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Use tech to empower rural India: UN

The UNICEF says it is using a range of tricks to spread its message on child protection and development.

india Updated: Jan 11, 2007 11:59 IST

Digital inclusion and connectivity can be a tool to empower rural India, says UNICEF, saying the world body is using a range of tricks to spread its message on child protection and development.

"Our focus is on health, nutrition, education, child protection, water and sanitation," UNICEF India country office communications officer Augustine Veliath told a conference on Information and Communication Technology in Panaji.

"We believe digital inclusion and connectivity could be one of the tools that empower rural India," he said. The New York-based St John's University organised the conference.

The tools with UNICEF include digital content to animation role models. The big question is whether ICT could help "India's children flourish," Veliath said.

UNICEF is to tie up with Mission 2007, an initiative to equip 100,000 Indian villages with knowledge centres to provide digital content. Mission 2007 is racing against time to get its ambitious plans in place, its deadline year already dawning.

Veliath said UNICEF's work so far, using digital tools, included its 'Facts for Life' primer (aiming to offer much-needed basic information to every family), its 'Devinfo India' database, an e-warehouse of sharable digital information, and its multimedia programme on promoting positive images about the girl child called Meena.

'Facts for Life' is a family primer that has been published in 215 languages, with some 15 million copies. "It contains the latest life-saving knowledge, and we would like to see this available for all," said Veliath.

"It includes information about the minimum a rural family should know," he said. UNICEF is suggesting that this be a primer for India's Mission 2007.

Shishu Samrakshan, a project undertaken by UNICEF's Andhra Pradesh unit, has won the New Delhi-based Manthan Award for e-content.

"We looked at all possible questions a family could ask (in health) and offer information in local language. We have this in Telugu, Kannada and Hindi," he said.

The Nasscom Foundation, the non-profit wing of India's main software lobby group, is to translate it into regional languages. Shishu Samrakshan is available in the CD format and can be used by a school or a health centre.

UNICEF has won praise for its multimedia-animation based project, packaging fictional character Meena as a South Asian girl child and building positive characteristics around her.

"We've taken assistance from Hollywood (to create this). It is one of the best ever done. The way children in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh have taken to Meena is amazing," said Veliath.

"The Meena film is a tremendous ice-breaker. Once you show a Meena film, you can talk to anyone and they will talk to you," explained Veliath. Uttar Pradesh has some 19,000 Meena Manchas (clubs), where girls can get together.

UNICEF's website is also promoting Magic, a media-and-young-people network that encourages children to discuss issues such as their right to access their media, and children's right to get protection in the media.

India's UN agencies have also built a Solutions Exchange, where practitioners offer their help and advice on various issues. "As a sharing of experiences, it has tremendous potential," he added.

Veliath noted how UNICEF had helped build awareness about the humble hand pump across India after a missionary in Maharashtra tried to work this out as a solution for women fighting domestic drudgery.

"Now 55 countries import hand pumps from India," he said.

One recent initiative of UNICEF in India is to promote "child reporters". Encouraged by the response from Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee, the agency is involving youngsters in interacting with Parliament too.

"We also think IT will have a tremendous role to play in basic education as also in disaster preparedness," said Veliath.

First Published: Jan 11, 2007 11:59 IST