By Amie Sanneh
The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) on Friday, 18 November 2016, celebrated 70 years of existence and 51 years of working with children in the Gambia at a partnership banquet and theatre evening. The dinner was held at a hotel in Kololi.
Sara Beysolow Nyanti, UNICEF Resident Representative described the day as important not only for UNICEF but for all of its partners, as it celebrates 70 years of achievements and results for children both globally and in The Gambia.
He recalled that UNICEF was established in 1946 to address the humanitarian needs of children affected by the effects of World War II, providing food, clothing and health care to them. “In 1953, in the wake of the disease yaws, the United Nations General Assembly extended UNICEFs mandate, and made it a permanent part of its body. Since then, UNICEF has become the world’s leading international organization mandated to advocate for the rights and well-being of children,” he said.
According to her, over the years, they have seen significant life-saving transitions in their work. “Key among them is shifting our focus from addressing the needs of all children to narrowing our lens on the children, mothers and communities that are the most vulnerable, thus ensuring equitable access to essential social and development services for the least privileged,” she said.
The UNICEF Rep. said their partnership with the country began 51 years ago when their first Cooperation Agreement was signed with the Government in May 1965, between Mr. Gordon Carter, the then UNICEF Representative covering the Gambia, and Alhaji A. B. N’jie, MBE, JP, MP, Minister of State for External Affairs. “This agreement articulated the mutual thinking between the Government and UNICEF on how to successfully address the most concerning of children’s issues by ensuring that their rights are realized,” she said. Madam Sara noted that since then, the Gambia has registered tremendous gains for its children, many of which were supported by UNICEF.
“Perhaps one of the most significant achievements for the country in promoting the rights of all children is its ratification and domestication of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of The Child, in 1990 and 2005 respectively. These actions have since created opportunities for an enabling environment for all children, especially in their access to health, education and protection services,” she noted.
With the support of UNICEF and other partners, the UNICEF Rep explains that malaria is being eliminated; the country is almost open defecation-free, girls are equally entering primary school as boys, and immunization coverage is the best in West and Central Africa region. FGM/C and child marriage she continued have recently been banned and children can be assured that violators will be prosecuted due to legislation that is now available.
“Unfortunately, after 51 years of many successes, children still face deprivations. There are many children still out of school, and many also suffer from various forms of violence and harmful practices which require a strengthened child protection system. Access to justice for children also needs attention, while we cannot ignore that there are still 1 in 4 Gambian children who are stunted,” she said.
She said they are transitioning to a new country programme of cooperation with the country 2017-2021.
The United Nations Resident Coordinator Ms. Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje said the partnership event demonstrates the solid relationship among the different UN agencies in the country as well as between the UN System and the government and other partners. This she said recognizes and fortifies the UN’s commitment towards safeguarding the rights and wellbeing of the children and Gambian people through their respective mandates and strong collaborative efforts. “As the leading UN agency on agencies such as UNFPA, WHO, FAO, WFP and UNDP. The complementary efforts of UN agencies ensure and reinforce the UN support in delivering development, particularly for the most vulnerable population,” she said. According to the UN Resident Coordinator, achieving results for children is not only the work of UNICEF, it is for all of them. She said they can build synergies around the 2030 global development agenda, known as the Sustainable Development Goals to ensure that children are at the heart of all what they do. “There can be no sustainable development without healthy, educated and strong children,” she said. Madam Ade stated that the UN System is committed to continue strengthening its partnership with the Government of The Gambia and other key partners, including community members to ensure that the children of the Gambia are put at the heart of their work.
Delivering the vote of thanks, Fatoumatta Daffeh, grade 7 students of Living Children’s Academy said for 70 years UNICEF have serve the children of the world with dedication and commitment towards achieving a world where children lives to fulfill their potentials.
The night also witnessed the awarding of prizes to winners of the Children’s Art Work.