UN priorities for 2017: UNICEF
Sascha Graumann, UNICEF Representative in Uzbekistan
UNICEF supports governments in fulfilling its obligations as a State Party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and address the recommendations, which periodically are being made by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. As per official data, Uzbekistan has a child population of over 10 million. UNICEF works closely with the Government to ensure that all children enjoy their rights, and the opportunity to reach their full potential.
In 2017, UNICEF will assist the Government in further improving policies in the best interest of children, and provide necessary support to design and implement activities accordingly. We focus on reaching the most disadvantaged boys and girls to ensure quality services in health, education and protection.
Uzbekistan has made progress to improve the health services for mothers and children. Reduction in infant and maternal mortality rates are examples of these efforts. UNICEF will continue its support to improve the quality of healthcare, particularly to reach out to the most vulnerable, such as children in rural areas and children with disabilities.
As per official data in 2015, over 99% of children have been vaccinated, protecting them from life-threatening diseases. By the end of 2019, external support to Uzbekistan for procuring vaccines will stop. UNICEF is working with the Government to find ways for efficient budget planning for vaccine procurement and management, so that all children can be immunized.
The most important window in any child’s life are the first 1,000 days, i.e. from nine months in mother’s womb till the child’s second birthday. This is the time when the brain is making up to 1,000 new connections every second – an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It lays the foundation for children’s future learning and health. A lack of nurturing care – which includes adequate nutrition, stimulation, love and protection from stress and violence – can impede the development of the brain.
If you look at global figures, around 250 million children - or 43 per cent of all children under the age of five in low and middle income countries are at higher risk of not reaching their full potential due to malnutrition, poverty, and disadvantage. Moreover, children in low and middle income countries face many challenges which, together, affect their health, wellbeing and learning throughout their lives. This not only has long-term effects on individuals, but also contributes to the cycle of poverty, inequality, and social exclusion.
In 2017, UNICEF will be working to ensure that pregnant women and young children get the right healthcare, nutrition, love and care, safety and security, and early learning for the child. The country has a wide spread home visiting system by patronage nurses. We will work through this system to reach families with the right information effectively. Nurses will make families aware of the necessary healthcare, nutrition and development needs in the crucial 1000 days of the child’s life.
The Government of Uzbekistan has recently adopted the “State Programme on Improvement of Pre-school Education”. As per official figures, 77 per cent of children aged 2-7 do not attend preschool. This means millions of children missing out the chance to develop their skills, and to get prepared for school.
We know that some regions perform better than others. Cities perform better than rural areas, and that wealthier families have more access to facilities than middle class and the poor. So, the focus has to be on providing access to services in the less developed regions and ensure coverage of the most disadvantaged population in the rural areas. UNICEF will continue supporting the State Programme to ensure that children are better prepared for school and receive the necessary pre-school education.
UNICEF will also be working on increasing quality, efficiency and inclusiveness in the education sector.
To understand the needs of children with disabilities, UNICEF will assist the Government of Uzbekistan in conducting a study on their situation. Results of the study will help to develop and implement an action-plan to address the needs of children with disabilities.
According to official sources, there were about 19,896 children in residential institutions in 2015. A study of some regions shows that only 14 per cent of those children were orphans, while more than half were placed in residential care due to socio-economic difficulties faced by their families.
In 2017, UNICEF will continue its work to prevent placement of children deprived of family care in institutions. With the right combination of services, such as counselling and social benefits that meet the needs of vulnerable children and families, the country can significantly decrease the number of institutionalized children, keep them with their families or find alternative family-like solutions.
UNICEF is supporting the development of the juvenile justice system in the country, as the way children are treated by the justice system significantly impacts their trust in the rule of law. We are glad to see emphasis on alternative and diversionary measures being included in the judicial reforms. Diversion avoids stigmatization and the negative effect of justice proceedings on children and is in the interest of public safety due to its lower reoffending rates and greater cost-effectiveness.
UNICEF appreciates the Government’s intention to increase community involvement in decision making in 2017 through the Programme of the ‘Year of Dialogue with the Public’. This is an opportunity for the Government to consider ratifying the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on establishing mechanisms to address child rights grievances. We believe that the year 2017 will provide an opportunity to make considerable progress in realizing the rights of disadvantaged people, particularly the children.