PANAMA CITY – As 2007 comes to a close, UNICEF is looking back at the work achieved for children and preparing for the challenges and opportunities ahead in 2008 in the Latin America and Caribbean regions.
Reducing infant mortality and chronic malnutrition, mitigating the impact of natural disasters, and slashing the toll of domestic violence, sexual exploitation and abuse are among the immediate challenges facing the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2008.
“On child survival, we must continue to focus on the critical period after a mother gives birth and an infant’s good start in life,” UNICEF Regional Director Nils Kastberg said in a statement on Monday (Dec 31), underlining the need for more public investment.
He called for greater support to increase breastfeeding and better prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, while also providing HIV-positive mothers with treatment that would allow them to live to see their children grow up.
Preparedness before natural disasters must be improved to cut down on the catastrophic impact they have on families and towns and emergency responses must be accelerated to avoid loss of lives and livelihoods, which tend to affect women and children first, he added.
In a region where 80,000 young people die every year as a result of violence in the home, 2 million suffer commercial sexual exploitation and 6 million suffer severe abuse each year, remedial measures are crucial and urgent, Mr. Kastberg stressed.
He also called for more funds dedicated to programmes to create opportunities for adolescent development. “Specifically, we need to ensure that the 25 per cent to 30 per cent of adolescents and young people between 15 and 24 years of age, who are out of school or out of work, be better prepared to formally enter the working world,” he said.
An important element to achieving this would be to expand basic education beyond primary school to include education from pre-primary to secondary, and to make it intercultural, of good quality and open to the different languages in the national cultural context.
“With 2008 being the international year of languages, it is timely to focus on that element of education,” Mr. Kastberg said. “By providing a full and proper education, we can build a full and proper work force of young people.”
In coordination with the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and other UN agencies, one of UNICEF’s challenges in 2008 will be to develop a reliable system to gather pertinent information from sub-national level, which would better reflect the social realities and disparities of the region.
Summing up UNICEF’s programme for 2008, Mr. Kastberg concluded: “We would hope the end result of such efforts would mean that by this time next year, we would see an important shift for and among young people; that they would feel more confident of their role, their place and their rights in building the region – confident that change was happening with them and for them, and not at their expense.”