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OpEd: On Parenting

Opinion Editorial by Dr Edward Addai, UNICEF Representative to the Maldives.

26 June 2024, MVT 15:13
UNICEF Representative to Maldives Dr Edward Addai.-- Photo: UNICEF
26 June 2024, MVT 15:13

As a father myself, I can say that parenting with all its surprises has been one of the most rewarding journeys I have gone through in life. But parenting is not always easy. Evolving needs of children, shifts in family dynamics, economic pressures, societal expectations, and the rapid pace of change in our environment and world can have impacts on how parents raise their children.

Maldives is a unique case where we have done extremely well in tackling the bigger blocks in children’s rights. For instance, we have significantly decreased child and maternal mortality, achieved universal primary education, and sustained coverage of childhood immunization at 95%. This however means, we are now left with more complex issues and emerging challenges for parents and caregivers to navigate as they bring their children up in an everchanging world.

Several issues can conspire to make parenting very challenging today, such as the changing family structure that is becoming increasingly nuclear compared to the olden days, social issues such as overcrowding and lack of adequate housing for children to play, learn and grow up in, the high cost of living which forces both parents to work full time, a lot of the time in work environments that do not offer flexible, child-friendly policies, and the increasing digital nature of our world which poses a unique set of risks for the healthy development of children and young people.

One thing is obvious despite all these factors – it is that we all want what’s best for our children. We look forward to the day that our children would say their first words and take their first steps. We look forward to our child’s first day in school and are proud of our child’s achievements both academically, and in sports and other activities. We also look forward to our child’s progression throughout life including becoming responsible and successful adults that contribute positively to their communities.

But to navigate the parenting journey through the array of today’s many risks and issues, parents need support. This is why, at UNICEF we have prioritized working with the Government and partners to equip parents and caregivers with evidence-backed knowledge, skills and tools that can help them provide their children with the love and care they need to not only survive but thrive.

Last year, to kickoff the work of our Joint Positive Parenting Programme “Beleniveriyaa”, we conducted a study and community consultations on parenting and childcare to help us identify common parenting practices as well as the challenges and concerns of parents.

Having arrived in Maldives early last year for the first time, this process helped me better understand the challenges faced by parents in Maldives, and aided our work with partners as we designed and rolled out the “Beleniveriyaa” programme. Based on the results of this process, the three key principles that the programme is build on are; communicating effectively with children, fostering meaningful engagements and interactions between parents and children, and parents being positive role models for their children.

I am proud to say that one year down the line, despite bottlenecks, we have made notable strides. I would like to highlight that this June, as we marked this year’s Global Parenting Month, we have developed parenting packages for early childhood, middle childhood and adolescent parents and we have commenced work to train teachers, health workers, social workers and community leaders across different Atolls in Maldives. Additionally, understanding the busy nature of parenthood, we have kicked off a communications campaign including social media engagement aiming to provide parents with quick tips and insights on practical, positive practices they can adapt.

Here in the Maldives, where the warmth of our culture extends to every child’s upbringing, I strongly believe that it is crucial to ensure that every parent feels empowered and supported in their journey. The long-term vision of the “Beleniveriyaa” programme for me is for every parent in Maldives to have access to the support they require and the information they need, to raise healthy, confident, resilient, and responsible children.

There is one more critical aspect that we need to factor in to achieve this. My advice to all parents and caregivers is to try and prioritize and invest in your own physical and mental health. In a world of changes and crises, you can only be effective and provide children with a safe and loving environment, if you prioritize self-care and wellbeing and UNICEF is here with all the tips you need.

My call to action today, for policymakers and employers, both in the Government and private sector is to invest in family-friendly policies and re-design your work places so that both mothers and fathers can invest in raising healthier, better educated children. Investing in family friendly policies such as paid leave for parents, breastfeeding breaks, child care and child grants is not only good for families, it leads to more women empowerment and yields good results for workforce productivity and the economy of the country.

This Global Parenting Month and every month, let us join hands to celebrate the dedication of parents in the Maldives and around the world. Let us recommit to supporting the key role they play in shaping the future of our children and our society. By investing in parents today, we are building a brighter future for tomorrow.

Together, we can create a world where every child’s right to a safe and loving upbringing is upheld.

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