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Posted at: Nov 25, 2017, 8:25 PM; last updated: Nov 25, 2017, 8:26 PM (IST)

Pollution stunting children’s growth: Top UNICEF official

Pollution stunting children’s growth: Top UNICEF official
Justin Forsyth.

Smita Sharma

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, November 25

Adding to the alarm bells on air crisis, a top UNICEF (United Nation’s Children’s Fund) official has said pollution is stunting children’s growth in India. Justin Forsyth, Deputy Executive Director Partnerships, UNICEF, was in India to release a multi-country survey report on children’s concerns.

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Speaking exclusively to The Tribune, Forsyth said pollution today not just creates health risks like asthma but also directly impacts development of brain in babies and young children.

“We now know that particles from pollution have disproportionate impact on the brain. Worrying thing is pollution combined with malnutrition and violence could have big impact on a child’s life forever,” said Forsyth.

Violence, sexual assault within families, child marriages, poverty, healthcare are the other big worries. These concerns along with child pornography and trafficking were discussed in a meeting with Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi.

The survey conducted among children in 14 countries highlights 96% of Indian respondents worried about violence against children. 94% of the children surveyed were also worried about mistreatment or bullying.

The survey also says 96% children worry about access to quality education, including little or no access to schools , teachers , archaic curriculum and lack of infrastructure. Despite a sample size of 1,000, UNICEF claims the data combined with continuing work the world body does in India is truly reflective.

Forsyth also met with several children in Jharkhand and state Chief Minister Raghubar Das. “With the Jharkhand CM we talked specifically about the challenge of malnutrition because figures for Jharkhand are higher than the national average,” said Forsyth.

Safe environment in Rakhine must before Rohingya repatriation 

At a time when a deal has been inked between Myanmar and Bangladesh towards repatriation of Rohingya refugees, UNICEF has expressed deep concerns about children affected in the crisis.

Justin Forsyth recently visited Rakhine state in Myanmar, the seat of exodus and Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh, one of the largest Rohingya refugee camps. He emphasises that any repatriation must be voluntary.

“We work with a lot of the children and lot of them that have come across the border into Bangladesh unaccompanied. Many of them saw their mothers raped, brothers and sisters burnt alive, their fathers killed. The level of violence has been truly shocking. Our concern is that nobody gets forced back into Myanmar. There must be a voluntary repatriation and safety in Rakhine state,” said Forsyth.

Advocating that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees be involved in any repatriation process, the UNICEF top official also appealed for increased aid and support from India and the global community.

“Challenge for Rohingya children both in Rakhine and at refugee camps is very high levels of malnutrition. Also outbreak of measles, diarrhoea. They are also deeply traumatised,” added Forsyth.

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