Healthy, educated, creative and socially conscious children are the pillars of all prosperous nations. That is why most developed nations of the world invest heavily in the growth and well-being of their children. Our success in building a just and prosperous New Nepal will also depend heavily on how wisely we invest in our future generation.
Despite many challenges, Nepal is making good progress on the survival, development and protection of children. Children of Nepal today are healthier, more educated, and more knowledgeable about the world, than in any previous generation.
Yet we also have the contrasting situation of many children who are economically exploited, physically abused, socially ostracized and politically manipulated. It is a blemish on the New Nepal that these negative phenomena are on the rise rather than declining.
On the positive side, Nepal is making good progress on child survival. Forty years ago, 400000 children were born in Nepal every year. Of them, 100000 used to die before the age of 5. Last year, nearly 800000 children were born, but less than 50 thousand died. Thanks to such progress, Nepal is on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal for reducing under-5 mortality.
However, the continuing toll of nearly 50,000 child deaths annually, or 136 children dying every day, is utterly unacceptable in this day and age, especially since most of these deaths are readily preventable.
But death is only the tip of the iceberg. Behind these deaths, much larger number of children are sick, malnourished, disabled, and exploited. To overcome these, and to build a strong foundation for a New Nepal, we must start investment in children when they are very young.
Consider this: 80 % of human brain is formed in the first 18 months of a child’s life. Whether a child will grow to live up to his or her full human potential, or the child will be condemned to be a slow learner, and poor achiever in life, is largely determined in the first few years of a child’s life, before the child enters school.
The damage caused by malnutrition, infection and poor child care in early childhood often lasts for the whole life, and it cannot be easily reversed later. That is why most developed countries invest heavily in early child development. So should Nepal.
Education is an area of visible progress in Nepal. Nearly 90 percent of children enroll in primary school. While the quality of education leaves much to be desired, it is encouraging to note that we are close to reaching gender parity, with 48 % of students being girls.
But the bad news is that only 38 % of children from the indigenous communities, 18 % of Dalits and a mere 1% of disabled children are enrolled in primary school. This is totally unacceptable in today’s Nepal that subscribes to the universal principles of human rights, non-discrimination and inclusive democracy.
A huge problem in education in Nepal is the attempt by all political parties to abuse students and teachers for partisan political purposes. More than in any other country I know, Nepal’s political parties consider educational institutions as recruiting ground for their cadres. Previously, this was confined to the college and university level, but increasingly some political parties are infiltrating even at the high school and primary school levels.
It is not uncommon to see school children coerced or enticed into joining political rallies, demonstrations and strikes. Political parties and their fraternal organizations call bandhs, chakka-jams, closure of schools for prolonged periods disrupting children’s education. At the behest of political parties, students’ and teachers’ unions get involved in political activism that has little to do with educational issues. The call to consider schools and health centres as zones of peace is readily ignored for the sake of political expediency.
Unlike children in most developed countries, Nepali children are prematurely coerced into becoming political activists. As in other mature democracies, we must leave politics to adults, and allow children to be children!
The New Nepal must help liberate children from being political stooges or economic slaves or social outcasts.
Let children carry books in their backs, not bricks or guns. Let us rejoice in seeing our children smiling, singing, studying, and not shouting political slogans. Let children be harbingers of peace, not propagators of violence.
Let us remember that children have only one chance to grow. If they miss that chance, they can be doomed for life. So let children be children again in the New Nepal.
(Author is the former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.)
Source: www.myrepublica.com, Published On:2009-06-12