UNICEF to target 7-12 age group in fight against HIV/AIDS
Stabroek News
June 16, 2004

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The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in its bid to fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic, is seeking to target children in the 7-12 age group, according to Ambassador Lebohang Moleko, president of UNICEF's executive board.

UNICEF views the 7-12 age group as "the window of opportunity" since programmes are already in place to deal with the 0-6 age group which is the most affected by the mother to child transmission and the 13 and above age group that is most affected by such means as sexual activity.

Moleko and other members of the UNICEF executive board visited Guyana two weeks ago to experience the work of the organisation's Country Office in promoting the fulfilment of the rights of the child, and later held a press conference to discuss the trip.

According to Moleko, the UNICEF board made a similar trip to Bolivia last year, its first such field trip, but on this occasion Guyana was selected after the organisation had examined certain social indicators.

It is expected that if targeting the 7-12 age group produces sufficiently successful results, the spread and effects of the HIV virus and AIDS would eventually be reduced so some of the funds expended toward this cause can be diverted to other key areas.

Moleko reminded that Guyana has the second highest infection rate for HIV/AIDS in the Caribbean with Haiti carrying the highest figure, adding that the strategy of targeting the 7-12 age group is already being employed in Mozambique where the infection rate and effects of the disease is far higher than in the Caribbean.

Corporal punishment

According to UNICEF's Regional Officer for Child Protection, Christie Norton, the organisation is and has always been concerned about corporal punishment and concerns relevant to this issue have been raised at the appropriate level.

Norton, reiterating that UNICEF aims to protect children from this and all other forms of violence, said further that while there is no specific committee or other body set up to deal with this issue, it is being looked at in order to ensure that children's interests are adequately addressed.

Escuela Nueva concept

UNICEF Vice President, Diana Rivington, [with responsibility for Western Europe and other areas] said Escuela Nueva is a project intended to contribute directly to improving the child's education at all levels with emphasis on making the school environment "child friendly".

Rivington informed that the objectives of the project include assisting in the increase of parents' involvement in the education of their children through direct contact with the school system; boosting in-school group activity to encourage shared development and establishing a more innovative learning environment such as a "science or mathematics corner." The UNICEF Vice-President also said schools should attempt to build links with the community and student-government bodies ought to be set up.

And she noted that a visit to some schools during the four-day field trip indicated that some components of the project are already being implemented. Despite the project being originally intended for rural schools, Rivington said, UNICEF is pleased to note that children who attend institutions of learning in the urban areas are also benefiting.

Meantime, the UNICEF executive board members met with President Bharrat Jagdeo, Ministers of Culture, Youth and Sport; Human Services and Social Security and Education, Gail Teixeira, Bibi Shadick and Dr. Henry Jeffrey respectively and Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Elisabeth Harper during their visit here.

Moleka and his team also spoke with CARICOM Secretary-General, Edwin Carrington, members of the Regional Democratic Councils in Regions 6, 9 and 10 and the Aishalton Village Council in Region 1.

Additionally, the UNICEF team held extensive discussions with various non-governmental organisations (NGOs). In Region 6 the group toured the facilities of the NGO St. Francis Community Developers and showed particular interest in the youth-friendly space, voluntary confidential counselling and testing, and integrated community-based child protection services through the Family, Youth and Children at Risk project.

And in Region 10, at the Linden Care Foundation, the group had a first-hand look at the level of care and support given to orphans and vulnerable children and their families.

A tour of the health, educational and water facilities in Region 1 was also undertaken.

Moleko said UNICEF is satisfied that the organisation's programmes that have been approved locally are being implemented within the capacity of the government.

Jagdeo, Moleko noted, shared his vision for Guyana with the UNICEF team during a one-hour discussion and communicated his government's commitment to supporting UNICEF's initiative.

UNICEF Ambassador Eduardo J.S. Somoza, with responsibility for Latin America and the Caribbean, said the team was particularly impressed with the warm response of the adults and children with whom they came into contact.


Meanwhile, UNICEF Guyana, which began functioning as an independent Country Office in January and has now assumed responsibility for the Suriname and Trinidad offices, used the opportunity to have the executives look at other areas for further collaboration and strengthening of UNICEF relations with various stakeholders.

The work of UNICEF Guyana reflects the goal of the Country Programme of Cooperation for 2001-2005, which aims to engage in advocacy, research and action in order to create a protective environment for all children.

Consequently, the programmes set out to allow every child the best start in life, and to ensure a quality primary education. Moreover, it seeks to safeguard every child against disease and disability, while stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing care for those who are affected. It also endeavours to protect every child from violence, abuse, exploitation and discrimination. (Edlyn Benfield)