This year marks the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. How UNICEF will celebrate this anniversary, what positive developments in the field of child rights protection were noted in our country during this period, and how this organization engages with Tajikistan in regards to children’s protection, says UNICEF official representative Mr Luciano Calestini.

This year marks 30th year anniversary of Convention of the Right of the Child. How will this anniversary be notable in the work of UNICEF in Tajikistan?

Thirty years ago, world leaders made a historic commitment to the world’s children by adopting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – equivalent to an international law on childhood. The world has changed since the adoption of the convention. The rise of digital technology, environmental changes, prolonged conflict and mass migration present new sets of challenges to childhood. Today’s children, including in Tajikistan face new threats to their rights – access to social services, opportunities to grow healthy, learn and develop in a safe environment, be included within their communities and participate, acquire skills and competencies that allow them transition from childhood into the adulthood. 

Tajikistan was one of the first countries from former Soviet Union members who ratified the Convention of the Rights of the Child, despite the massive challenges facing the country in that period.

Although the world has changed since then, child rights have not changed. They have no expiry date. In Tajikistan, together with our partners, we are continuously working to create and adopt policies, laws and legislations that protect children, provide them with an environment to learn, grow and develop, provide opportunities for them to unlock their abilities and potential.

The 30th anniversary of the CRC allows us to both reflect on the past, what was achieved in the country, but it is also a good time for us to look to the future. Our work is not done yet and we have a lot of work still to do in Tajikistan, including creating and implementing the first ever national SDG programme for children in Tajikistan.

UNICEF will celebrate Parenting Month

Which are some of the areas of work for this year and upcoming several years considered as priority areas for UNICEF Tajikistan?

Our core work around the world, including in Tajikistan, remains the same. We are still committed to reach the most disadvantaged children and adolescence, protect their rights, support their health and nutrition, ensure vaccination coverage, safe water and sanitation, quality healthcare for mothers and babies, access to education, learning and protection of children from violence and exploitation. 


However, there are some of new areas of research of interest taking place around the world. With the recent advancements in neurological research in early child development, UNICEF globally and locally is increasing efforts with partners in an area called Early Childhood Development. There is increasing evidence which demonstrate that early childhood interventions, in the first 1,000 days, are of critical importance because they help mitigate the impact of future adverse experiences which, if not addressed, lead to poor health, poor educational attainment, economic dependency, increased violence and crime, greater substance abuse and depression – all of which add to the cost and burden in society.

Another area of work that is also important and closely relates to early childhood development is parenting. The role of parents cannot be underestimated in the life of the children, especially in the early stages of life. We recognize that being a parent is one of the toughest jobs in the world and our work will aim at introducing and advocating family friendly policies, improve parenting skills and provide information about important aspects of parenting. I would like to note that this year, for the first time UNICEF globally will be celebrating Parenting Month. My colleagues from UNICEF are working hard to make available in the Russian language the Parenting Hub, which should be available next couple of weeks. Together with UNWomen and UNFPA, we are also supporting a local group TajikMama to organize a forum on parenting, which will take place on 15th of June in Dushanbe.

We are also noting the need to increase focus on adolescent mental health, skills development and participation. Around 70% of the Tajik population is under 30 years of age, and according to a labour survey conducted in 2017, around half a million young Tajiks 15-24 are neither in school or work. Ensuring adolescents and youth are equipped to make the transition from school to work is a huge opportunity for Tajikistan. Consultations and dialogue with young people are vital in that effort. New ways to engage young people are showing promise in amplifying their voices and connecting their needs to how social policy is developed. In parallel, most vulnerable adolescents and youth should be empowered with competencies for active civic participation in the life of society at family, school and community levels.

All of these efforts have one big goal – to increase the health and skills of adolescents and youth, who will be a driving force for a positive social and economic change in the country.

Every child has the right ...

Which are some of the positive progress made on rights of the children after Tajikistan ratified CRC in 1993?

Tajikistan has come a long way since independence and the impact of the civil war in the 1990s. Our work back then was focused on humanitarian assistance, emergency response in health, education, water and sanitation, provision of essential commodities for families whose lives was touch by the civil war. One of the first important steps taken by the Government of Tajikistan was setting up a National Commission on the rights of the children, which is currently lead by deputy PM Mr Azim Ibrohim.

One of the key rights of the child, is the right for survival. Tajikistan has made huge progress on this since independence and has reduced its under 5 mortality rate from over 100 out of 1,000 in 1993 to 33 per 1,000 in 2017. That still means more than 20 children under five die every day across the country, so there is a lot of work still to be done.

Another key area of work is immunizing children. It is a proven and cost-effective public health intervention, saving the lives of millions of children and protecting millions more from illness and disability. And I am glad to say that vaccination coverage is high in Tajikistan. According to the DHS 2017, almost 97% of children between the ages of 12 months to 35 months have vaccination cards, 90% of the children between age of 12-23 months have received all basic vaccinations at the time Demographic Health Survey was conducted. But as you can see, there are still children that we need to reach.

Article 28 of the convention states that “every child has a right to education..”. Our work has always focused in supporting our counterparts to strengthen quality and access to education, especially access to early childhood education. Since early 2000, Tajikistan has managed to double the number of children who have access to pre-primary education centers. Large efforts have also been made to increase the number of children with disabilities who access social services including education. The latest data available indicates that since early 2000, the number of children with disabilities are enrolled in mainstream schools nearly doubled to almost 9,000. 


Last year, Tajikistan signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. And this is also very important in terms of protecting the rights of children. What important areas should be covered first?

In the decades that UNICEF has been working on this issue with government around the world on this issue, it was always clear that the most important investment we can make together is to reduce and remove the stigma associated with being a person with disability. That starts with the families, their immediate communities and public, opinions and attitude towards those boys and girls that are part of all our families. It is an area of work that is not complete in any country of the world, including in Tajikistan. So the number one priority in this area is to encourage people to think how they view people with disabilities, to encourage to bring those children out from the shadows as brothers, sisters and neighbors. It is important for everybody to recognize that those children have the same values as any other child. Obviously, services need to be available to support the growth and development of those children as they become young adults. That includes health services, access to education and other social services they require. Currently there are almost 30,000 children identified and who are receiving support from the government. There are 9,000 children with disabilities in public schools. Both of those are great start. However, if we apply global statistics for prevalence of disabilities to the population of Tajikistan, it is clear that there are tens of thousand other children with disabilities that we don’t know about and there are still living in the shadows. Enabling those children to enjoy rich and fulfilled lives is what signing and ratifying CRPD is about.

“Business as usual will not get us to the finishing line”

As far as we were informed, UNICEF Tajikistan working with Government of Tajikistan to prepare a national programme for children? What will this programme look like?  How important is it for Tajikistan to adopt this programme?

UNICEF’s work is driven by two key commitments: – the CRC, which was adopted in 1989, and now the Sustainable Development Goals 2030.  

Tajikistan has been very progressive and ambitious on its strategic planning across many sectors. For children alone there are more than 20 national strategies and action plans. This is great, and provides a unique opportunity to analyze and consolidate those very ambitious plans under the umbrella of the SDGs and NDS. The idea is to emerge with one clearly articulated and costed programme for children that takes us all the way to 2030, with comprehensive targets, and which ensures no child is left behind. 19 percent of SDG indicators directly relate to children….if we achieve the SDGs for children, we have a great chance to achieve them for everyone.

Why adoption of this programme is important for Tajikistan?

It is important for two reasons.

Firstly, business as usual will not get us to the finishing line by 2030. We need to think beyond simply continuing what has worked in the past. To reach the children still left behind we will need new approaches, new partnerships, new investors. And there is less than 12 years to go….the clock is ticking.

Secondly, Tajikistan has the chance to show to the rest of the world how to do it. And if Tajikistan can do this, with all the challenges it faces – geographic, economic, social - then we can set an example to the rest of the world that anything is possible for children if we have the will and work hard.

Is there any other countries that have adopted similar programmes for children? If not, why is it important for Tajikistan to be first to work in this area?

To our knowledge, no other country has attempted to achieve such a programme dedicated for children on a national scale. There are of course many countries who develop and implement large national programmes by sector, but to my knowledge none have attempted something this comprehensive.

In Tajikistan, the issue of children of migrants is very sensitive. Recently, these children who were left in the care of the government, were returning to the families. But this is a double edge sword – as families whom children are returned are often grandfathers and grandmothers who might not able to financially take care of children. From other side, the child in boarding schools will not feel love and care from his family. What is the role of the government in this regard? It seems that those families should be supported financially.

Based on decades of work in this area, we know the best place for a child is to be with his or her family. And in fact this is one of the rights enshrined in CRC – every child has right to grow up in a loving and supportive family environment. Even children who have returned from outside of Tajikistan, including those who might have had particularly difficult experiences, have the potential to resume their childhoods if the right support is available. And wherever possible, that should be in a family setting.

That of course will mean some families who are receiving children will need extra support – financial, or information, or help with access to services. And we are committed to work with government institutions to make sure those families will have all the support they need to provide a loving and nurturing and safe environment for every child.

How important is it role of the father in upbringing of the child? How mothers can influence fathers to spend more time with the child?

The father’s role is as important as the mothers in the family. Thinking of my own child, my wife and I have realized that we offer different things to our child, we bring different things to the table, we complement each other. It is up to each family to work out for itself the role each caregiver will take. Some families will decide one caregiver will spend most of the time at work, providing financial support, and the other will focus on upbringing of child in the context of the family. Other families will choose those responsibilities in balance. There is no perfect scenario, there is no one size fits all, but there is no question about the role of fathers in raising their children, it is critical, particularly because children emulate the behaviors of their parents. And if a son or daughter sees a kind and loving husband, there is a much greater chance that they will grow up to be kind and loving parents themselves.