The 20th of November is a ubiquitous day in history when it comes to the welfare of children around the world. It was on that date in 1959 that the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, and again in 1989 when the UN General assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child remains the most widely respected international treaty to date and has been ratified by 196 countries.
It is notable that the first international convention ratified by the Government of the State of Eritrea was the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It shows the priority it accords to the welfare of its youngest citizens.
On November 19th, the Government of the State of Eritrea celebrated International Children’s Day to commemorate a shared vision for the children of Eritrea. UNICEF is proud to be a trusted partner in this noble endeavour for more than two decades.
The theme for this year’s event in Eritrea was Renew our Commitment to Sustainable Development of Children. This is a fitting theme when we consider the many achievements made by the Government and partners, to improve the lives and welfare of its children.
Eritrea has made commendable progress in achieving MDG 4 to reduce infant mortality, and MDG 5 to reduce maternal mortality. The under-five mortality rate (MDG 4) was reduced from 151 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990, to 47 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015. During the same period, the maternal mortality rate (MDG 5) fell from 1,700 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1990, to 352 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015, surpassing the MDG 5 Target of 425 deaths per 100,000 live births.
Eritrea ranks highest in the region in antenatal care attendance at 95 per cent, and coverage of health services and interventions for maternal and child health is high. More than 90 per cent of children are breastfed within one-hour after birth, and exclusive breastfeeding is at 69 per cent. This means Eritrea falls among the good performers in terms of breastfeeding rates globally.
With such a good start for newborns, tackling malnutrition in children is possible if efforts are invested in the education of mothers on adequate child feeding practices and in enhancing the existing national integrated household food security approach.
Eritrea’s overall immunisation coverage of infants is above 95 per cent at the national level, and it has maintained a polio-free status for many years now. Eritrea’s national immunisation programme has been recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF as one of the best in Africa, winning the Ministry of Health a number of international awards.
Beginning on November 20th, the Ministry of Health will undertake a large immunisation campaign for measles and rubella, which seeks to inoculate 1.5 million children aged 6 months to 15 years of age. This is a nationwide campaign that seeks to reach every child in all six regions of Eritrea.
The Ministry of Health’s combined management of neonatal and childhood illnesses approach ensures that health workers (including community-based) are trained and equipped to detect and manage common childhood illnesses at health facilities as well as the community level. This also seeks to ensure that mothers, caregivers, and parents are trained in and taught about appropriate feeding practices for infants and young children, so that they can provide nutritious foods to their children.
Universal health care coverage is a paramount equity goal as it means leaving no one behind. The Ministry of Health will start procuring mobile health clinics this year to reach additional children and communities in rural areas, reinforced by barefoot doctors in the remotest areas. This will enable more children and women to access quality health care, and we are proud to support this health services delivery approach.
Last year the Ministry of Education and partners completed a very important study on “Breaking the Silence”, which highlights the problems faced by adolescent girls during menstruation. This resulted in the menstrual hygiene management programme, which is being scaled up nationwide.
The menstrual hygiene management classes and provision of menstrual hygiene materials in schools, encourages adolescent girls to attend school with dignity. These efforts will contribute to retention rates of girls in school, and accelerate their transition to secondary education.
To ensure more access to quality basic education for all children, the Government’s complementary elementary education programme provides elementary education over a three-year course for children aged 9-14-years old, many of whom have never attended school before. This programme enables many children, particularly from rural and nomadic communities, to re-enrol in school and to enter formal schools after completion of the course. It is good that, for the coming years, the Government has prioritised quality education (teacher training, improved learning achievement and environment, etc.).
The child protection and social protection programme by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare supports vulnerable children and poor female-headed households with cash stipends, including the Donkey for School programme for children with disabilities. Since its implementation in 2009, this programme has enabled over 1,500 children with disabilities to attend school.
A number of Government sectors and civil society (Ministry of Health, Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare) have teamed up to elevate community-based work on child rights to go beyond female genital mutilation (FGM) and underage marriage to encompass violence against children and women, and other traditional harmful practices. It is also worth mentioning that the recent election of Eritrea to the UN Human Rights Council is an opportunity in terms of influencing the advancement of child rights at global and local levels.
Now, as we enter the dawn of a new era of peace and friendship in Eritrea and in the Horn of Africa, there is a sense of renewed hope and of achievable results for children. UNICEF looks forward to more strengthened partnerships and to continue to support these on-going nationwide programmes, and the sustainable development goals on the horizon.
On a positive note, many of these goals are already within sight.
Eritrea is also gaining steadily on eliminating all harmful practices such as child, early, and forced marriage and FGM. The Government outlawed FGM in 2007, and the National Union of Eritrean Women and partners have been making steady progress in reducing this nationwide. The Government has announced it would end FGM/C by 2030.
As we reflect on International Children’s Day on our renewed commitment to sustainable development of children, I assure the Government and the children of Eritrea of UNICEF’s continued support. To ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to access good health, quality education, a safe and sustainable environment to live and participate in, and of a shared vision for a better tomorrow.