The UNICEF Executive Board opened its annual session of 2014 this week in New York.
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By Kristin Taylor
The Executive Board reviews UNICEF activities and approves its policies, country programmes and budgets. It comprises 36 members, representing the five regional groups of Member States at the United Nations. The Executive Board meets three times a year at United Nations Headquarters in New York – in a first regular session (January/February), annual session (May/June) and second regular session (September).
NEW YORK, United States of America, 3 June 2014 – The UNICEF Executive Board opened its annual session against the backdrop of an era marked by exciting developments for children.
Later this year, the world commemorates the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and celebrates significant achievements towards ensuring all children have an equal opportunity to realize those rights. The 2015 deadline for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) also draws nearer, with pivotal gains already won.
The approach of these milestones provides an opportunity to measure the concrete results we have achieved, to define our ideal future for children and to identify the set of goals that will help turn that ambition into reality.
Her Majesty Queen Sofía of Spain addresses members of the 2014 UNICEF Executive Board during its Annual Session at United Nations Headquarters in New York.
In his opening remarks to the Board, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake emphasized that while new challenges continue to emerge, we have the capacity to overcome them – if we continue to put children at the centre of our concerns. “[D]espite self-fulfilling prophecies of pessimism, there is no question that even in a world of a growing population and fierce competition for resources and opportunities, change and progress are possible.”
We must continue to contemplate, he said, not only how we have changed the lives of children in the past 25 years, but also what childhood will look like when the CRC turns 50.
Her Majesty Queen Sofía of Spain, who attended the Board meeting in support of children’s rights worldwide, echoed many of these sentiments: “It has been twenty-five years since the birth of the first generation protected by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. However, there remains much more to be done to ensure that that protection is truly complete and effective.”
Results for Africa’s children
Remarkable achievements have also been borne out in Africa, a continent where many countries have struggled to make and maintain progress in areas essential to children’s well-being.
In his opening remarks, Board President H.E. Macharia Kamau, Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations, noted that “over the past ten years, many countries, including in Africa, have attained high levels of economic growth and have made significant progress towards poverty alleviation. Success in economic growth is fundamental and important, because we know that the elimination of poverty worldwide is strongly correlated to prevention of unnecessary deaths, alleviation of suffering and exploitation of children.”
To look further at the progress made in Africa, as well as to discuss what more needs to be done, members of the Executive Board gathered for a special focus session on Africa’s children.
The achievements have been many:
● Between 1990 and 2012, deaths among children under age 5 decreased by 45 per cent in Africa. ● During that timeframe, the population with access to improved sources of drinking water more than doubled, from 351 million to 746 million. ● In northern Africa, rates of maternal mortality have declined by nearly two thirds. ● Over the past decade, the proportion of children in sub-Saharan Africa sleeping beneath insecticide-treated mosquito nets has risen from less than 5 per cent to more than one third, bolstering the fight against malaria, a leading killer of children. ● In most countries where female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) is still practised, the majority of women and men think it should end, auguring continued reductions in the number of girls affected by this grave rights violation.
Her Majesty Queen Sofia of Spain talks with (left-right) Permanent Representative of Spain to the United Nations Ambassador Román Oyarzun Marchesi, President of the 2014 UNICEF Executive Board and Permanent Representative of Kenya to the United Nations Ambassador Macharia Kamau, and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, at the start of the Annual Session of the UNICEF Executive Board.
But behind these markers of progress, there also remain stark inequalities. As Her Majesty Queen Sofía pointed out, “Over the past decades, there has been remarkable economic development in several African countries that should have already resulted in shared progress throughout society.”
More progress needed
Children in sub-Saharan Africa are more than 16 times likelier to die before their fifth birthday than children of the same age in developed regions. And within their own communities, children from poor families or rural areas are heavily disadvantaged in comparison to their richer or urban-dwelling peers – for example, the poorest children in sub-Saharan Africa are 4.5 times more likely than the richest children to be out of school. More progress is needed to ensure that the right of every child to survive and develop is equally fulfilled, rather than determined by geographic or socio-economic factors.
Elaborating on his earlier observations, President Kamau pointed out that “economic growth alone, without direct, purposeful and targeted policies that intervene for children and poor families, does not hold the promise of preventing unnecessary deaths nor alleviating suffering and exploitation of children. Economic growth and the fight against inequity and inequality must, therefore, go hand-in-glove.”
In keeping with Mr. Kamau’s remarks, many areas demanding greater momentum were also discussed during the session:
● Of the world’s 6.6 million under-5 deaths in 2012, half were in Africa – 40 per cent of them caused by preventable conditions: pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea. ● At least one in three African children suffered from stunting in 2011, a condition known to impede not only physical growth, but also mental development. ● Nearly half of births in Africa occur without the presence of a skilled attendant, such as a nurse, doctor or midwife, to reduce the risk to the lives of women and newborns. ● More than half the world’s out-of-school children live in Africa. ● Only 39 per cent of Africans use improved sanitation facilities, which lessen the exposure to many life-threatening illness. ● And 30 million girls remain at risk of undergoing FGM/C in the next decade.
“Africa’s children deserve and need more to be done in the face of myriad evolving socio-economic, political, cultural, and humanitarian challenges,” President Kamau stressed. “As an international community … we are still failing Africa’s children.”
Today’s solutions, tomorrow’s possibilities
By the year 2050, nearly one in three of the world’s children under age 18 will be African. This staggering statistic has pointed implications: Redressing inequities and continuing on a trajectory that accelerates gains is critical not only for Africa’s children and its nations, but also for the global community.
As globalization continues to increase the interconnectedness and interdependence of the world’s citizens, the impetus to work together to effect positive change for a shared future must likewise increase. Addressing the challenges Africa’s children face today is a first and critical step towards realizing the world’s possibilities in the years to come.
Speaking at the meeting, Her Excellency Chantal Compaoré, First Lady of Burkina Faso, pointed to the need for a shift in perspective, to one that better recognizes the powerful potential of Africa’s people. “Indeed, the issue of strong demographic growth in Africa should be approached through the lens of dynamic development,” she said, “in which the population is a factor of economic growth, rather than a phenomenon that aggravates poverty, as it is perceived nowadays.”