New Delhi: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday said India was among the biggest contributors to the UN peacekeeping missions and as such its partnership was important to the world body.
"India is an important country for the UN. It is one of the biggest contributors to the UN peacekeeping mission and democracy fund," Ban Ki-moon said in his address to a gathering at Young @70, to mark the 70th anniversary of the UN founded in October 1945.
On the occasion, also attended by cricketer Sachin Tendulkar along with Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarathi and Bollywood actors Sharmila Tagore and Nandita Das, Ban Ki-moon said adults must commit themselves to make a better world for younger generation.
Setting empowerment of women and children as one of his goals, he said investing in them was the most powerful way to obtain global progress.
"I prioritize welfare of women and children. The goal is to empower them to contribute to our common future.... (The UN is) striving to provide women and girl with proper health services, sexual and reproductive health... (We) are pushing for equality in education," he said.
He applauded the Narendra Modi government for addressing the issue of high child mortality in the country and for expanding vaccine coverage for children.
"I also welcome his (Modi) initiative to put toilets in every household and school by 2019. It's a matter of health and safety for women and girls," he said.
Ban also "staunchly opposed" the criminalisation of homosexuality and the resultant discrimination, saying human rights were equal to all regardless of their sexual orientation.
"We are different from one another but have same human rights. I believe in equality of all people, including those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender.
"I speak out because laws of criminalizing consensual same sex relations violate basic right for privacy and their freedom from discrimination. These laws create intolerance," the secretary-general said.
UN advocate Nandita Das urged the secretary general to pressure the Indian government to remove this "archaic law", referring to Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, criminalising "unnatural sex".
Satyarthi, invoking the importance of a future free of child labour and slavery that still victimizes about 5.5 million children in the world, said: "There must not be any excuse for not ending slavery. We have to get rid of it."
It was a message that also resonated with Tendulkar - the UNICEF ambassador for handwash and sanitation - who batted for a future where hygiene and health was ensured for all children.
Tagore, a national goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, desired a future that "would value our mothersa ensure that who give birth and nurture are also able to survive".
Ban also said he was in India to "strengthen" UN-India partnership "because India's collaboration with the UN is good for this country and for our world".
Visibly hesitant to display his linguistic skills in Hindi, Ban, a former South Korean foreign minister, however went on to speak in it. "Mera is desh se ek gehra samabandh hai. Main Bharat wapas aake bohot khush hua (I have a deep connection with this country. I am happy to return to India)," and adding he was returning after 43 years to India, with which he had a special connection with because his son was born here.