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Morocco - First Islamic conference on the child opens in Rabat

Up to 4.3 million children die annually from preventable diseases

A landmark Islamic conference opened in Rabat on Monday to draw up concrete measures aimed at alleviating the sufferings of more than a quarter of the world's children, who are burdened by poverty, malnutrition and disease.

According to a statement issued by UNICEF, more than 200 representatives of Islamic countries and international organizations are attending the First Islamic Ministerial Conference on the Child, which reflects the recognition by Islamic governments of the need for urgent solutions to the challenges facing children in their countries.

The three-day meeting has been co-organized by the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), UNICEF and the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), in response to a special resolution on "Child Care and Protection in the Islamic World" passed unanimously by OIC member states at the 2003 summit in Malaysia.

"OIC countries are building upon the strength of Islamic values - self-help, solidarity and protection of the vulnerable - to reaffirm their commitments to children," said OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddine Ihsanoglu, according to the statement.

OIC member states account for a quarter of the world's 2.3 billion children - in nations spanning Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The conference will focus on issues specific to OIC member countries under four major themes: "health and HIV/AIDS; quality education and culture; protection against abuse, exploitation and violence; and mobilizing resources," UNICEF said.

"By ensuring the well-being and unleashing the potential of the 600 million children in Islamic countries, we will make a major contribution to peace, prosperity and progress for generations to come," said Dr. Abdel-Aziz Othman Altwaijri, director general of ISESCO. "We are confident that the momentum demonstrated here in Rabat will result in a new determination and a new sense of urgency to address the remaining challenges."

In OIC countries, up to 4.3 million children under five die each year from preventable disease and malnutrition - over 60 percent of them before reaching their first birthday, UNICEF said. It added that up to six million children under five suffer from malnutrition in the form of stunting, with low height for their age. At least 23 percent of the total population have no access to safe drinking water, and 45 percent lack adequate sanitation. Children in sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, are facing a deadly combination of armed conflict, HIV/AIDS and poverty, the statement said.

"There are many noteworthy examples of progress for children in Islamic countries, but the situation for a disproportionate number of them continues to be a cause for grave concern," said UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Rima Salah, who is heading the UNICEF delegation to the meeting.

Active partnerships among OIC governments, as well as with regional and international financial institutions, civil society and the private sector, will be essential to provide the necessary funding and technical expertise to make a real difference for children.

Casablanca,11 07 2005
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