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Feb 25, 2004

UNICEF seeks help for indigenous children

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The United Nations Children’s Fund today released a report on the state of indigenous children around the world. The thirty-two page study, titled: “Ensuring the rights of indigenous children” reports on programmes being carried out in different countries that seek to put children at the front of development. And while Belize did not make it into the pages of the report, UNICEF country representative Nadya Vasquez says the social and economic conditions of the Maya residents of Toledo is cause for concern.

Nayda Vasquez, UNICEF Country Representative

“The report is not showing the particular situation of Belize. I think that is something that we must support in the case of UNICEF in Belize. I think that it is important to have more information about the situation that indigenous people have in the country. If we don’t have indicator information to produce indicators about the social situation that groups have, we cannot know what is the real situation that the people have or in what condition the people are living.”

“This report is calling for more attention about the situation that vulnerable children have in the world. All of the information at the global, regional, and national levels shows that the indigenous population is living in conditions of poverty. I think that we need to protect and defend the rights of our indigenous peoples. This is our mandate, or part of our mandate, because we are working in the protection of the rights of all of the children in the world without difference, social and economic difference. But I think that in the case of indigenous populations especially indigenous people we need to give them the right to live according with the human rights.”

But while Vasquez was generic in her statements about Belize’s indigenous people, the man who has been on the ground in Toledo, Project Officer Roy Bowen, says children must be at the front of any poverty alleviation initiative.

Roy Bowen, UNICEF Project Officer

“We are looking at children who we consider to be vulnerable. We get our information from the poverty assessment that tells us that. The last poverty survey showed that at least while thirty-three point five percent of the population is poor, thirty-nine percent of children are poor. And when you disaggregate that by district you see about eighty-four percent of the children in Toledo are poor. And so this is where we get the information from that we use to help us in raising awareness as to the situation with regards to children.”

“What we want to do is raise the awareness to people and get people to feel that they have an obligation to try to respond to this. And it’s not the responsibility solely of government, of UNICEF, it’s everybody that has to come together to try to solve this problem.”

Patrick Jones

“Should this be viewed as UNICEF going to bat for Maya children in Belize?”

Roy Bowen

“UNICEF bats for every child. I think every child across Belize, because we have to understand there are good children that UNICEF wants to keep in that situation that are doing very well in school, and those children who are not doing well, needs to be given attention. The idea as the Executive Director of UNICEF said is to try to put children in the forefront.”

The UNICEF report on the state of the world’s indigenous children is available at the UNICEF office on Coney Drive in Belize City.

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