NAYPYITAW, Myanmar, 28 January 2019 -
"Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this important event, and to learn more about Myanmar’s efforts to put children first in the country’s development agenda.
"As the first UNICEF Executive Director to visit your country in over 30 years, I look forward to seeing first-hand the challenges and opportunities of this country, which is at a turning point in its history.
"By working together for children, we can foster the prosperity, opportunity, social cohesion and peace that every country needs for a sustainable future.
"For Myanmar, these ingredients are critical, as this country takes new steps to build links to the global community and provide economic opportunity for its people.
"UNICEF has been here in Myanmar supporting this country’s children for some 70 years. We appreciate the trust you’ve placed in us to serve children across the country over the decades.
"And we want to be part of your future.
"But I also feel a great responsibility, given the critical issues facing Myanmar at this moment.
"This morning, I had the opportunity to meet with Her Excellency the State Counsellor, the Minister for International Co-operation and the Minister of Defence.
"I’m grateful for the frank and open discussions we had about the challenges that children face in this country and the solutions for overcoming them.
"We cannot ignore the suffering that children face in the conflict-affected areas of Rakhine State, Kachin State and northern Shan State. Nor the suffering faced by the refugees currently sheltering in Bangladesh. We must work together to find a peaceful future for all.
"That is why today’s event on “Realizing Myanmar’s Development Vision for Every Child” is so important.
"Myanmar’s Sustainable Development Plan sets out the roadmap to a more prosperous, democratic, peaceful and stable future.
"I’m glad to see that children are at the heart of this Plan, because children are also at the heart of this better future we envision for Myanmar.
"I look forward to meeting with the key ministries responsible for the health, education, protection and wellbeing of children across the country, and to learning more about their work, your work to implement the Plan.
"Implementing the Plan will also require partnerships and investments. Partnerships with the private sector. Partnerships with local communities, national civil society organisations and international development partners.
“In this regard, we need the help of the business community to refine and convert our projects for children into value propositions with sustainable returns and income flow, that can be included in the MSDP Project Bank launched this morning.
"As Myanmar builds these partnerships, UNICEF stands ready to continue doing everything we can for the sake of the children in this country.
"We’ve achieved many successes together.
"The vaccination of over 14 million children against Japanese encephalitis.
"The roll-out of a universal maternal and child cash transfer programme in Rakhine.
"The campaign to ensure all children receive a birth certificate.
"Just a few examples.
"But as we discuss the next steps in our work together, I also hope to hear how the children most in need — the children in the conflict-affected areas of the country, the hard-to-reach children, the children who are marginalized and suffer discrimination — how they will be put first in our plans.
"In Rakhine State, this means supporting the implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission led by the late Kofi Annan.
"And it means ensuring humanitarian access in all parts of the country, to provide vital life-saving assistance to every child — health care, nutrition, water and sanitation, protection, and education.
"Not only as a matter of their rights.
"But as a necessary pathway to a more peaceful and stable Myanmar.
"Because there is no better investment in the future of any country than children who are treated as full, equal members of society from the outset. Children who are supported and healthy children. Children who see that they have the same rights and opportunities as their neighbours. Children who will aspire to contribute fully to their society’s development and prosperity in the future.
"For far too long, we have witnessed the terrible suffering of children in many parts of Myanmar.
"Children enduring violence. Children forced to flee their homes. Children watching their ambitions evaporate — their dreams to become doctors, teachers, engineers and contributors to society.
"We must take steps to repair the damage that has been done to so many and invest in each and every child. No matter who they are. No matter where they are, who their parents are. No matter where they live.
"Your Sustainable Development Plan, your new Child Law working its way through parliament, and your commitment to implement the Annan Commission’s recommendations all represent important steps in repairing these lives.
"We urge the government to seize this moment, and translate this potential into reality for all children.
"Taking these steps will also go a long way toward creating the right conditions for the return of the refugees from Bangladesh.
"We know, from the UNICEF teams working there, that the children in these camps are living a precarious and almost hopeless existence.
"We urge that the necessary steps are taken to enable their safe, voluntary and dignified return back to their homes, where their rights are respected and they can once again live peaceably with their neighbours.
"This would also help heal the deep wounds that still scar communities across Myanmar. And re-build the trust that is fundamental to every society.
"But reconciliation must follow accountability.
"Again, UNICEF can support this process. This includes our work on the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism on Grave Violations Against Children in Armed Conflict.
"The recent listing of the Tatmadaw for new violations presents a major challenge. But we welcome the recent establishment of the Committee for preventing Grave Violations against Children in Armed Conflict and the military leadership’s willingness to engage with us and other parties to develop action plans to start addressing these issues and work towards a de-listing.
"These are all difficult but necessary steps.
"But they will go a long way towards sowing the seeds of lasting peace and prosperity in the country.
"By working together, and tackling difficult issues openly and honestly, I believe we can make progress towards a brighter, more peaceful and prosperous future for the children of this country.
"And they, in turn, will be in a better position to sustain that peace and prosperity for future generations.
"Let’s give them that chance.
"UNICEF will do everything we can to support the future of Myanmar — and to do so by supporting the architects of that future: the children and young people. All of them.