By Sharmina Manandhar
On her maiden visit to Nepal as UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Ms. Yoka Brandt met with Prime Minister Mr. Sushil Koirala, inaugurated the newly renovated Nepal Country Office, as well as visited Maiti Nepal, a UNICEF partner working to help victims of sex trafficking.
In a very cordial and open meeting with the Prime Minister, Ms. Brandt expressed UNICEF’s unwavering support for the children and women of Nepal.
Ms. Hanaa Singer, Country Representative for Nepal, was also present at the meeting, where Mr. Koirala expressed the Government’s commitment to peace, stability and a democratic constitution that includes children’s issues within a year.
In response to Ms. Brandt’s request to include children’s issues in the Nepali Constitution being drafted by the second Constituent Assembly, Mr. Koirala said that he is “assured” that such would be the case because of UNICEF’s continuous efforts to promote children’s rights in Nepal. UNICEF has a history of more than four decades of work in the country.
He also stressed on the importance of investing in children, who represent about 40 percent of the Nepali population.
Mr. Koirala said that his foremost duty is the development of the nation so that 3 million Nepalis who are abroad for employment could return home. He also envisioned a new Nepal that not only provides jobs to its citizens but also to others.
At the meeting, Ms. Singer lauded the Government’s leadership in the national Open Defecation Free movement to improve hygiene and sanitation. With its commitment and efforts towards universal sanitation coverage by 2017, Nepal is a role model to the world, said Ms. Singer. Seven million Nepalese now have access to a toilet because of this campaign.
She also expressed UNICEF’s commitment to support the government in its ongoing efforts to improve the lives of Nepali children, adolescents and women.
“You can count on us,” she said. “We will always be there for you.”
At Maiti Nepal, Ms. Brandt witnessed the Dance for Life performance by children and adolescents from the organization, in addition to interacting with them about the life skills they have learnt including on HIV prevention. Approximately 12,000 children are trafficked to India annually, mainly for sexual exploitation. More recently, the expansion of the informal sex industry in Nepal has resulted in a rapid growth in the trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation. UNICEF is working hand in hand with the government, judiciary, law enforcement, partners and with community based organizations to identify children and women at risk, to provide services and access to justice, to build child protection systems that prevent trafficking, child marriage, child labor and other socially harmful practices against women and children.
Ms. Brandt also participated in the earthquake walk of the famous Patan Durbar Square, a UNESCO heritage site. The walk was facilitated by National Society for Earthquake Technology and provided information on prevailing risks that threaten the area and its inhabitants. Kathmandu Valley has been identified as one of the most vulnerable cities in the world in terms of earthquake. Such high risk is mainly because of the poor construction practices, unplanned and haphazard development activities and lack of information and preparedness. Earthquake walks attempt to identify, visualize and perceive the prevailing risks, so that subsequent steps to improve the safety level could be put in place more accurately. During the walk, Ms. Brandt also learned about the cultural heritage of the ancient plaza that includes a royal palace, temples, idols, open courts, water fountains and more.
The earthquake walk was followed by visit to the UNICEF Nepal Country Office, where Ms. Brandt was welcomed by the staff clad in diverse traditional attires, with an auspicious “Sagun” (blessing) ceremony.
Ms. Brandt also learned about the work UNICEF has been doing for the past decades in Nepal as well as how it seeks to take it forward in the future. UNICEF has contributed towards many of the development strides the country has taken, from the provision of basic services and immunization in the 60s and 70s; early childhood rights, education and protection in the 80s; empowering communities, more so women, to be more self-sufficient in the 90s; and an emphasis on protection during the conflict period in the 2000s. Today, UNICEF also seeks to promote innovation and participation of children and adolescents in the planning processes of government and civil society. This visit was capped by interaction with staff, where Ms. Brandt shared insights and perspectives on new and emerging global priorities and trends impacting children.