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UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah visits Egypt

© UNICEF Egypt/2005/Ingram
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah and NCCM Secretary General Moushira Khattab, discuss the United Nations Study on Violence Against Children, in Cairo.

By Simon Ingram

CAIRO, Egypt, 20 April 2005 - A visit to Egypt last week by UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah underlined the vital relationship between the children's agency and key players in the Arab and Muslim world.

At a meeting on 10 April at the headquarters of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) – UNICEF’s main governmental partner in Egypt – Ms. Salah praised the role played by Egypt’s First Lady, Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, saying that she is a “positive example” of the important contributions made by Arab women on issues affecting the region.

Talks with NCCM Secretary General Moushira Khattab focused on the UN Study on Violence against Children. A regional consultation on the Study is to be held in Cairo in late June. Ms. Salah said the very fact that the event was taking place was a victory of sorts, because of the reluctance of conservative Arab societies to speak out on such issues.

“I’m from the region – and I know. Usually we don’t say because it’s taboo. ‘We have violence? We don’t have violence, how could we have violence.’ But now we’re opening and saying, ‘Yes, we have violence in the family, in school and everywhere’.”

For her part, Ambassador Khattab hailed the efforts of UNICEF on behalf of children worldwide. “At a time when other UN bodies are facing problems, UNICEF is flourishing.  [UNICEF Executive Director] Carol Bellamy ought to be congratulated for that.”

© UNICEF Egypt/2005/Ingram
UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah, in discussions with the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, Dr. Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, in Cairo.

Meeting with the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar

Later Ms. Salah was received by the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, Dr. Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, one of the foremost authorities in the Islamic world.  Ms. Salah used the occasion to express UNICEF’s gratitude for the supportive role played by Al Azhar (one of the world’s oldest universities and a centre of Islamic learning) recently on a range of issues affecting children, including polio immunization and the battle against female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C).

Dr. Tantawi said that Al Azhar had told the whole world that FGM/C had no basis in Islamic teachings. It was, he said, a practice based on nothing more than tradition.

“There is no Islamic text on FGM/C,” Dr. Tantawi told Ms. Salah and UNICEF’s Representative in Egypt Erma Manoncourt, who accompanied Ms. Salah to the meeting. “All that we know (from Islamic textual sources) is weak.” He pointed out that the practice of FGM/C was unknown in many Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia and Iran.

An encounter with some of Cairo’s neediest children concluded the first day of Ms. Salah’s visit to Egypt. At a shelter for street girls run by Hope Village with the support of UNICEF, the Deputy Executive Director spoke with a number of children who visit the centre for to receive meals and medical care and to take part in a range of educational and other activities.

On 11 April Ms. Salah presided at the Cairo launch of An Arab World Fit For Children, a major review of progress achieved and challenges facing children and young people living in the Arab world. She said Arab nations had come a long way towards achieving global development targets. But with millions of Arab children out of school, working, or affected by armed conflict, she said it was evident that much remained to be done.

“We need to empower young people and allow them to become assets in the development process,” Salah told an audience at the headquarters of the League of Arab States.

In particular, she said the Arab world needed to give stronger protection to children against sexual exploitation, and traditional harmful practices such as early marriage, honour killings, and FGM/C.




14 April 2005:
UNICEF’s Simon Ingram reports on Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah’s visit to Egypt and her meeting with the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, one of the foremost authorities in the Islamic world.

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