I commend the UNICEF Regional Office for South Asia for organizing this event. I feel privileged and honored to speak a few words in front of you.
The honorable Foreign Minister was keen to attend this event. However, owing to other unavoidable commitments, he could not make it. He has sent you all greetings and best wishes for the success of the event.
I thank you very much Your Excellency the Secretary-General of SAARC for your special address and the Regional Director of UNICEF for the important statement centered on the theme of today’s event.
I would also like to acknowledge the participation of high-level officials and other dignitaries and representatives who have joined us in person and through virtual mode.
At the outset, I would like to congratulate UNICEF on the occasion of its 75th anniversary. I commend UNICEF for the tremendous contributions it has made in saving children’s lives, helping them unleash their potentials, and defending their rights across the world.
UNICEF’s work in South Asia too has yielded some remarkable results.
Thanks to its collaboration with governments, non-government organizations and communities, important strides have been made in reducing neonatal deaths, improving nutrition, scaling up school enrollment and promoting sanitation and hygiene practices.
However, our aspirations to ensure rights, choices, and voices to children in South Asia need continuous efforts and robust action to fully realize them.
Poverty has been the most debilitating factor for the millions of children in South Asia. Discrimination and incidences of violence against them are yet to go away. We need to deploy further efforts to prevent the children from being exposed to malnutrition, child labor and child trafficking. And, we must ensure that millions of children from vulnerable communities are not deprived of basic education and health services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the education, recreation, and healthy development of children. As the report ‘Lives Upended’ published by UNICEF last year suggests, the pandemic has had a disastrous and disproportionate impact on over 600 million children in South Asia.
The crisis appears to be risking the hard-earned progress made in the overall development of children and adolescents.
We must therefore endeavor to cushion the impact of the pandemic on their well-being, especially with a focus on the most vulnerable ones. Access to COVID-19 vaccines must be ensured for all children.
We must act now to prevent and mitigate the risks the children face. Their needs must come first in our plans to recover and rebuild better.
True, the pandemic has taken away ‘the normal’ from all of us and, more importantly, from our children.
But we need to ask ourselves: was that ‘normal’ good enough?
Is COVID-19 the only danger to children’s safety, security and well-being?
Were all children living in safe, healthy, and peaceful environments before the pandemic?
The answers to these questions are obvious.
So, we must reflect on the gaps, correct our course, and reignite opportunities for the future of our children.
We must bring an end to poverty, abuse, discrimination, violence, and neglect against children.
Reigniting opportunities for children must start with our endeavor towards creating a condition where they have equal opportunities, where their voices and rights are ensured, and where investments are made not just to help them survive but also thrive.
There is an urgent need to expand and transform education and learning systems. These systems have to be adjusted to lifelong learning for the children of today and adults of tomorrow to enable them to stay relevant to the changing techno-professional environment of the future.
Access to health, sanitation and hygiene must be ensured for every child. The digital divide needs to be addressed.
We all know climate change poses an existential threat to the planet and the people. And, we adults have been failing our children by our inaction. We must act now and reverse the trends of climate change.
We also need to recognize that children and young people are positive change agents. We must listen to them and have their voices reflected in our actions and policies.
We must act together to ensure that ‘no child is left behind.’
Above all, a reimagined future must be a just and equitable future for children.
I am pleased to note that the five-decade-long partnership between Nepal and UNICEF has resulted in many advances in promoting children’s development and welfare in Nepal.
UNICEF’s support and cooperation have complemented the efforts of the Government of Nepal in addressing the children’s needs - be it through the hardware support provided in the 1960s and 1970s, or the programs on early childhood development and child and maternal health in the 1980s; or the initiatives aimed at strengthening systems and services for children over the last decade, or through the current renewed focus on investing in children.
I am also pleased to note that UNICEF’s Country Programme Action Plan (2018-22) aims at building on the progress achieved thus far and maximizing the potential of Nepal’s young population in line with the objectives of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
The Plan’s focus areas resonate very well with Nepal’s priorities.
It is not least in light of such consistent support from UNICEF, that Nepal has achieved some important progress especially in the field of education, and maternal and child health. This has also been acknowledged by various international organizations including the United Nations.
This has helped us further raise our ambition. And, our commitment today is even stronger.
Therefore, to the children in Nepal: I can say, on behalf of the Government of Nepal, that we will spare no effort to promote your interests. We will strive to fulfill your needs. We will not let you down.
To conclude, the anniversary is not just an occasion to reflect on what has been achieved or could have been achieved. It is also an occasion to plan for a better future. As we mark this landmark 75th anniversary of UNICEF, let’s reimagine a future where our children will have better opportunities and choices.
Let’s commit to act together and act better. The Government of Nepal remains committed to working more closely with UNICEF in the days ahead.
Bharat Raj Paudyal is the foreign secretary of Nepal. Excerpts of the keynote on ‘Reigniting Opportunities for Children in South Asia’ at the Event Organized to Mark the 75th Anniversary of UNICEF