As the world marks the 20th anniversary of International Mother Language Day on Thursday, UNESCO calls for the recognition and enforcement of rights of the indigenous peoples.
Ms Audrey Azoulay, the Director-General of UNESCO made the call in a message on the website of the UN agency on the occasion to celebrate the Day.
The theme for the Mother Language Day is: “Indigenous languages matter for development, peace building and reconciliation’’ which is marked annually globally on every Feb. 21.
“For UNESCO, every mother tongue deserves to be known, recognised and given greater prominence in all spheres of public life.
“This is not always the case. Mother tongues do not necessarily have national-language status, official-language status, or status as the language of instruction.
“This situation can lead to the devaluation of a mother tongue and to its ultimate disappearance in the long term.
“On this 20th anniversary of International Mother Language Day, we must remember that all mother tongues count and that they are all essential to building peace and supporting sustainable development.
“A mother tongue is vital to literacy because it facilitates the acquisition of basic reading and writing skills as well as basic numeracy during the first years of schooling.
“These skills provide the foundation for personal development.
“A mother tongue is also a unique expression of creative diversity and identity, and is a source of knowledge and innovation,’’ she said.
According to Azoulay, indigenous peoples have always expressed their desire for education in their own languages as set out in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Indigenous peoples number some 370 million and their languages account for the majority of the approximately 7,000 living languages on earth.
“Many indigenous peoples continue to suffer from marginalisation, discrimination and extreme poverty, and are the victims of human rights violation.
“On this International Mother Language Day, I thus invite all UNESCO Member States, partners and education stakeholders to recognise and enforce the rights of indigenous peoples,’’ she said.
The idea of celebrating International Mother Language Day was the initiative of Bangladesh.
It was approved at the 1999 UNESCO General Conference and has been observed throughout the world since 2000.
UNESCO believes in the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity for sustainable societies.
It is within its mandate for peace that it works to preserve the differences in cultures and languages that foster tolerance and respect for others.
Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way.