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International Mother Language Day celebrated in Latin America and Caribbean

© UNICEF/Costa Rica/Gonzalo Bell/2007
A group of indigenous adolescents is studying together in the Community of Guaimi in Costa Rica.
PANAMA, 21 February 2008 - On the occasion of International Mother Language Day, Nils Kastberg, the Regional Director of UNICEF in Latin America and the Caribbean, emphasized the need for every child to speak their native language and to receive an education that respects their values.

Although approximately 500 languages are spoken throughout the Latin American and Caribbean region, there is little linguistic diversity offered in schools. Bilingual education tends to  receive limited funding from governments, resulting in high illiteracy and drop out rates, particularly in indigenous communities.

“How can an indigenous child learn math or science in a language that he or she doesn’t fully understand?” said Kastberg. “By denying them schooling in a language they fully understand, what damage are we doing to millions of children, and to what extent are we making them feel like second-class citizens for speaking their native language?”

2008 was declared the International Year of Languages by the United Nations; in order to promote the use of indigenous languages not only in the classrooms but in all sectors of society including the media, health centers, in the courts and public offices. 

A language is not only a communication tool, it is also a way to understand and categorize one’s reality, knowledge of nature, social relationships and emotions. UNICEF is calling on indigenous families not to give up speaking their native language, while also encouraging children who speak European-based languages to take on the challenge of learning an indigenous language.

UNICEF supports efforts being made by at least 15 countries in the Latin American & Caribbean  to guarantee a bilingual education to indigenous children, recognizing that the right to an education in their mother tongue paves the way to a greater understanding and respect of ones values, social relationships and emotions.

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.

For further information
Anna Lucia D’Emilio, aldemilio@unicef.org, UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean; Tel + (+507) 301 7486
Ester Ruiz, eruiz@unicef.org, UNICEF Latin America and Caribbean; Tel + (+507) 301 7481




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