Michel Saint-Lot, UNICEF Representative in Serbia: UNICEF, FOR EVERY CHILD

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UNICEF works in 190 countries and territories, and some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the children who are most at risk and most in need. To save their lives. To defend their rights. To keep them safe from harm. To give them a childhood in which they’re protected, healthy and educated. To give them a fair chance to fulfill their potential — so that someday, they can help build a better world. “We cooperate with government organisations, as well as with civil society organisations,independent human rights institutions,the private sector and the media. At the same time, our task is also to be the voice of children – to point out the gaps, breaches and violations of child rights. “UNICEF in Serbia, as elsewhere in the world, focuses on supporting the government’s efforts to create a better and safer environment for every child in the country. We focus in particular on the realisation of the rights of the most vulnerable groups of children, so they can have the same opportunities as other children and reach their full potential,” says Michel Saint-Lot, UNICEF Representative in Serbia.

To what extent do the challenges faced by children around the world today differ from those that led to the founding of UNICEF in 1946?

— UNICEF was founded to meet the desperate needs of children whose lives had been torn apart by World War II. Seventy years on, UNICEF is still bringing hope to children whose lives are shaken by conflict and crisis, but its role in international development has evolved to become much broader. We advocate for children’s rights and, wherever needed, work to provide integrated services to children living in extreme poverty, affected by the growing effects of climate change, or discriminated against and excluded.

UNICEF has also been present in Serbia since its creation. How would you assess cooperation between UNICEF and our country in this historical context?

— We have always been a part of the history of this country. Interestingly, in August 1947, the former Yugoslavia was the first country in the world to receive UNICEF’s emergency shipments for children. Since then, and until the present day, UNICEF has helped in different ways. Up to the year 2000, we were focused on humanitarian aid for children. Since then, UNICEF has been providing systemic support to the government, working as partners towards the same goals; working to reach every child. We provide examples of how some things can change; we develop solutions and advocate for their implementation. It is then up to the authorities to introduce them into the system.

What do you consider as UNICEF’s greatest achievements in supporting the realisation of children’s rights in the 70 years of its existence?

— The number of children dying before they reach their fifth birthday has more than halved in the past 25 years alone. Millions of children have been lifted out of poverty. Millions more have gained the opportunity to get an education and develop their potential. We continue to work for every child – whoever he or she is, and wherever they live. These are, in my opinion, the types of achievements that UNICEF and its partners for over seven decades can be proud of, and I would like to highlight that such achievements would not have been possible without the generous contributions of our donors – bilateral, private sector, foundations, and individuals.

What are the most important objectives that UNICEF is striving to attain today, in cooperation with the Governmentof the Republic of Serbia?

— UNICEF entered a new five-year programme of cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Serbia in 2016. That programme sets out specific areas of work: access to quality and inclusive health services and education, child protection against violence, abuse and neglect, justice for children, monitoring of child rights and public advocacy, communication and social mobilization for child rights. We are placing particular emphasis on early childhood development, the social inclusion of the most vulnerable and marginalised children, and the prevention of violence against andamongst children. It is important to note that UNICEF does not work in isolation, rather as a member of the United Nations Country Team in Serbia. Its country programme of cooperation contributes to the agreed objectives set forth in the Government of Serbia and the United Nations Joint Development Partnership Framework 2016-2020.

How does UNICEF’s work in Serbia fit into the country’s European integration process and its path towardsachieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals?

— The UNICEF and the United Nations programmes of cooperation with the Government are fully aligned with the European Union accession priorities and with the agenda of the Sustainable Development Goals and related targets. It is in this context that UNICEF and the European Union are partnering to support the work of national authorities in promoting children’s rights, as part of the continuing reform process to harmonise national laws and policies with European Union standards and to localise the 2030 Agenda. Children and young people are integral to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals set out in the 2030 Agenda, which focus on reaching ALL children. Ultimately, progress in the condition of children is essential if we are to prevent state fragility and ensure long-term sustainable development, social cohesion, stability and human security.

Since its founding, UNICEF has been providing assistance to children and families in emergency situations. How is UNICEF helping refugee and migrant children today?

— UNICEF’s history is indeed linked to the unfortunate fate of children affected by emergencies all over the world, and also in Serbia, in the aftermath of World War II, during the Balkan crisis, and more recently during the 2014 floods. As for the current refugee and migrant crisis, hundreds of thousands of children have made their way to Europe. Every one of these children is in need of protection and is entitled to the rights guaranteed under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children who are stranded or on the move need protection, and families need to be kept together to protect and safeguard children. UNICEF is working with the Government of Serbia and other partners to ensure that all refugee and migrant children have access to learning, health, nutrition and protection services.

How much and in what way are the private and public sectors, and the citizens of Serbia generally, willing to help UNICEF achieve goals with their own donations and personal engagement?

— We are very proud of the way UNICEF in Serbia cooperates with the private and public sectors, and with the citizens of Serbia. Twenty per cent of our budget comes from donations given by companies and citizens of Serbia. We aim to emulate Croatia, where UNICEF’s programmes are nearly all funded from local donations from citizens and companies from the private and public sectors. Given the prevailing culture in Serbia of reaching out to those less fortunate, I am confident that we can achieve this in the near future!

How important are UNICEF National Ambassadors to the work being done in Serbia?

— UNICEF established the institution of the Goodwill Ambassador in 1953. Ambassadors use their talents and fame to fundraise and advocate for children and support UNICEF’s mission of ensuring every child’s right to health, education, equality and protection. Ana Ivanović and Aleksandar Saša Đorđević, our National Ambassadors, are excellent advocates for the rights of children, and they selflessly support UNICEF’s work in the country. Novak Đoković has become a global Ambassador for UNICEF and now promotes the rights of children around theworld, with particular emphasis on EarlyChildhood Development, whilst also continuing to support UNICEF in Serbia.

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