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PM pushes for progress at UN on maternal health

By Jessica Murphy, Senior Washington Correspondent

Prime Minister Stephen Harper signs a guest book during the UN General Assembly at in New York September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Prime Minister Stephen Harper signs a guest book during the UN General Assembly at in New York September 25, 2013. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

UNITED NATIONS - It's crunch time on Canada's key initiative to improve maternal, newborn and child health while the work is only going to get more difficult.

And the Canadian delegation at the United Nations focused its efforts Wednesday on the international community's push to help the world's most vulnerable women and children.

The UN set 2015 as the deadline for the global community to meet a series of development goals set in 2010 by the world community, among them to save 16 million lives from preventable death in that period.

The maternal and child health is where Canada has placed its policy focus.

At a panel on the sidelines of the General Assembly, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it was time to focus efforts on accelerating progress on the initiative.

"It is imperative that in the two years that remain, we do not simply resign ourselves to incompletion," Harper told the audience.

"We must stay the course. To the world's mothers and their children, these goals are literally vital. Degrees of failure will be measured in thousands of lives."

His message came at a time when, three years into the five-year plan, the so-called UN Millennium Development Goals look increasingly over-ambitious.

Shauna Kadyschuk, World Vision's child health policy adviser, said Wednesday the efforts now will have to focus on two things: reaching those who've fallen through the cracks -  refugees, unregistered children, trafficked children - and accountability.

"We've reached the easiest to reach," she said.

Harper also announced $203 million in funding for nine new global projects from money already committed to the initiative. A number of the projects focus on tracking and measuring results of various initiatives.

Kadyschuk said that's key.

"That's where we make sure the dollars and cents we're spending are reaching and saving lives," she said.

For his part, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird co-hosted an event to ending the practice of forced and child marriages, something he called "an appalling violation of human rights" that has a wide-ranging impact on a country's development.

But Baird sidestepped a question on how he distinguishes between arranged and forced marriages, and whether he's approached officials and counterparts in countries where arranged marriages are common practice.

"We're talking about early, or forced (marriage), and I don't think any nine or 11-year-old girl is in a position where she should be forced to marry," he said. "Obviously, when people are adults, they can make their own responsible decisions."

 

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