Consensus achieved on UNICEF's five-year plan
- children urge abolition of corporal punishment

Stabroek News
December 12, 1999

A recently-concluded strategy workshop, convened by government, has achieved a broad consensus on UNICEF Guyana's role for the next five years, according to an official of the UN agency.

In an interview with Stabroek News, Assistant Representative of UNICEF Guyana, Juan Carlos Espinola, who has been with UNICEF for some 20 years, said that the two-day meeting served to define the purpose of UNICEF in this country.

The participants included representatives from donor agencies and government, community leaders and schoolchildren.

In fact, Espinola noted, it was the well-prepared schoolchildren who led the entire process, calling for the abolition of corporal punishment in both the school and the home, more employment for youths and a plan to tackle the spread of HIV/AIDS. As a follow-up to this a youth consultation workshop on 'Developing a Communication Strategy for HIV/AIDS Control and Prevention' was held yesterday at the Ocean View Hotel at Liliendaal.

The meeting also sought a situational analysis of the conditions of women, children and families in Guyana to identify the manifestation of such problems as maternal mortality and domestic abuse. It was important to note, Espinola said, that UNICEF's role was primarily as a facilitator for government agencies and the funds allocated were a drop in the bucket in terms of aid. UNICEF's role was more tailored to mobilise and strengthen the capacities of government and to bring its worldwide experience and human skills to development projects. He lauded the initiatives of the country in the areas of immunization and education although there was more room for improvement. And whilst he understands the constraints a developing economy puts on funds, he emphasised that "in good times and bad, children must have first call on the country's resources."

Espinola said that UNICEF will be assisting both the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health to implement a programme for early childhood education, that is children between 0-6 years of age. He pointed out that it is scientifically proven that these formative years have a great bearing on a child's later development.

The programme will involve the training of teachers to deliver both educational and life skills to young children.

Violence against children and women is an area of particular concern to UNICEF and Espinola is proposing a project to sensitize judges and members of the police force to what he calls a growing problem despite legislation.

Other initiatives include the establishment of a database to identify the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country and a series of workshops in secondary schools that will help children to make informed decisions about sexual behaviour.

UNICEF is already working on a survey of living conditions in Guyana with the Bureau of Statistics providing software and hardware to aid in establishing a base line from which progress in development can be measured and made available to decision makers.

Another outcome of the meeting, Espinola observed, was the recognition that there were inherent rights for the individual that were essential to social development--the right to an education or a discrimination-free society for women. This will be implemented under the theme 'Social Policy Planning and Rights'.

UNICEF will be communicating with members of parliament and policy makers towards ensuring that certain universal rights are reflected in laws and policies, if they are not already there.

Under the programme called 'The Integrated System of Support for Child Protection' the main problem of a community is to identifiy, for example water delivery, and then the project will be expanded to include other child-related improvements. Espinola said that most of the communities to come under this initiative will be in regions One, Seven, Eight, and Nine.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples