The SAARC Charter envisages acceleration of social progress through active collaboration and mutual assistance amongst Member States. Focus on social issues under the broad heading of Health and Population Activities were one of the five original areas of cooperation identified by Member States during the inception of SAARC.
The Association promotes social agenda in the region mainly through cooperation in the following areas:
- Health and Population Activities
- SAARC Social Charter
- Children and Youth
- Gender Related Issues
In addition there are a number of regional projects underway through SAARC Development Fund (SDF) and others to support social development in the region.
SAARC Social Charter
The Tenth Summit (Colombo, July 1996), while reviewing the progress made in the social sector, determined the need to develop, beyond national plans of action, a regional dimension of action including a specific role for SAARC with a view to speeding up social development in the region. It, therefore, decided to adopt a Social Charter incorporating a broad range of targets to be achieved across the region in the areas of poverty eradication, population stabilization, empowerment of women, youth mobilization, human resource development, promotion of health and nutrition, and protection of children.
At their Twelfth Summit (Islamabad, January 2004), the Leaders signed the SAARC Social Charter.
The provisions laid down in the Social Charter are now being implemented across the region with the establishment of National Coordination Committees (NCCs) in all Member States.
The Leaders at the Thirteen Summit (Dhaka, 12-13 November 2005) reiterated their commitment to take initiatives at national as well as regional levels for achieving the specific objectives contained in the Social Charter. The Leaders decided on annual meetings of the Heads of NCCs and directed convening of their first meeting at the earliest for follow-up and implementation of the Social Charter.
The Charter requires that Member States shall also formulate a National Plan of Action or modify the existing one, if any, in order to operationalize the provisions of the Charter. This shall be done through a transparent and broad-based participatory process. Stakeholder approach shall also be followed in respect of implementation and evaluation of programmes under the National Plans of Action.
The Fourteenth Summit recognised that the implementation of the Social Charter needs focused attention and directed the National Coordination Committees (NCCs) to formulate concrete programmes and projects to complement national implementation efforts. The Leaders underscored that civil society organizations have a vital role to play in driving forward the implementation of the Social Charter and directed the NCCs to mobilize civil society organizations to achieve this end.
The Second Meeting of the Heads of National Coordination Committees (New Delhi, 6-7 September 2007) to implement the SAARC Social Charter made specific recommendations for its implementation, including thematic listing of areas of cooperation.
The Heads of NCCs at their third meeting held in Islamabad, 4-5 Nov. 2008, “noted that there is an urgent need to emphasize the importance of youth mobilization and empowerment with respect to harnessing their enormous talents and potential for development processes of the region”. In light of the recommendation for closer and focused attention on meaningful youth development it should be useful for Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children to examine critical challenges faced by young people of the region such as unemployment and drugs etc and suggest a few specific projects or initiatives.
Health and Population Activities
i. SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC)
Initially, a SAARC Tuberculosis Center (STC) was established in 1992 to support Member States in the prevention and control of tuberculosis in the region by coordinating efforts of national programmes. The centre was renamed as SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC) in 2005. The responsibility of coordinating and implementing regional activities related to TB and HIV/AIDS has been assigned to STAC. The Center, in coordination with the Secretariat and UN partners have developed SAARC Regional Strategies on HIV/AIDS, which guides the Center’s work in coordinating regional efforts to prevent HIV/AIDS.
Further details on STAC and its work is available on the Center’s official website www.saarctb.com.np
ii. SAARC Health Ministerial Meetings
Emergency Meeting of SAARC Health Ministers (Maldives, April 2003)
In the wake of widespread threats brought about by the emergence of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an Emergency Meeting of SAARC Health Ministers was convened in Male’ in April 2003 to develop a regional strategy to deal with the deadly epidemic. The one-day Meeting decided to take measures to prevent and control spread of SARS in the region as well as to adopt comprehensive preventive measures, such as screening it at entry points, transfer of possible SARS patients to quarantine or isolation facilities and ensuring effective contact tracing. The Ministers adopted the Male’ Declaration on a Collective SAARC Response to SARS.
First Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (New Delhi, 14-15 November 2003)
The health ministers, in their First Meeting stressed upon the need to cooperate on health issues amongst SAARC Member States, not only in the field of traditional system of medicine but also on the whole gamut of health issues confronting the region. They also decided to increase the inter-country cooperation to address the problem of emerging and re-emerging diseases. This context called for strengthening the mechanism for surveillance, reporting, diagnosis and management by exchange of expertise and sharing of infrastructural facilities amongst SAARC Member States. The meeting emphasized on the importance of developing a common regional strategy to combat HIV/AIDS, TB and other deadly communicable diseases and also recommended setting up a SAARC Surveillance Centre and a Rapid Deployment Health Response System.
Second Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (Islamabad, July 16 2005)
The health ministers adopted the Islamabad Declaration on Health and Population, in which the Member States agreed to setup a regional institutional mechanism and establishment of national focal points within the Ministries of Health and Population; share experiences, technical expertise and success in the region in health and population areas; establish SAARC Disease Surveillance Centre and a Rapid Deployment Health Response System; work together towards developing regional policies and programmes as well as effective partnerships in order to check illegal trade in drugs and medicines; establish an expert group on population issues under the mandate of Technical Committee on Health and Population; complement the region’s efforts in achieving MDGs and addressing other priority health and population issues; and strengthen regional mechanism for exchange of faculty and students in disciplines of medical sciences and public health education.
Third Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (Dhaka, 26 April 2006)
The ministers welcomed the launching of SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS. The Meeting urged the Member States to setup National Commissions on Macroeconomics and Health for Resource Mobilization. The Meeting also mandated the proposed meeting of the expert group on setting up of SAARC Disease Surveillance Centre to develop a comprehensive and multi-sectoral strategy covering both animal and human health in the context of pandemic preparedness. The Meeting directed the Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities to hold deliberations on the issue of reproductive health with a view to advancing effective regional cooperation; prepare guidelines for a Regional Initiative on Basic Healthcare Services, Nutrition, Safe Water and Sanitation particularly in rural areas; consider preparation of SAARC Plan of Action in the areas of medical expertise and pharmaceuticals, harmonization of standards and certification procedures; and production of affordable medicines as well as traditional medicines. The health ministers also adopted the Dhaka Declaration – A Better Health Profile for South Asia.
Fourth Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (Male, 10-12 April 2012)
The Meeting welcomed the launching of the SAARC Regional Strategy for Prevention and Control of Communicable Diseases. The Meeting recommended strengthening the SAARC mechanisms to scale up interventions for vulnerable groups focusing on cross-border issues through SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC). The ministers, among others, urged upon the Member States to implement the decision of the seventeenth SAARC summit to formulate an actionable framework to address the common challenges of sanitation and access to safe drinking water in the region; complete all necessary processes for upgrading the SAARC TB reference Laboratory at SAARC TB and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC), Kathmandu to Supra-National Reference Laboratory; focus on the speedy implementation of regional projects that bring about tangible gains for the people of the region; and continued commitments to strengthen mechanisms to reduce malnutrition including enforcement of existing regulations on breast milk substitutes and salt iodization. The health ministers also adopted the Male Resolution on Regional Health Issues.
Fifth Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (New Delhi, 08 April 2015)
The Meeting launched the HIV/AIDS Progress Report (2004-2014) “Getting to Zero: How Innovation, Policy Reform and Focused Investments can help South Asia end the Aids Epidemic by 2030”, developed by SAARC, with the collaboration of UNAIDS. The Meeting highlighted the need for collaboration and cooperation in addressing emerging health issues in the SAARC region and appreciated the role of development partners and stakeholders in realizing health related development goals. The Meeting also highlighted the need for SAARC Member States to mitigate the adverse consequences of climate change and also the need for prevention and control of non-communicable diseases, TB and HIV/AIDS and emphasized the emerging concern for Anti-Microbial Resistance. The Meeting noted that Member States largely share similar economies, similar social and health situations, and similar challenges, and the need is to find the best solution to overcome these challenges. The Ministers, among others, urged Member States to work together for promoting public health, preventing disease, universalizing health coverage and ensuring high quality of life for the citizens of SAARC. The Meeting also adopted the Delhi Declaration on Public Health Challenges.
Sixth Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers (Colombo, 29 July 2017)
The Health Ministers adopted the Colombo Declaration “Calling for accelerated progress on key Regional Health Issues”, in which the Member States noted the ten Key Messages/Recommendations of SAARC-UNICEF Regional Conference on Scaling-up Care for Children with Severe Wasting in South Asia (Kathmandu, 16-18 May 2017); significant economic contribution made by labour migrants of the region and agreed to collaborate to safeguard their health; conducting annual meetings on Non-communicable diseases by rotation in each Member State; and agreed to conduct activities as individual Member States and also as a Region according to the principles and strategies agreed upon in the two South Asia Regional Action Frameworks on Sanitation and Nutrition to improve the status of sanitation; establish mechanisms to share the experiences on development of human resources for health, ensuring the accessibility, equity and quality of health care in each country and as a region; share experiences on best practices adopted on health issues pertaining to Non-Communicable Diseases, Vector Borne Disease, Sanitation, Nutrition, Climate change and Disaster; work together to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals through enhanced partnership and collaboration.
The Meeting welcomed the suggestion by H.E. the Secretary General of SAARC about establishment of South Asian Medical University. The Meeting also welcomed the offer of Sri Lanka to host the University.
iii. Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities (TC HPA)
The First Meeting of the Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities, under RIPA, was held on November 8-9, 2005 at Dhaka. The committee reviews the progress of agenda implementation of the health ministers’ meetings. The mandate/scope of the committee includes Regional Convention on Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, population stabilization, drug rehabilitation, demand and harm reduction, mental health and physical disabilities, primary healthcare, cooperation in pharmaceutical regulations, population, health and environmental integration, disease surveillance monitoring and early warning system, cooperation in traditional medicines etc. The second Meeting of the Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities held in Kathmandu on May 5-6, 2008, discussed the project concept notes on Maternal and Child Healthcare and Immunization. The Third Meeting of the Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities was held in New Delhi on July 30-31, 2009. This Meeting emphasized the common challenge of communicable diseases in the region and urged implementation in the national level. The Fourth Meeting of the Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities was also held in New Delhi on 06 April 2015. The Meeting discussed various health related matters/projects and recommended interalia;
- Setting up of Expert Groups for Vector Borne Diseases (Malaria/Dengue/Chikangunya and others) with particular attention to Malaria.
- Setting up an Expert Group/Consultative Group on Hepatitis
- Hold an annual meeting on Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)
iv. SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS (2006-2010)
Pursuant to the directive of the Twelfth SAARC Summit, SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV and AIDS (2006-2010) was developed along with a regional work plan for implementation of the Strategy.
The vision of the strategy is to halt and reverse the spread and impact of HIV and AIDS, to commit leaders to lead the fight against HIV and AIDS and to provide People Living with HIV and AIDS access to affordable treatment and care and enjoy a dignified life. The regional strategy is to guide the regional response to the epidemic. The Strategy also articulates the need to “facilitate evidence based advocacy and programming for children affected by HIV and AIDS in the Member Countries and to coordinate the efforts towards developing the costed actions plans in all countries through the mechanism of a regional forum”.
Regional Expert Group on HIV/AIDS has been formed and meets annually to review progress of implementation of the SAARC Strategy on HIV/AIDS. The Third SAARC expert group meeting on HIV/AIDS was held, in collaboration with the UNAIDS, on January 28-29, 2008 at the SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu. Based on the discussion, the group made a number of recommendations such as STC Regional Reference Laboratory to be upgraded and strengthened to work as Regional Reference Laboratory for Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre with technical assistance of WHO. The Fourth and Fifth SAARC expert group meetings on HIV/AIDS were held on February 25-26, 2010 and May 19-20, 2011 at the SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu.
The Fifth SAARC Expert Group on HIV/AIDS held at the SAARC Secretariat on 19-20 May 2011 agreed to review the existing Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS and recommended that the SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC) to develop a Draft Strategy on HIV/AIDS (2012-2016) with the support of UN agencies.
Pursuant to this decision, the SAARC Consultative Meeting of Programme Managers of HIV/AIDS to develop SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS 2012-2016 was held in Islamabad from 15-17 June 2012. As recommended by this Meeting, an Expert Group Meeting held in Thimphu from 5-6 March 2013, finalized the SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS 2013-2017.
The Fourth Meeting of the Technical Committee on Health and Population Activities held in New Delhi from 9-10 October 2013, endorsed the Strategy and recommended that while implementing the new regional strategy, STAC should take into account MDGs, SDGs as well as post 2015 Health and Development agenda. Furthermore, the Technical Committee emphasized the need for;
(i) effective implementation of communication strategies focusing on stigma and discrimination;
(ii) rights based approach for prevention: and
(iii) strengthening legal provisions related to HIV and AIDS in SAARC Member States.
The revised Strategy is already under implementation and the Seventh Meeting of SAARC Expert Group was hosted by the Government of India on 07 April 2015 which reviewed the progress of the Operational Plan of the SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS (2013 – 2017).
v. Telemedicine Network Project
During the Thirteenth Summit, the Prime Minister of India had proposed establishing a collaborative healthcare project involving a regional Telemedicine Network. During the Fourteenth SAARC Summit, the Leaders noted with appreciation the establishment of a regional telemedicine-network and directed that steps be taken to extend it to other ICT enabled fields such as education.
All Member States have identified hospitals where the project will be implemented. Assessment visits by a team from India to designated hospitals in Member states has been undertaken. The project is successfully under implemented in Afghanistan, Bhutan and Nepal.
vi. Communicable Diseases, Disease Surveillance and Pandemic Preparedness
During The Eleventh SAARC Summit (Kathmandu, 4-6 January 2002), “the Leaders recognized the debilitating and widespread impact of the HIV/ AIDS, TB and other deadly communicable diseases on the population of South Asia and stressed the need for evolving a regional strategy to combat these diseases.
The Twelfth SAARC Summit held in Islamabad in January 2004 and the subsequent Health Ministers meetings held in 2005 and 2006, the Leaders and the Ministers for Health reiterated the importance of taking necessary steps to ensure that there is a collective, systematic and coordinated approach towards diseases surveillance in the region.
Increasing emergence and re-emergence of epidemics and communicable diseases such as SARS, Avian Influenza, Chikungunya Fever etc in the region raises the urgency of developing appropriate regional measures and capacity for disease surveillance and pandemic preparedness.
During the Thirteenth SAARC Summit (Dhaka, 13 November 2005) Leaders “underscored the need for increasing cooperation to develop regional strategies for the prevention and treatment of Dengue, Malaria and other infectious or communicable diseases constituting major public health concerns.
SAARC Expert Group Meeting on Disease Surveillance and Rapid Deployment of Health Response System to deal with Emerging and Re-emerging Diseases (Delhi, 26-27 Nov.2008) recommended regional approaches and a way forward to develop regional institutional capacity and appropriate systems for early warning, rapid deployment health response and to review public health guidelines.
The SAARC Expert Group Meeting to Develop SAARC Regional Strategy on Communicable Diseases was held in Paro, Bhutan from 7-8 July 2008. The Meeting developed Draft Framework for SAARC Regional Strategy on Communicable Diseases.
An Expert Group Meeting was held in Colombo (28-29 March 2012) to finalize the SAARC Regional Strategy on Communicable Diseases . The Fourth Meeting of the SAARC Health Ministers held in the Maldives on 12 April 2012 launched the SAARC Regional Strategy on Communicable Diseases.
Furthermore, the Project “strengthening surveillance and response capacity for highly pathogenic and emerging and re-emerging diseases in SAARC countries (2009-2013) was completed with the support of WHO/European Commission.
viii. SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors Programme (for HIV and AIDS)
Pursuant to the directive of the Twelfth SAARC Summit, SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV and AIDS was developed along with a regional workplan for implementation of the Strategy. Under the component on Policy and Advocacy, the SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors Programme was recommended with the aim of bringing the issue of HIV and AIDS to the political and public forefront taking advantage of their celebrity status and through their public and media appeal reach the widest possible audiences with the message of avoiding risky behaviour and removing stigma and discrimination against People Living with HIV and AIDS.
The Thirtieth Session of the SAARC Council of Ministers (Colombo, 31 July - 1 August 2008) approved two regional personalities: Ms. Shabana Azmi from India; and Mr. Sanath Jayasuriya from Sri Lanka as SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors for HIV and AIDS.
The SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for HIV and AIDS Initiative has commenced with the visit of Ms. Shabana Azmi to Nepal, as the SAARC Goodwill Ambassador to raise awareness and advocate greater support to the fight against HIV and AIDS in January 2009. Her interaction with children and people affected by HIV and AIDS and her plea to the public to remove the social stigma and discrimination against People living with HIV/AIDS received wide publicity.
Upon recommendation of the Thirty-eighth Session of the Standing Committee (Thimphu, 6-7 February 2011), Ms. Shabana Azmi was requested to continue as SAARC Goodwill Ambassador for HIV/AIDS for one more year, which was accepted by her.
As per the recommendation of the Meeting of the Selection Committee (SAARC Secretariat, 02 January 2013) the following three regional personalities were conferred with the honorary title of SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors:
- Ms. Runa Lalia, Bangladesh
- Shri Ajay Devgan, India
- Ms. Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, Pakistan
The Fourth Meeting of the Technical Committee (New Delhi, 9-10 October 2013) recommended to SAARC Tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS Centre (STAC) that while formulating programmes of Goodwill Ambassadors, their interaction with target population to be increased. The STAC was directed to develop targeted brand messages and health spots/creatives with Goodwill Ambassadors for public outreach. Member States could also use these messages and health spots/creatives for mass media campaign through their national broadcasting channels, for wider publicity.
As the term of the current SAARC Goodwill Ambassadors has been complete, the Secretariat has initiated the process for selection of new Goodwill Ambassadors.
Gender related issues
Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children (TC WYC)
Ever since the launching of regional cooperation in South Asia, issues related to women have figured prominently on the SAARC agenda. The Technical Committee on Women in Development was created under the erstwhile Integrated Programme of Action (IPA) in 1986.
The Technical Committee on Women in Development was merged into the Technical Committee on Social Development under the SAARC Integrated Programme of Action (SIPA) in January 2000.
The Technical Committee on Social Development held one Meeting before it ceases to function with the creation of a new Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children (TCWYC) in January 2004.
Since then the following Meetings of the Committee have been held:
November 29-30, 2004
July 30-31, 2007
October 22, 2008
October 22-22, 2009
July 16-17, 2011
September 2-3, 2013
July 28-29, 2015
The Second Meeting of TCWYC launched the book titled “Gender Initiatives in SAARC: A Primer” jointly developed by SAARC Secretariat and UNIFEM. The Committee reviewed the progress in the observance of SAARC Decade of the Rights of Child (2001-2010).
The Third Meeting of TCWYC noted the progress of women empowerment project titled “strengthening livelihood initiative for home-based workers in SAARC region” which is being implemented under the Social Window of SAARC Development Fund (SDF) in collaboration with SEWA, India.
The Fourth Meeting of TCWYC recommended development of a reporting mechanism or a format for reporting of national progress to the Technical Committee on Women, Youth and Children.
The Fifth Meeting of TCWYC agreed that there was a need to re-programme the approach to be able to address the realization of gender equality and empowerment in the region, and therefore, recommended the establishment of a SAARC Gender Equality and Empowerment Programme.
As per the directives of the Seventeenth SAARC Summit, an Inter-governmental Expert Group Meeting was held to discuss the establishment of this regional mechanism to ensure empowerment of women and gender equality in the region, with focus on national legislations, including timely realization of the MDGs and SDGs.
The Expert Group Meeting (Maldives, 11-12 March 2013) recommended the establishment of the SAARC Gender Policy Advocacy Group (SAARC- GPAG) for Empowerment of Women and Gender Equality in the region and developed its ToR.
The Sixth Meeting of TCWYC finalized the Terms of Reference (ToR) of the SAARC Gender Policy Advocacy Group, and the establishment of SAARC Gender Policy Advocacy Group (SAARC- GPAG) was approved by the Standing Committee in 2014.
The Seventh Meeting of TCWYC is expected to be held in Pakistan.
SAARC Gender Policy Advocacy Group (SAARC- GPAG)
The establishment of the SAARC Gender Policy Advocacy Group (GPAG) as a regional mechanism to promote Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in the South Asia region is a milestone in SAARC.
The mandate for GPAG on gender equality and women’s empowerment emanates from the Fifth Meeting of TCWYC (Kabul, 16-17 July 2011), when the Committee agreed that there was a need to re-programme the existing approach to be able to address the realization of Gender Equality and Empowerment in the region in line with the directives of the Seventeenth Summit.
At the Seventeenth Summit (2011), the Head of States or Government recognized that ‘full enjoyment of fundamental rights by women and girls is an inalienable, integral and indivisible part of universal human rights and that gender-based violence and discriminatory practices constitute a violation of fundamental rights’. At the Summit, they issued a directive to convene an Inter-Governmental Expert Group Meeting to discuss the establishment of a regional mechanism to ensure empowerment of women and gender equality in the region, with focus on national legislations, including timely realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the SAARC Development Goals.
Pursuant to the directive, the Inter-Governmental Expert Group Meeting was held in Maldives from 11-12 March 2013, and proposed with a terms of reference (TOR) to constitute SAARC- GPAG for Empowerment of Women and Gender Equality. The TOR of the SAARC-GPAG was reviewed at the Sixth Meeting of TCWYC (SAARC Secretariat, 2-3 September 2013). One of the output included in the SAARC-GPAG TOR was to develop a three-year Gender Action Plan.
The decision to establish SAARC-GPAG was taken at the Fortieth Session of the Standing Committee (Maldives, 19 February 2014) and subsequently the Eighteenth SAARC Summit (Kathmandu, 26 – 27 November 2014) approved the decision. The objective of the SAARC –GPAG is to advocate and keep gender high on the policy agenda of the SAARC Countries:
· for enhancing political and administrative will on Gender Equality
· for ensuring implementation of commitments by Member States to empowerment of women and Gender Equality
· for monitoring progress
Outlined below is the organizational set-up of SAARC- GPAG, and role including of SAARC-Secretariat, and its external knowledge partners:
1) The SAARC-GPAG is comprised of 16 Members, two from each Member State, who are committed and have expertise and capacity to contribute to advancement of women’s rights and mainstreaming gender concerns in the region:
- One designated senior policy level official from relevant Ministry
- One expert from academia/Civil Society Organization nominated by Government. Expert nominated should be preferably from a think- tank or a University
- A provision made for a consultant to be based in the SAARC Secretariat to facilitate and support GPAG;
2) According to the Terms of Reference (TOR), the SAARC-GPAG Members meet once in a year for 2 days and their tenure is for three years; Non-attendance for two consecutive meetings would require a replacement of the expert by the Member States.
3) While the SAARC-Secretariat mainly has a facilitating role to seek technical and financial assistance from SAARC, collaborating partners, including UN Agencies assist to implement the TOR of the SAARC-GPAG. Currently, the two external knowledge partners, UN Women and UNESCAP, provide need based technical and other support.
The first meeting of SAARC-GPAG was held in Islamabad, Pakistan from 26-27 July 2015 and identified the various thematic issues of common interest under Key Priorities for GPAG for the three years Action Plan. Based on the recommendations of the Group, SAARC Secretariat, with technical assistance from a Consultant/Gender Specialist, developed a detailed draft Action Plan (2017 – 2019). The draft is to be discussed and approved by the next Meeting of the Group, scheduled to be hosted by Pakistan.
SAARC Gender Info Base (SGIB)
SGIB is a South Asian repository of qualitative and quantitative data and information on gender related issues and women empowerment. This regional effort crosses the conventional parameters of statistical data gathering exercises and aims at creating a comprehensive single pool of data/information on gender issues in different formats, including multimedia, making it a One Stop Gender Information Shop. Major areas of focus of the SGIB is on Feminization of Poverty, Health Issues (including HIV/AIDS), and Violence against women (especially Trafficking).
Progress of SGIB is reviewed by technical review Meetings of Member States. Seven such Meetings were held till 2014. The Seventh and last SGIB review meeting was held in Islamabad-Pakistan 25-26 March 2014. In the next phase of SGIB, the implementation of SGIB will be taken up within the framework of SAARC Gender Policy Advocacy Group (SAARC-GPAG), which would drive regional movement forward for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, in line with relevant regional and international commitments.
Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution
Concerned over the trafficking of women and children within and between countries in the region, SAARC adopted a Regional Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution in January 2002, during the Eleventh Summit in Kathmandu. The Convention calls for cooperation amongst Member States in dealing with various aspects of prevention, interdiction and suppression of trafficking in women and children for prostitution, and repatriation and rehabilitation of victims of trafficking. It also calls for prevention of use of women and children in international prostitution networks, particularly where countries of the region are the countries of origin, transit and destination.
A Regional Task Force has been formed in all the Member States to monitor and assess the implementation of various provisions of the Convention on Combating the Crime of Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.
The Regional Task Force has met in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.
During the First Meeting of the Regional Task Force (New Delhi, 26 July 2007), the Meeting agreed to exchange information on best practices by the respective Governments, NGOs and members of the Civil Society to combat Trafficking in Women and Children. It was decided that a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to implement various provisions of the Convention, including reporting under Article VIII (5) and repatriation of victims of Trafficking and related matters as defined in the Convention, would be developed. The Third Meeting of the Regional Task Force (Shimla, May 2009) finalized the draft Standard Operating Procedure.
Furthermore, the Special Session of Regional Task Force held at the SAARC Secretariat in April 2010 prepared the draft outline for the establishment of two regional Toll-free helplines dedicated for women and children respectively. Women and children survivors or victims of violence or discrimination can then dial up these numbers to seek help and support irrespective of the country they are in South Asia.
As per the observation of Thirty-third Session of the Council of Ministers (Thimphu, 7-8 February 2011), a technical level process was initiated to look into the broadening of the scope of the existing Convention on Trafficking in Women and Children. However, after much deliberation, Member States decided to work on strengthening the implementation of the existing Convention, before broadening the scope of the Convention at this stage.
Bangladesh will be hosting the next RTF Meeting.
SAARC Ministerial Conference on Youth in South Asia
Issues related to Youth in the region have also been given due priority. Ministerial Conference on Youth in South Asia was held in Maldives in May 1994 to address the problem of the youth and focus on the broad theme of youth and development.
SAARC Year of Youth
The Year 1994 was designated as the “SAARC Year of Youth”. In 1995, the SAARC Youth Resolution was adopted to advance the overall development of Youth in the region.
SAARC Youth Camps
SAARC Agenda for Culture approved by the Twenty-eighth Session of the Council of Ministers recommends holding of SAARC Youth Camp annually on a designated theme to promote cultural interaction among the youth. Accordingly, the First SAARC Youth Camp was held in Bangladesh in December 2007.
Subsequently, Sri Lanka hosted the Second SAARC Youth Camp in Colombo from 28 July – 1 August 2008.
The Third SAARC Youth Camp, under the theme “Be accountable for your environment: Today and Tomorrow”, was held in Maldives from 21-26 February 2011.
The Fourth SAARC Youth Camp was hosted by India from 11-15 February 2013 on the theme “Youth as Ambassadors in Global partnership for Development”. The Fifth SAARC Youth Camp is to be hosted by Afghanistan.
SAARC Youth Awards
The SAARC Youth Awards Scheme was instituted in 1996 to provide recognition to extraordinary young talents and encourage the overall development of the youth in the region. The Scheme is also aimed at encouraging the South Asian youth to excel in various fields and to realize their full potential.
The SAARC Youth Awards Scheme is open to nationals of SAARC Member Countries, who are within the age group of 20-35 years. The Award consists of a citation in English; a Gold Medal; and a cash prize of US$ 3000.
The SAARC Youth Awards have so far been presented on the following themes:
1997: Outstanding Social Service in Community Welfare - Mr. Md. Sukur Salek (Bangladesh)
1998: New Inventions and Discoveries - Dr. Najmul Hasnain Shah (Pakistan)
2001: Creative Photography: South Asian Diversity - Mr. Mushfiqul Alam (Bangladesh)
2002: Outstanding contribution to protect the Environment - Dr. Masil Khan (Pakistan)
2003: Invention in the Field of Traditional Medicine - Mr. Hassan Sher (Pakistan)
2004: Outstanding contribution to raising awareness for TB and/or HIV/AIDS - Mr. Ajij Prasad Poudyal (Nepal)
2006: Promotion of Tourism in South Asia - Mr. Syed Zafar Abbas Naqvi (Pakistan)
2008: From Himalayan glaciers to verdant plains to coral reefs – protecting the Environment in South Asia - Ms. Uswatta Liyanage Deepani Jayantha (Sri Lanka)
2009: Outstanding contribution to humanitarian works in the aftermath of Natural Disasters - Dr. Ravikant Singh (India)
2010: Outstanding Contribution to protection of Environment and Mitigating Effects of Climate Change - Ms. Anoka Primrose Abeyrathne from Sri Lanka.
2011: Youth leadership in the fight against social ills - Mr. Mohamed Faseen Rafiu from the Maldives.
i. SAARC Ministerial Conference on Children
The development of children and the promotion of their well-being is a principal area of cooperation identified by SAARC from its very inception. The objective of building a region-wide consensus on social action for achieving the rights of the child and the goals set for them within the framework of a survival, development and protection strategy was addressed during the Ministerial Conferences on Children held in Delhi (1986), Colombo (1992), Rawalpindi (1996) and Colombo (2009).
ii. SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangement for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia
Pursuant to the decision of the Ninth Summit, the SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangements on the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia was signed in January 2002 during the Eleventh Summit in Kathmandu. The Convention envisages facilitating the development of full potential of the South Asian child.
Welcoming the signing of the Convention, at their Eleventh Summit (Kathmandu, January 2002), the Leaders reaffirmed their conviction that children in South Asia deserve urgent and focused attention to achieve the overall progress of the countries in the region. That Summit, therefore, directed the Council of Ministers to take necessary measures to ensure the enjoyment by girl child of her inherent potential and to take concrete steps to give priority to investing in children as an effective means for poverty reduction in the long run.
The Eleventh Summit also agreed to mobilize necessary resources and to intensify broad-based actions to achieve a set of priority goals in improving the status of children, such as polio eradication; protection of children from mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS; and quality basic education to children.
A Regional Task Force has been formed in all the Member States to monitor and assess the implementation of various provisions of the SAARC Convention on Regional Arrangement for the Promotion of Child Welfare in South Asia.
The Regional Task Force has met in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The next Meeting of the RTF will be the sixth meeting and will be hosted by Bangladesh in 2017.
iii. SAARC Regional Strategic Framework for the Protection, Care and Support of Children Affected by HIV/AIDS
The need of facilitating evidence based advocacy and programming for children affected by HIV and AIDS was identified as a key issue in the ‘SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV and AIDS (2006-2010)’ formulated on the direction of the 12thSAARC Summit (Islamabad, January 2004) and its Work Plan endorsed at the 27th Session on the Council of Ministers (Dhaka, August 2006). The Strategy articulates the need to “facilitate evidence based advocacy and programming for children affected by HIV and AIDS in the Member Countries and to coordinate the efforts towards developing costed actions plans in all countries through the mechanism of a regional forum”. The Regional Consultation on Children Affected by HIV/AIDS in South Asia held in Kathmandu in May 2007 formulated a common strategic approach for policy and programming to protect and support these children and their families, namely, SAARC Regional Strategic Framework for the Protection, Care and Support of Children Affected by HIV/AIDS.
The Framework places children affected by HIV/AIDS within the broader group of children in difficult circumstances, and focuses on delivering an integrated response to children’s medical, nutritional, educational, legal and psychosocial needs, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It calls for a universal approach to ensure that children affected by HIV/AIDS have access to the same public and social support systems which are available to other children, rather than being separated or singled out among their peers. This is linked to measures to address the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS, and to intervene on behalf of children who are discriminated against as a result of this stigma.
This framework is incorporated into the SAARC Regional Strategy on HIV/AIDS (2013-2017)
iv. SAARC Decade of the Rights of Child (2001-2010)
Third Ministerial Conference on the Children of South Asia held in August 1996, at Rawalpindi recommended the observance of the SAARC Decade of the Rights of the Child (2001-2010).
During the Eleventh SAARC Summit (Kathmandu, 4-6 January 2002, the Leaders directed the Council of Ministers to take concrete steps to give priority to investing in children as an effective means for poverty reduction in the long run. Reaffirming their commitment to the Colombo Plan of Action and the Rawalpindi Declaration and recalling the declaration of 2001 to 2010 as the SAARC Decade of the Rights of the Child, the Heads of State or Government noted with appreciation the South Asia High-level Meeting on Children held in Kathmandu in May 2001. They reaffirmed their conviction that the children in South Asia deserve urgent and focused attention to enhance the long-term and overall progress of the countries of the region.
The Thirteenth SAARC Summit (Dhaka, November 2005), decided that a mid-term review of the progress in realizing the objectives of SAARC Decade of the Rights of the Child, should be undertaken.
The Fourth SAARC Ministerial Conference on Children (Colombo, July 2009) recommended that an Expert Group Meeting should be held to provide feedback on the report of the preliminary assessment as well as additional comments on the questionnaire and take guidance on conducting the in-depth assessment of implementation of the SAARC Decade of the Rights of the Child.
Assessment Report was launched during the 17th SAARC Summit (Addu City, Maldives, 10-11 November 2011)