS Programme Mariângela Batista Galvão Simão speaks during a panel discussion on the Americas and Caribbean region at the UNICEF Executive Board.

“At the national level, for example, infant mortality rates are low, and school enrolment rates are high. But when you look at the indigenous and Afro descendent children, the infant mortality is much higher, and many of their children are not in school,” said Mr. Kastberg.

“Across the region, we have chronic malnutrition that particularly affects indigenous and Afro descendent children. We also see more violence within the families, and increasing HIV/AIDS cases among young girls – another item UNICEF and UN agencies are committed to stop,” he said.

Mr. Kastberg and the other delegates asked that the Board ensure that future country programmes focus not only at the national level but also at the local level.

“We need to see how state resources are used, so that they can improve the lives of children,” he said.