Mobilising support for UNICEF's work world-wide

Jean Metenier has spent more than a decade working for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), helping children in impoverished, war-torn countries such as Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After 12 years in the field, Jean has recently returned to Europe. He's been appointed as UNICEF's new Planning Officer responsible for several European countries, including the Czech Republic. Radio Prague's Rob Cameron caught up with Jean during his recent visit to Prague, and he began by asking him to explain a little more about UNICEF's work.

"Well UNICEF is a United Nations agency which is working on behalf of children, especially in Third World countries, to try to improve the conditions of women and children who live in these countries. To improve their living conditions, trying to defend their rights, and ensure the governments in these countries are implementing the Convention on the Rights of Children which was signed by all the countries since 1989."

And how much awareness do you think there is in the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe of the plight of children around the world?

"Well, it varies from one country to another. I must say that for example in the Czech Republic, awareness is quite limited, and UNICEF really has to try and explain in a better manner to the public and to the government what UNICEF is doing, in order to ensure we are mobilising the public and the government to support UNICEF's work world-wide."

In what way would the Czech government support UNICEF's work world-wide?

"There is of course a need for financial support, because without funds, UNICEF cannot provide assistance to the children in need. But there is also a need to ensure that the government is defending UNICEF in the international community, and advocate on behalf of UNICEF to world leaders, to ensure that the rights of children are respected world-wide."

Right. Would UNICEF become involved, for example, in the situation of the children from very poor Roma communities in East Slovakia? Some have compared conditions there to the Third World.

"Well yes exactly. I think one of the rules to try and make sure that the government of Slovakia, as you've taken this example, is respecting rights and is trying to provide the same welfare as any other children in Slovakia. I think it's very important, we shouldn't have any difference between the different communities. Every child is entitled to the same kind of welfare."

Are UNICEF's priorities changing at all now? Or is the work you're doing basically what you've always done?

"UNICEF's priorities have to be adjusted to suit new conditions. If I can take the example of AIDS, which is becoming one of the major problems which is devastating not only Africa but also Eastern Europe. UNICEF is now trying to address as much as it can the plight of people affected by AIDS, especially women and children. And also orphans, because we have growing numbers of orphans all over the world, as their parents are dying from AIDS. And we have to try to ensure a future for these children."