MUMBAI, 10 November 2017 – Their Majesties the King and the Queen of the Belgians advocated for children’s right to play and learn during a cricket match with cricketer Virender Sehwag and boys and girls from two Mumbai schools at Mumbai Maidan Oval, India.
“No matter the country we live in, we have to ensure that children grow up in a safe family environment. We need to protect girls and boys from all kind of violence and harmful practices and prevent child maltreatment. As a UN Special Advocate, I attach importance to the Right to Education for all children,” said Her Majesty.
Girls are particularly vulnerable in India. Nearly one fourth of 20-24 year-old-women were married before they turned 18. Close to 12 per cent of girls are not attending upper primary school.  Around 4.5 percent of women age 15-19 experienced sexual violence.
“It is high time we empower our women and girls, and sports is a wonderful way of doing so,” said cricketer Virender Sehwag following the cricket match attended by Their Majesties. “While speaking with the children we learnt that UNICEF’s work with sport is grounded in its mission to ensure that every boy and girl irrespective of their ability and background have the right to play and participate in sports in a safe and healthy environment.”
Her Majesty Queen Mathilde had a closed-door meeting with school children from Maharashtra who discussed personal safety, the importance of life skills and adolescent empowerment, especially the empowerment of girls and prevention of child marriage.
“Child marriage negatively influences children’s rights to education, health and protection. These consequences especially impact the girl directly, but also her family and community. Girls and boys married as children more likely lack the skills, knowledge and job prospects needed to lift their families out of poverty. They are unable to contribute to their country’s social and economic growth,” said Her Majesty.
During her stay in Maharashtra, Her Majesty the Queen inaugurated a song about hand-washing. Coordinated by the University of Hasselt in collaboration with Belgian students and volunteers, the song was donated to UNICEF to serve as another creative tool to generate awareness around the already successful Swachh Bharat Mission (Clean India Mission) in the country. Queen Mathilde underlined the importance of good hygiene practices to increase school attendance and reduce the incidence of disease.
“Sustainable development can only be realized if children are healthy and are living in a safe environment. Quality education at school and at community level should pay attention to hygiene and handwashing. Good hygiene practices significantly reduce the incidence of several diseases. Something as simple as handwashing saves lives, “she said.
“We have to ensure that schools and communities are fully engaged in this process at all stages using participatory processes, local knowledge and tool. Through song and dance we can reach children and change behaviours. As a UN Special Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals, I support UNICEF in its efforts to promote widely this life-saving practice of washing hand with soap at critical times,” she added.
UNICEF works with schools to empower children as hygiene ambassadors within their families and communities. Children are catalysts and agents for change that can encourage community members to wash their hands at critical times.
Their Majesties are in India on a State Visit from 5 to 11 November 2017. During her stay, Queen Mathilde, in her capacity as Honorary Chairperson of UNICEF Belgium, had the opportunity to witness a full range of programmes where UNICEF supports the Indian Government to achieve results for children, notably in the areas of water and hygiene, child protection, child participation and girls’ empowerment.
The visit comes ahead of the first World Children’s Day set for November 20 to mark the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A day for children and by children, it aims to give a voice to the voiceless and allow children from around the world to take over key roles in media, politics, business, sport and entertainment to help save children’s lives, fight for their rights and fulfil their potential.
Note to Editor: (Data for the state of Maharashtra, India)
While the national average for literacy stands at 74 per cent, the literacy rate is higher in Maharashtra at 82.3 per cent. While 98 per cent children are enrolled in schools, 50 per cent of the out-of-school children belong to the Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes.
Maharashtra has shown rapid reduction of under five mortality rates in recent times. However every year, about 48,000 children die before their fifth birthday in Maharashtra, out of which 30,000 are newborns.
Reduction of Open Defecation
Rural Maharashtra accounts for seven per cent of the national Open Defecation load.
It also ranks at the fifth position in the country among states with the highest number of rural households without individual toilets.
An estimated 21 per cent of Zilla Parishad district) schools in the rural areas of the state lack
hand washing facilities.