Government agencies and charitable organisations were urged to help foster a better reading culture among Arab children at the launch of the Sharjah International Children's Book Forum yesterday. A call was also made to fight illiteracy, especially among Arab girls worldwide. Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qassimi, the chief adviser of the Arab Children Book Publishers' Forum, made the appeal as she officiated at the launch of the conference at the Sharjah Expo Center last night.
"As an average figure, 60 million Arab nationals are still illiterate and two-thirds of them are women," Sheikha Bodour said. She said that around nine million primary school-aged children in the Arab world do not attend school, with most of them living in Yemen, Mauritania and Sudan, according to the Arab Knowledge Report 2009. "To solve this problem, it is imperative that we must work together closely to improve the quality of education standards, while governments and charity organisations must provide education for children," Sheikha Bodour said.
Compared to the rest of the Arab world, literacy rates in the Emirates remain high. According to statistics released by Unicef, literacy rates among males aged between 15 and 24 in 2007 was 99 per cent, and among females was 97 per cent. The two-day conference, which concludes today, is hosting a group of experts speaking on children's literature and culture. The core discussions spread over the four sessions of the conference are primarily aimed at improving the cultural awareness of children.
Among the topics being discussed are the role of government and private organisations in supporting the writing and publication of books aimed at children. Being held concurrently with the international forum is a cultural festival for families aimed at encouraging children to practise reading. Ehssan al Sowaidi, the chair of the Sharjah Reading Festival's organising committee, said he hoped the event would attract 25 per cent more visitors than the previous two, which were held in 2006 and 2008.