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Egypt made substantial progress in interventions on early childhood development, UNICEF’s Bruno Maes tells Ahram Online

Ahram Online, Tuesday 23 Oct 2018
 Bruno Maes
Representative of UNICEF in Egypt Bruno Maes
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The UN day marks the anniversary of the entry of the UN chart into force in 1945. With the ratification of this founding document by the majority of its signatories, including the five permanent members of the security Council, the United Nations officially came into being.

On the occasion of the celebration of the United day in 24 October the UN conducted a series of interviews exclusively for Ahram Online.  

In 2018, UNICEF launched its new Country Programme Document (CPD) 2018-2022 that provides the framework for UNICEF’s work with the Government of Egypt for the next five years, in line with the Sustainable Development Strategy (SDS): Egypt Vision 2030 which represents a foothold on the way towards inclusive development.

Mr. Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Egypt is giving the highlights and priorities of UNICEF in Egypt.

Q: Developing a new CPD is a key moment for a Country Office. How did you lead this process?

The process of designing and elaborating a Country Program document that meets the priorities of Egypt and its global commitments, aligned with the SDGs and the Egypt’s Vision 2030 as well as UNICEF’s Global Goal Areas, was a long one, it started in 2016.

The process was largely based on consultations with several line Ministers and Government Institutions including the Ministry of Education and Technical Education (MoETE), the Ministry of Youth and Sports (MoYS), the Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP), the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), the National Population Council (NPC), the National Council for Women (NCW) as well as faith-based organizations, who are all leading partners in the implementation of this CPD. We have planned and completed with the support of all relevant Egyptian partners a successful visit by UNICEF Executive Board last May 2017, on which their approval of our proposed CPD was largely dependent”, said Bruno Maes, UNICEF Representative in Egypt.

In the past few months of 2018, UNICEF staff were immersed in meetings and discussions with the relevant counterparts, ending with the signature of Bi-Annual Workplans with around 15 Governmental partners.

These are partnerships that have been developed over years and throughout previous Country Programmes; and today we are pleased to be building on them to address emerging as well as continuing priorities set by the Government of Egypt.

Q: Egypt is facing a wide array of challenges, especially when it comes to children. How do you assess the needs?

In this country of more than 100 million inhabitants, there are about 13 million (12.9 to be precise) children under 5 as per census 2017. And with the demographic explosion, this figure is expected to rise. Egypt is facing multiple challenges, marked by the consequences of exploding demographics, poor quality of health services, lack of adequate nutrition and insufficiently stimulating, nurturing and responsive environments. In addition, the economic downturn during recent years has left many families in monetary poverty often adopting negative coping strategies putting children at a higher risk of neglect and exploitation.

However, over the past two decades, Egypt has made substantial progress in interventions related to Early Childhood Development, including progress in health services as well as establishment of a kindergarten department in the Ministry of Education and Technical Education guiding the scaling-up of quality education for children aged 4-5 years old. This is in addition to the current efforts to develop a set of national strategies aiming for child and family wellbeing.

In a context where 27.8% of the population suffer monetary poverty, and where multidimensional poverty affects 29.5% of children, social inclusion is of course a priority for UNICEF’s work as much as it is for the Government of Egypt.

Q: On Social inclusion, for example, on which aspects is UNICEF focusing its action?

UNICEF’s support to the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) system of Takaful and Karama cash transfer programme led by the Ministry of Social Solidarity is at the core of our priorities for the next two years, continuing to make use of international expertise in this area including South-South cooperation with Institution from Brazil per example. The use of technological platforms such as the newly launched EgySDGInfo mobile application and the SDG observatory for monitoring progress on SDGs is another key activity to be sustained with our partner CAPMAS. Our work on social protection for the coming two years will also prioritize the focus on the initiation and support of new innovative studies that contribute to data availability and analysis for more inclusive and equitable decision making; entering into new areas such as Public Finance for Children working for the first time with the Ministry of Finance.

Q: Other key issues are malnutrition and the protection of Children in Egypt.

On the child survival and development front, we want to respond to the double burden of malnutrition (21 % of stunted children and around 15% suffering from obesity), the low rate of children under 6 months being exclusively breastfed (only 13%), and the low rate of school readiness.

UNICEF is promoting a cross-cutting approach on Early Childhood Development (ECD). We advocated for ECD as a comprehensive approach and it has occupied an important place in the Government of Egypt’s agenda. ECD is a cross-cutting priority in all UNICEF’s interventions on health, nutrition, education and child protection. The development of early learning and child development standards through cross-sectoral coordination will be a key milestone to be achieved during the coming two years with a range of key partners.

Ending Violence Against Children is another integrated intervention and priority in order to reduce the acceptance of all forms of violence at homes, schools and the society. As we all know, the prevalence of disciplinary violence is high with 93% of children aged 1-14 who have been subject to physical or psychological violence. In addition, the prevalence of other harmful violent practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) affects 61% of girls aged 15-17. This entails protective as well as preventive measures and a costed development strategy of the system that includes the strengthening of laws, policies, standards, as well as child-friendly justice system, and accountable social workforce to protect children -including children on the move- from violence. UNICEF is supporting NCCM on the National Taskforce on Ending Violence Against Children, monitoring the national EVAC framework launched by NCCM, this year.

Q: Last but not least, the Education sector is also facing major challenges. What is UNICEF response to them?

UNICEF’s approach on learning is triggered by the current situation at hand in which there is a youth bulge of adolescents, and despite the remarkable progress by Egypt in access to education, the most deprived children are still likely to be out of school. Children with disabilities are also still disadvantaged in accessing education; and the education system is also under pressure with the influx of refugee and asylum seekers who are joining the education sector.

The quality of learning is a challenge that still persist. Guided by the regional Life skills and Citizenship Education Initiative (LSCE), UNICEF is proud to be part of the Education transformation initiative led by the Minister of Education, I am referring to the education 2.0 Reform Process. Moreover, our Inclusive Education model elaborated with the MoETE, continues to grow and expand into more public schools with the support of the EU. Our work targeting, building employability, entrepreneurship and life skills among youth and adolescents continues in partnership with the MoYS.

UNICEF will continue to promote and use innovative, and holistic approaches in partnership with the Government of Egypt, to address the priorities I just mentioned, while continuing to communicate and advocate on the situation and rights of children.

This year 2018 we officially start the implementation of our five-year country programme with full commitment to work with the relevant line ministries, councils, UN agencies and developmental partners to make an immediate as well as sustainable impact on the lives of the most disadvantaged children in Egypt. 

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