The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Bachchan plays children’s hero

New Delhi, Oct. 31: In his films he often played a ragged child denied food and shelter, roaming the streets in big cities and left to fend for himself. But Amitabh Bachchan will now get a chance to change that script.

The Bollywood megastar will lend his support to millions of underprivileged children, now that he has been appointed Unicef’s goodwill ambassador. His task will be to promote the rights of children the world over.

“He has a great potential to give his voice for children’s issues,” United Nations International Children’s Education Fund official Savita Varde Naqvi said. She added that Bachchan has a big following in India and abroad.

The actor responded by saying: “I am extremely pleased to accept this responsibility. I hope that by adding my voice to the cause of children, it will make a difference in the lives of boys and girls here at home and across the region.”

Bachchan will focus on eradication of polio, HIV/AIDS and the big gender gap in education. Despite considerable progress, girls continue to lag behind boys in elementary and primary education.

Unicef officials say they are yet to decide how to use the actor in their campaigns. “We can take him to the field, present him to the media — basically look at every strategy that will ensure a high visibility for children's rights,” Naqvi said.

Bachchan contributed significantly to the government’s pulse polio immunisation programme earlier this year, appearing in a series of award-winning television and radio commercials.

“These spots played an instrumental role in convincing parents to immunise their children,” Unicef said.

A survey conducted among 10,000 respondents in Uttar Pradesh in February this year showed that 67 per cent of those who brought their children along to the immunisation booths had seen the Bachchan spots. Of them, 92 per cent said the commercials had made them decide to get their children immunised.

Uttar Pradesh is among the states where polio returned with a vengeance last year.

Highlighting Bachchan’s contribution, Unicef said: “Only 164 polio cases have been reported in India this year, the lowest number ever recorded. This is a significant turnaround from the polio outbreak in 2002 in which 1,600 children contracted polio.”

“India is closer than ever to eradicating polio,” Bachchan said. “Let’s finish the job and rid our country of this terrible disease forever.”

Celebrities across the world are increasingly being roped into high-profile campaigns to create awareness about HIV/AIDS, women’s rights, drug abuse and world peace and break down barriers.

In the past, Unicef has roped in eminent Indians like Shabana Azmi, Vijay Amritraj and Lara Dutta as goodwill ambassadors. Hollywood stars like Susan Sarandon, Angelina Jolie, Mia Farrow and the late Audrey Hepburn have been involved with the UN agency earlier. Farrow, whose adopted children are polio-afflicted, has actively campaigned for eradication of the disease.

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