UNICEF: Celebrating 68 Years of global progress and achievements for children What’s at Stake for Namibia’s Children?
By Micaela Marques de Sousa, UNICEF Namibia Country Representative
UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund and the World’s leading Organisation, mandated by the United Nations to promote the protection and respect of children’s rights all over the world, celebrates 68 years of global progress and achievements for children since its formation on 11 December 1946.
But what is at stake for our Namibian Children?
With each new day, a new life is given to the country of Namibia as is in other parts of the world. With the expectant joys of receiving a baby, there is the anxiety by the families to provide food, education, shelter and protection for the new addition to the family.
Anecdotal and statistical evidence however reflect that millions of children in the world continue to suffer from deprivation, exploitation and neglect as a result of being born into poverty, having limited access to education, limited access to health facilities and susceptible to violence and abuse. The HIV epidemic has also drawn children into orphanhood at a very early age. Today many children find themselves in the vulnerable condition of not being able to count on family protection or are completely separated from it. Ecological and environmental disasters also impede on growth opportunities and development for children.
Since its formative years in 1946, UNICEF has mobilised resources and increased advocacy to minimise and respond to the vulnerabilities of children born into this world today. Conceived in response to the harmful effects of World War 2 on children, UNICEF has moved beyond responding to emergencies and now partners with Governments to provide better health, education and protection throughout the life cycle of all children. In collaboration with 194 states throughout the world, UNICEF has drawn attention and action to the fact that changing social, political, environmental and economic landscape of the world has created fertile grounds for increasing the vulnerability of children.
For Namibia, UNICEF and indeed the United Nations Family, , the 68 years of UNICEF’s global existence, which coincides with the commemoration of 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, serve to demonstrate the opportunities for live and joy that the realisation of children’s rights has brought to thousands of families globally and in Namibia.
Ms. Tjiumbua from Otjisoko Tjangava village in Opuwo shares the elation and satisfaction with how the cooperation between UNICEF and Government has contributed to saving the life of her new born baby boy. A mother of 8 at only 35 years of age, Ms. Tjiumbua has benefited from the new maternity ward in the region where her healthy baby boy was delivered. Today she shares her positive first-hand experience of hospital delivery with other family members and friends, bemoaning that had she delivered at the hospital she would not lost her other child during a home delivery.
Ms. Tjiumbua’s hospital delivery is testament to UNICEF’s prioritisation to the reduction of child mortality through extending essential services of health extension workers (HEWs) to communities where children and their families do not always have the opportunity to the best start in life, grow and develop.
Ms. Tjiumbua might not know this, but this experience of a hospital delivery and eliminating the agony of losing a child at birth is a practical result of how UNICEF has co-operated with Governments and partners to unleash effective worldwide strategies, including the Child Survival and Development Revolution (CSDR) of 1980 to ensure that more children remain alive today and the years ahead. The CSDR in the 80’s also subdued the prevalence of common infections of early childhood using simple medical inventions such as immunisation
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and making child care more accessible at the primary health care levels, actions that continue to save children’s lives.
The story of her baby’s safe delivery is the first step in the long journey through which UNICEF and partners will co-operate with the Government to ensure Ms. Tjiumbua’s son receives adequate nutrition, immunisation against childhood illnesses, early childhood development, education and protection.
The attentive response and deep commitment to child survival and development has been the pinnacle for UNICEF’s co-operation with the Government of Namibia to record impressive results in child survival and development since 1990. For example, immunisation and nutrition have contributed to the reduction of under 5 deaths from 4,200 per year in 1990 to less than 3,000 in 2013. The country has also celebrated a universal access to primary education and has met the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Education for All (EFA) target through a net enrolment of 99.7%.
And yet Namibia’s child survival and development story remains riddled with challenges which regress the progress made. In 2013, newborn deaths accounted for 37% of child deaths in Namibia. This greatly compromised the country’s goal to meet MDG 4 on reducing child mortality. Malnutrition remains high with stunting levels not declining despite the country’s rising income per-capita and government efforts to address food insecurity. More than 34% of children live in poverty and struggle daily to meet their needs for health care, education, food and adequate. The proportion of children leaving school prematurely is also increasing.
Despite progress in making water accessible to 84% of the population, the country still has one of the highest prevalence of open defecation in the region in Eastern and Southern Africa with 52% of its population practicing open defecation.
Committed to the realisation of children’s rights to survival, the Government of the Republic of Namibia recently launched a revamped Child Survival Strategy to reduce child mortality as well as the Scaling Up Nutrition Country Implementation Plan to reduce stunting, under the banner of “A Promise Renewed”. This bold step taken by the Namibian Government can accelerate the reduction in child mortality and will put Namibia back on track to meet national development targets, regional and global goals, and sets the stage for a robust post 2015 agenda for children and women.
These developments are among the many which depict how the hastening of collective solutions to the problems that surround children and their families in Namibia is achievable and within grasp. It is these commitments which will accelerate the many positive trends for child survival and development in the country.
For example, the most common factor impeding women and children from accessing healthcare services is distance to a health facility. By shifting resources and focus to the disadvantaged regions and investing on preventive services is already helping to balance the inequalities in health provision.
It is the leadership of the Government of Namibia backed by the strong partnerships forged with Development Partners, United Nations Agencies, Civil Society Organisations, the Academia, Private Sector, the Media, children and communities that will unequivocally contribute to the realisation of the rights of all children in Namibia.
In celebrating the 68th Anniversary of UNICEF’s birth, I am convinced that realising the rights and meeting the needs of children remains within reach in Namibia and globally.
We owe it to Our Children!