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UNICEF Deputy Executive Director praises Turkey’s efforts for children

July 2006 - UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Mr. Kul Gautam has poured lavish praise on Turkey’s recent efforts to improve the lot of children and women, but at the same time cautioned that there is still much to be done.

Mr. Gautam, who is also Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, made his remarks during an intensive visit to Turkey between July 4 and July 8, 2006.

In the Eastern province of Van, the deputy executive director said that he was very inspired by the courage of a group of young mothers who have been advising their peers about breast-feeding and other good child care practices.

Levels of infant and child mortality in the far-flung province are well above the national average for a variety of reasons ranging from the low educational levels of women to the scattered settlements and shortage of trained health personnel. Peer counselling by ordinary mothers, which is supported by the Ministry of Health and UNICEF, is seen as one way of breaking the vicious circle.

But the young mothers whom Gautam met, many of them from underprivileged backgrounds, have often had to stand their ground against mothers-in-law and other older women who ascribe to extraordinarily harmful superstitions, such as the belief that breastfeeding should be delayed for up to three days after birth, or that polio vaccinations make male children sterile.

Girls in school

Earlier, Mr. Gautam had visited one of Van’s new child-friendly schools and seen for himself the results of this recent initiative to make schools attractive, safe places to learn with a strong focus on children’s all-round well-being and strong links with the surrounding community. As UNICEF, we are happy to see the child-friendly concept being introduced more and more in health and education, he told journalists, following meetings with Minister of Education Hüseyin Çelik, who represents Van in Parliament, and Provincial Governor Niyazi Tanilir.

Mr. Gautam was following in the footsteps of former UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, who visited Van on June 17, 2003 for the launch of the UNICEF-backed campaign known as Haydi Kizlar Okula!  Thanks to the campaign, primary schools in Turkey have enrolled over a quarter of a million children, mostly girls, who would otherwise have been out of school.

Among the pupils at the school Mr. Gautam visited were several girls whose fathers had refused to send them to school until they were persuaded by campaign workers. For us, the girls’ education campaign is also a part of a worldwide campaign to reduce disparities and achieve the millennium goals, he pointed out.

We would like Turkey to play a leadership role which we can cite elsewhere - to be a country which inspires Asia and Africa and other parts of the world. In many respects, Turkey is already a leader … It shows what can be done.

Rights of the child

Mr. Gautam travelled to Van from Ankara, where he met Minister of Health Recep Akdag, Minister of Agriculture Mehmet Mehdi Eker and high-level officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Deputy Executive Director’s first ever visit to Turkey subsequently took him to Istanbul, where he participated in a round-table discussion with child members of the national Children’s Rights Commission.

UNICEF is working with the Turkish government agencies on a wide range of issues including parenting education, pre-school education, the consumption of iodised salt and the protection of working children, children deprived of parental care and children in contact with the law. Mr. Gautam repeatedly congratulated public officials, professionals, non-government organisations and volunteers on the work they were doing.

In general I find that good progress is being made towards meeting the standards of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Assistant Secretary-General told one press conference, underlining the parallel with the standards of the European Union which Turkey aspires to join.

Honour killings

Mr. Gautam also welcomed a circular issued by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on July 4 stressing the importance of combating violence against children and women, including the so-called honour killings of women whose public behaviour or relations with men are considered to have brought shame to their family.



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