A Georgia fit for children
By Messenger Staff
Tuesday, June 11 June – Georgia marks International Children’s Day. A moment to reflect and review progress towards fulfilling the rights of all Georgian children. Children’s rights are essential for their development and well-being. They are also pivotal for creating a country envisioned by the Millennium Declaration – a country of peace, equity, security, respect for the environment and shared responsibility – in short, a Georgia fit for children.
It has been ten years since all 192 UN member states signed the Millennium Declaration committing their nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets - with a deadline of 2015 - that have become known as the Millennium Development Goals. An enormous amount has been achieved in Georgia over the past 10 years. The situation of children is far better now than it was a decade ago – Child mortality has reduced significantly (UN estimates 30 deaths per 1,000 live-births in 2008 compared to 45 in 2003). More families and their children gained access to improved water sources (99%). Almost all primary-school-age children are attending school (95%). Advances in child protection and participation have been no less significant. Fewer children are in institutions (50% reduction) and more disabled children live in a family environment.
In recent years the Government of Georgia has actively sought to put children at the centre of its reform efforts. The Child Welfare Action Plan (2008-2011) has guided the childcare reform process. The Social Service Agency has intensified its efforts to reach the most vulnerable families and their children with social assistance. A comprehensive national strategy on juvenile justice was adopted in 2009 which should ensure the establishment of a system of juvenile justice in line with international standards. The education reform process has ensured a streamlining of the education system.
Parliament has taken a pro-active lead in addressing outstanding child rights issues. An alliance on Early Childhood Development has spearheaded a national integrated early childhood development approach. Other committees on Sports & Development, Health and Social Affairs, and the Human Rights and Civil Integration Committees have brought parliamentarians, academic experts and civil society actors together to jointly address outstanding child right’s issues. Non-governmental organizations are playing an active role in caring for the most vulnerable children. Bilateral and multi-lateral governmental agencies have made major contributions to the success in advancing the child rights agenda.
Yet significant challenges remain and these have been highlighted by the last report of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. More than a quarter of Georgian children live in poverty. Another challenge exists in social service delivery. In order to further reduce infant mortality, additional efforts are required to ensure quality neonatal services. Increasing out-of-pocket payments for health care represent a barrier to basic health services. The pre-school attendance rate is only 49 per cent. Children who do not attend pre-school have a higher risk of not reaching their full potential and are at greater risk of experiencing learning difficulties, violence and social problems. The quality of primary and secondary education remains a challenge. Healthy life styles among teenagers will need to be advocated for. Social exclusion needs to be addressed. Especially, the stigma and discrimination surrounding children with disabilities contribute to their systematic exclusion and isolation.
These are some of the key challenges that we have to tackle in the next five years in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals by the year 2015. The international community will continue reviewing the progress achieved in meeting these goals in the coming years and Georgia should maintain the momentum of recent gains for children. The path to European integration is paved with low child mortality rates, established child protection mechanisms and quality and effective social system to address the needs and rights of the most vulnerable. Children are an investment in the future. It is the children of today who will continue building the country’s democratic future.
This week Georgia will be discussed at the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council and the UNICEF Executive Board to identify priorities towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. At UNICEF, we are working closely with the Government and other partners to support Georgia in making real progress for children. And today on 1 June while we celebrate the country’s achievements let’s ask ourselves once again what each of us can do to ensure that no child is left behind.
Roeland Monasch is UNICEF Representative in Georgia