UNICEF winds up projects in Czech Republic

Over the past ten years the United Nations Children's Fund has been involved in a number of projects aimed at securing full implementation of child rights in the Czech Republic. This week Mrs. Marty Rajandran UNICEF project officer for Central and Eastern Europe, visited the Czech Republic to assess the outcome of these projects and outline areas that still require attention. Although work in the sphere of child rights is far from over, Mrs. Rajandran told Czech government officials that the country had made significant progress in the past few years and was longer eligible for UNICEF programme support. Within the next three months UNICEF will wind up all of its projects in the Czech Republic.

"Yes, we are pleased to say that the Czech Republic has actually surpassed UNICEF criteria for UNICEF programme support in the country. The government has made outstanding efforts in reducing infant mortality , under five mortality, even maternal mortality. There is high immunization coverage. We found that over thirty five percent of infants are being breast fed which is a very good standard. Most kids are attending and completing basic education . A high number of children are attending pre-schools. These are all excellent steps to a good start in life for all children."

So what are the problem areas? What still requires attention?

"For example: iodine deficiency disorder. Unfortunately, information that has come to our notice indicates that this is still a problem in the Czech Republic. At one point all salt was reported to be iodized and now this region of the world has the lowest level of iodine consumption through salt in the whole world. We really think it is a challenge that the government could address through legislation on iodized salt. That's one of the easier tasks, but there are more difficult challenges. We understand there are fifteen to twenty thousand children living in state care institutions. We have seen some of these institutions in the last couple of days and we have seen the government taking steps to turn them into a "family environment". However the real challenge is to help children stay with their families so we would really urge that much more effort be directed into various forms of prevention and the different types of family and community support mechanisms that are needed to keep the family together. I think in terms of violence against children it is important that every child knows what their rights are, that they know how to protect themselves, that they know when to say "no". And children at the youngest age need to be told that they have these rights to protect themselves from violence. Further, the government needs to ensure equal opportunity for all children, including the Roma minority . We know that many Roma children are not even completing basic education and we feel that much more effort is possible to ensure that the Roma children also benefit from all the different programmes that the government offers the children of the Czech Republic. Finally, we would say that there should be continued vigilance and information sharing on issues that effect young people. Information that we have indicates that the rate of sexually transmitted diseases among the young is high , there are risk factors to the HIV AIDS virus spreading . Although the numbers are low right now young people need to have the information. They need to have youth friendly services where they can get confidential information and support during the times that they need help."

Now, although UNICEF projects in the Czech Republic will stop, as of next year, surely cooperation with regard to third world states will continue ?

"Oh, absolutely. In this regard we have to appreciate the ontribution already made by both the people of the Czech Republic through the national committee for UNICEF based in Prague and the government itself which makes a very nice contribution to UNICEF every year. This will continue and we hope that this will even increase in the coming years."