On First Visit to Saudi Arabia, UNICEF Regional Director discusses children’s rights with King Abdullah
The situation of children in Saudi Arabia was at the center of discussions that UNICEF Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa Sigrid Kaag had with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and other senior Saudi officials.
“We are encouraged by the progress that Saudi Arabia has made in protecting children’s rights and are confident that more will be done to ensure that all children are safe from harm, abuse and exploitation,” Kaag said at the end of a two-day visit to the Saudi Kingdom.
According to national statistics, 93 per cent of Saudi children are attending primary school and the country is on track to achieve universal primary education by the year 2015.
UNICEF estimates the under-five mortality rate in Saudi Arabia at 25 per 1,000 live births, a significant decrease from 44 per 1,000 live births in 1990.
More needs to be done, however, to address issues including the protection of children from trafficking, violence and harmful practices like early marriage. “We welcome the resolve of Saudi authorities in addressing the issue of child marriage,” said Kaag.
Kaag’s talks with King Abdullah highlighted the vision of the Kingdom on children’s rights in Islam, in particular the ongoing discussion on child marriage. “We are gratified by the assurances given by His Majesty the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques and senior officials on the prominent place of children’s welfare and protection, in particular addressing child marriage,” she said.
UNICEF works closely with the Saudi government and other partners to fully realize children’s rights through addressing youth and adolescent needs and issues, preventing domestic violence, abuse, and child trafficking, and protecting children who come into contact with the law.
In addition to her meeting with the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Kaag also conferred with HRH Prince Naïf bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, HRH Prince Saud Al Faisal, HE Dr. Yousef Al Otheimin, HE Faisal bin Muamer, as well as other senior government officials and representatives of non-governmental organizations.
Also on the agenda was a roundtable meeting with HRH Princess Adelah Bint Abdellah and prominent Saudi women working in development areas. Kaag also met with the Saudi Human Rights Association and its President, Dr. Mufleh Al Kahtani, and held discussions with Prince Nayef University on cooperation in the area of knowledge and exchange of information,
The Regional Director briefed counterparts on UNICEF’s ongoing humanitarian and development programmes in the region, including in Sudan, the occupied Palestinian Territory, Iraq and Yemen.
Throughout years of partnership, the Saudi government and private donors have contributed generously to UNICEF’s mission. On the occasion of this visit, UNICEF and the Saudi Relief Committee for Afghanistan signed a six-month agreement on polio eradication. Thanks to a generous donation of USD 1 million, UNICEF will be able to provide polio vaccines to 3.8 million Afghani children and will help them enjoy a healthier life. The visit was also marked with the launch of DevInfo, a data monitoring system on the state of children in Saudi Arabia, in partnership with the Saudi National Committee for Child Welfare (SNCCW). "Saudi Arabia has already met or even surpassed the set targets for a number of the Millennium Development Goals while others will be met well ahead of schedule.” said Kaag. “We are very confident that better data collection through DevInfo will help boost needed efforts in the crucial areas of children and women’s rights,” she added. DevInfo is a database system which monitors progress towards the Millennium Development Goals. It maintains indicators by time periods and geographic areas to monitor commitments to sustained human development.
UNICEF’s support also includes developing youth empowerment programmes with emphasis on healthy life-skills notably in the areas of HIV and AIDS prevention and the fight against drug abuse.