Zimbabwe, 16 June: Remarks by UNICEF Regional Director Elhadj As Sy on the Day of the African Child
Theme: Planning and budgeting for the well being of the child: A collective responsibility
Her Excellency, the Vice President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Joyce Mujuru
The Prime Minister of the Republic of Zimbabwe, Right Honourable Morgan Richard Tsvangirai
The Deputy Prime Minister of Republic of Zimbabwe, Professor Arthur Mutambara
Her Excellency, Advocate Bience Gawanas, the Commissioner of Social Affairs at the African Union
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Yvonne Chaka – Chaka
The Minister of Youth Development Indigenisation and Empowerment, Honourable Saviour Kasukuwere
Senior Government officials
Zimbabwe Musical Artist, Oliver Mtukudzi
UN Resident Coordinator and Heads of UN Agencies,
UNICEF Country Representative in Zimbabwe,
Civil Society Partners
Members of the Media
Children and young people
Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is my pleasure - and a personal privilege - to share a few remarks with you on the status of children across Eastern and Southern Africa at this vitally important high-level advocacy event, with Zimbabwe’s leadership, renowned and passionate advocates for children across our continent.
Ladies and Gentlemen: This commemoration of the Day of the African Child and in particular the theme of the day, “Planning and Budgeting for the Well being of the Child: A collective responsibility”, offers us a unique opportunity to reflect on the progress made in ensuring that children’s rights are fulfilled. I can confidently say that a lot has been achieved in this region, but indeed more needs to be done.
We have seen responses to the AIDS pandemic working and contributing to reduced HIV prevalence rates. In education we have seen a significant increase in primary school enrolment rates. However, the quality of education is still lagging behind in many countries. It is important to highlight that overall enrolment in primary education in sub-Saharan Africa has increased from 58 percent in 2000 to 74 percent in 2007. However, in Eastern and Southern Africa in 2008, almost 10 million children were out of school, and, in several countries less than half of all children who start school, complete a full circle of primary education.
These averages mask significant inequalities. In fact, some countries in Southern Africa have the biggest disparities in the world between rich and poor, between men and women and between urban and rural areas. UNICEF is strengthening its focus on addressing these disparities in order to make sure that all children, including the most difficult to reach have access to basic services. It will require conscious efforts to go the extra mile – the extra mile to the next water point, to the next health post and the next school – but we can make it and we have to make it.
As a region, we must applaud the efforts that have increased children’s opportunities to grow up healthy and develop their full potential. “The African Report on Child Wellbeing 2008: How child-friendly are African governments?” highlighted an impressive involvement in child-focused movements, campaigns or treaties.
This had important impact: Overall, the under-five mortality in our region has declined by 27 percent from 166 per 1,000 live births in 1990, to 120 per 1,000 live births in 2008. However, 19 out of the 20 countries with the highest under-five mortality rates in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa, including six in the Eastern and Southern Africa region.
Many of these deaths could easily be prevented, if our hospitals and health centres were better equipped, if we could ensure that all children are immunised and sleep under a mosquito net and if all children had access to safe water and sanitation, just to name a few key interventions.
To a large extent this is not happening because of an overall lack of planning, budgeting and funding. But chiefly most of the challenges stem from the fact that women and children are still not prioritized in national development plans, poverty reduction strategies and state budgets.
Distinguished guests: it is a known fact that many of the millions of African children who do not live to see their fifth birthday could be saved with greater investment in basic health services and infrastructure. These investments in children’s health, education and well-being will not only save lives but will also improve a nation’s future development. That’s why the African Union chose “Planning and budgeting for children” as the theme of this year’s Day of the African Child.
Through a number of declarations and commitments, African governments have committed themselves to provide 15 percent of their national budgets for health, 20 percent for education and 10 percent for agriculture, and 0.5 percent of GDP for improved water and sanitation. Some African nations have made positive strides to achieve their budgetary and fiscal targets, especially in health and education. There are many examples of low income countries achieving strong returns from budgets that concentrate on human development. Through strategic investments in the survival and well-being of children, even countries with limited resources like Malawi have managed to reduce their child mortality rates considerably. Such progress is impressive.
Let me stress the joint responsibility of African states and the international community in this regard. Donor countries have promised to allocate 0.7 percent of their GDP to development cooperation, and we know that only a few countries have reached that goal. We also need a better coordination and harmonization of international aid in order to make sure that our programmes are more effective.
As UNICEF we believe that good planning, prioritization and resource allocation towards children’s wellbeing need strong partnerships. This is the anchor of everything we do. We believe that budgeting for children is a matter of political and economic common sense and that this is an essential pre-requisite for equality, dignity, and progress of any society.
But we also strongly believe that the role of planning and budgeting for children neither belongs to any one UN agency, nor should it be relegated to government alone. Certainly, there is need for collective action and responsibility, by communities and the private sector as well as civil society.
Distinguished Guests: Allow me to spend a few minutes on the opportunities presented by the World Cup, as well as on the risks posed to the protection of our children in the region and in Zimbabwe in particular.
When travelling to South Africa or other neighboring countries, children face significant protection risks. Every month, around 2,500 children are deported from South Africa. The prevailing context of economic insecurity and political fragility in Zimbabwe continues to exert pressure on families to seek alternative sources of income outside of the country. Children are left alone as their parents seek temporary work or goods for trade in Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique and Botswana. Others are forced to seek work themselves.
It is imperative that Zimbabwe adjusts its current legal framework to allow special protection for children on the move, including those who have been trafficked against their will. Zimbabwe's domestication of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child allow for such protection, as will strengthening of available support programmes for children on the move.
Together with our partners, we stand ready to support Zimbabwe’s inclusive government through our joint work in the areas of education, health, HIV and AIDS, protection and participation. We will make all our technical assistance available. With barely five years to go until we reach the target year for the Millennium Development Goals, we have a joint responsibility: Both donor and developing countries need to increase their efforts to reach the goals, now more than ever.
Let me close by saying that it is heartening to see that this same township in South Africa, where 1976 boys and girls died under the bullets of the Apartheid regime when they claimed their right to a good education – that this same township Soweto is now hosting young people from all over the world to celebrate the World Cup. The Day of the African Child which has brought us all together here to commemorate the unfortunate events of 1976 reminds us of our joint responsibility: Let’s make sure that our children don’t become victims of violence and sexual exploitation – neither during the World Cup nor afterwards.
I thank you.