‘Planners need to focus on child development’

August 16, 2016

Osama Makkawi

There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children,” said Nelson Mandela, the late president of South Africa. And indeed, nurturing children is a nation’s first priority - the guardians of its future.

Osama Makkawi, the Unicef representative in Oman, says that the onus of fighting for the cause of children lies with planners and social organisations.

Makkawi calls for the society to rise up and take note of the situation of its children and alert the government and concerned authorities to identify the areas of worry.

Makkawi points out the issue of child disability, which has not had satisfactory coverage in the media. “To better understand the magnitude of disability in Oman, there is a need for more comprehensive data.”

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Makkawi emphasises on a more active role that the media needs to play and urges agencies to operate more effectively. “Disability is still seen as a stigma in the society and it is the responsibility of policymakers to bring about a radical change in the mindsets of people.”

He stresses upon early childhood development. “All researches have proven that investment in the first three years of a child’s life is the best strategy for future human development. In addition, children from ages zero to six require specific attention in order to further contribute to the impressive human development. Oman is a great example of fast development,” says Makkawi.

According to World Health Organization reports, the incidences of childhood stunting, low birth weight and prevalence of anaemia in pregnant women have reduced significantly.

Breastfeeding and infant child development have decidedly improved conditions over the years, with Oman adopting a child-friendly system, says Makkawi.

In spite of the exemplary development progress that Oman has achieved during the last four decades, there are emerging challenges associated with this fast pace of development, says Makkawi. “These are challenges linked to new lifestyles, childcare, community awareness as well as the emergence of non-communicable diseases and obesity.”

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In the arena of education for the age group seven and above, Makkawi says, “Despite the almost universal primary education enrolment in Oman for both boys and girls (gender parity), early childhood education lags. Pre-primary enrolment is still below 40 per cent.”

In this regard, the Ministry of Education, in partnership with Unicef, has introduced ‘child-friendly schools’ since the past three years. These schools have been built upon the foundation of school-community partnership

They aim to create a space for learning and growth of children. “There is a need for good planning and efficiency,” says Makkawi. “We need qualitative data to understand the root cause of the challenges children face in Oman. The country already has a decent quantitative database in place. “The sultanate has decent health and education services. However, the question that is relevant for Oman’s development today is regarding the challenges of providing quality services and opportunities to all children.”