The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) recently completed 70 years in India. On this occasion, Yasmin Ali Haque — the UNICEF representative in the country — spoke to Sumi Sukanya Dutta regarding the journey and challenges facing the organization. Excerpts:
How has the UNICEF’s journey been in India and what would you say are the highlights?
The start of UNICEF’s partnership began with the setting up of the first Penicillin plant in 1949 in which the organisation supported Indian government with equipment and technical assistance. In mid-50s, we joined hands with AMUL becoming part of what was later called White Revolution.
In the 70s, we supported in fighting drought by developing the world-famous hand pump India Mark II. As India started growing, the focus fell on child survival.
One key focus was supporting the government in its extensive immunisation drive. UNICEF has the fortune of supporting the government in eliminating maternal and neonatal tetanus.
Millions of kids now complete three years without the threat of this deadly disease. The universal immunisation programme has coverers over 80 per cent kids. We have the honour of being a close ally in that achievement. We also partnered with the government in bringing down infant and maternal mortality significantly. We are proud of our achievements and evolution as we moved from supply to service-related works. There are many issues and concerns that we are working on and will continue doing that.
What are the challenges? Your plans to tackle them.
We are now focusing on helping develop local solutions that alleviate disparities at multiple levels. The main challenges are to change attitude towards girl child and help achieve nutrition targets. There are so many initiatives taken centrally and at state levels, but the issue is to how to scale them to benefit maximum number of children. Beti Bachao Beti Padhao by the Central government is one such example.
There are several social protection schemes, POCSO Act, Juvenile Justice Act, but the issue is how to implement them to the best of kids’ interests.
A policy can be as good as its implementation on the ground. For instance, even for the number of crime against children, particularly girls, rising and getting reported, there are far many more that don’t get reported.
We have perhaps been unable to build that confidence that the system will respond to their calls. Another area needing attention is of giving safe mobility to girls as that is one of the key reasons why so many girl students drop out of secondary schools.
After the new citizenship law and talks of bringing NRC, will not certain kids face discrimination?
Politics and social conditions of the times definitely affect children. We have raised this issue and have been told (by the govt) that children would not be deprived of their rights and there are special measures in place to preserve their rights.