President of the Lao Women’s Union and Vice-President of the National Commission for the Advancement of Women, Mothers and Children,
Your Excellency, Mr. Alounkeo Kittikhoun,
Minister to the Prime Minister’s Office and Vice President of the NCAWMC,
Mme. Bandith Pathoumvanh, Vice President of the Lao Women’s Union
Distinguished government representatives from the national and provincial levels,
Fellow development partners and civil society organizations,
Representatives of the private sector, dear UNICEF colleagues
I am honored to be here today representing the United Nations in Lao PDR to celebrate World Children’s Day, a day that in the current scenario is even more important to mark, as the COVID-19 is severely affecting children all around the world, and Lao PDR is no exception.
The theme this year is “Reimagine Lao Generation 2030”, and this could not be more pertinent as we move into a post-pandemic world where there are many competing priorities and limited resources to accomplish them.
Sharing with us your many asks, proposals and commitments this afternoon are therefore highly appreciated and encouraging and indeed also serves to show the impact of this event in every province, among government officials and among youth alike!
Children are being affected by the spread of the virus but also by the inequalities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Children from the poorest families who are least equipped to protect themselves in times of crisis are suffering this double burden.
We cannot allow this to happen as this threatens not only to have lifelong consequences for these children but will have an impact in the overall development of the country as well.
Investing in actions for children is investing in the forthcoming 9th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP). The 9th NSEDP has a clear focus on quality human resources to build a workforce with capacities to compete in a global economy, while providing livelihoods and boosting jobs and equitable growth in the country that can benefit all Lao people, large and small.
The process of capacity strengthening starts with children – their good health, education and protection. The productivity of young people depends on early life experiences of adequate nutrition, responsive care, transition into school, quality learning environments, safety and protection. If a nurturing care is not provided at early stages in the development of the child, then the impact will become evident later in life.
The great news is that important progress has been done over the last year in key areas of children’s wellbeing such as child mortality, stunting, skilled birth attendance, the coverage of water and sanitation, primary education reach and attendance, and to some extent in reducing violence against children.
However, children in Lao PDR continue to experience significant, and often multidimensional levels of deprivation and the human capital remains lower than that of international peers. Moreover, the investment in health and education, which are two key pillars of human capital is low.
The low investment coincides with a window of opportunity that the country is currently facing with prospects of ripening a dividend from the demographic transition expected over the foreseeable future, which means that soon Laos will have the largest ever generation of working people with the relative fewer number of dependent children. Theoretically, this means an opportunity to increase the living standards for all.
So, the question now is, will this generation, with the current level of investment have obtained the skills and capacities to lead the transition for the country towards greater economic growth?
In order to leverage this demographic window, investments should be made in policies that prioritize critical interventions and programmes for children, adolescents and young people. Investing in quality education starting with early childhood, in primary health and nutrition services, and in skills and competencies development is crucial if the country wants to take advantage of the demographic transition and the dividend this can present, and be in a better position to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals that leaves no one behind.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The United Nations in Lao PDR play a critical role in supporting the Government in these priority areas. The UN development system combines expertise across key sectors of health, education, nutrition, protection and governance to support this agenda.
Over the past decades, agencies such as UNICEF, WHO, UNFPA, UNDP, the WFP, IFAD and FAO, just to mention a few, have been working with the Government and partners to improve the health and nutrition of women and children, to ensure more children are in school and learning and that they are protected from violence.
This was seen in the response to COVID-19 where the United Nations Country Team took concrete action in responding to the pandemic working hand in hand with the Government to strengthen its response, providing personal protective equipment, providing the population with messages on prevention and response, ensuring distance schooling for children to continue their learning path and promoting hygiene practices among others…
In short, human capital and human rights, including child rights are part of our DNA.
The UNCT works as one to help the Government and people of Lao PDR fight poverty by ensuring a rights-based approach to development, supporting the sustainable use of natural resources and preservation of cultural heritage for the benefit of also future generations, and promoting human rights, gender equality and good governance. The UN focuses its assistance on the most vulnerable and poor, in particular women, children and youth. And all of this is foundational, creating the ecosystem, or the enabling environment, needed to support children and to move forward the child rights agenda.
In particular UNICEF is taking action day by day to strengthen health, education and protection systems aimed at providing better services for children in need. This has translated, for example, in the strengthening of the cold chain needed to deliver vaccines, or in the work to create quality learning environments.
As emphasized also by my UNICEF colleague, Ms. Britto this morning, if we are to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we rely on the children of today as they will be the leaders of tomorrow, and there is no better way of building a country fit for our children than working hand in hand with them, involving them in the decision-making process, listening to what they have to say.
We, the adults, need to hear from you, the children, of the world you want, what is the Laos you want. Together we can work towards building that future for the country and its beautiful and diverse population.
In closing, allow me to acknowledge the strong ownership and work of the Government towards achieving not 17, but 18 SDGs! The task you have ahead is not easy, but the UN stands by your side to overcome all the challenges we might find on our way. We will achieve the SDGs by working together in partnership and by leaving no one behind.