Mr Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates:
Five years ago, 117 heads of State and Government gathered in Copenhagen and committed themselves to the eradication of poverty in the world through decisive national actions and international cooperation.
Like the World Summit for Children, the 1995 World Summit for Social Development was a watershed in the evolution of international attitudes toward development.
The Copenhagen Declaration and Programme of Action emphasised the necessity of focusing national efforts and policies on meeting the basic needs of all - and on the need to give special priority to the rights of children and women. For it is they who bear the heaviest burden of poverty - a burden worsened by the catastrophic spread of HIV/AIDS, by the proliferation of armed conflict and instability, and by the paralysing effects of external debt, gender discrimination and violence, environmental degradation, terrorism, and natural disasters.
Mr. Chairman, we have seen distinct progress since the Social Summit and the World Summit for Children - gains in immunisation that have brought polio to the brink of eradication; reductions in micro-nutrient deficiencies through vitamin A supplementation and salt iodisation; the promotion of breastfeeding standards; improved access to safe water; and progress in the drive to provide quality basic education for all.
But for all the many millions of young lives that have been saved, and for all the lives that have been bettered, it is clear that progress overall has fallen far short of national commitments and legal obligations.
Now, at the dawn of a new century, we have a historic opportunity to redeem those promises - redeem them by mobilising a global alliance dedicated to achieving a breakthrough in human development, based on specific actions for children - and guided by history's most embraced human rights instrument, the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
For it is clear, Mr. Chairman, that the foundation for any sustainable effort to eliminate chronic poverty must begin with steps to ensure the well-being of children and the realisation of their rights.
Poverty is not only an economic issue where children are concerned. For children, poverty often means physical, emotional or intellectual impairment, which can add up to a lifetime of lost opportunity - and a legacy of poverty for succeeding generations.
Poverty is why some 11 million children die every year before their 5th birthday of preventable causes like measles, acute respiratory infections and tuberculosis; why some 250 million children must work to survive, many of them the objects of sexual exploitation and abuse; why 110 million children, the majority of them girls, are not in school; and why preventable complications in pregnancy and childbirth kill and disable more women and girls of child-bearing age than any other set of causes.
Yet we now know so much more about what must be done to stop such abuses of child rights.
We know that that a significant leap in human development is possible within one generation if we ensure that three things happen: that children get the best possible start in their early years; that they receive a quality basic education; and that adolescents have ample opportunity to become caring and responsible citizens.
Moreover, we know that in a $30 trillion global economy, the knowledge, the resources and the strategies already exist to achieve these outcomes for children - each of them crucial first steps if we are to break the endless cycle of global poverty, much of it occasioned by poor health and poor nutrition.
Mr. Chairman, education, especially for girls, is a vital weapon for attacking poverty. It equips children with the skills and confidence to make the most of their abilities to avoid the trap of child labour, to join a dynamic workforce or to succeed in a sustainable livelihood.
But education will be of little use unless children's minds and bodies are prepared for it. That is why it is essential that each and every child get a good start in life.
Mr. Chairman, let us speak plainly: creating these conditions for children is not a question of charity, but of laying the foundation for strong economies.
Just as hunger, disease and ignorance have never been a foundation for growth and development, so democracy, participation and human rights will never take root unless we ensure that all children are nurtured and cared for in the early years, given a basic education, and equipped to navigate the shoals of adolescence.
We cannot make this crucial beginning if developing countries continue to devote only 12 to 15 per cent of their national budgets to basic social services, while donor countries earmark only 10 and 15 per cent of their aid budgets for the same programmes.
Mr. Chairman, the Copenhagen goals remain technically and financially feasible, even in countries with low per-capita income. Indeed, the Summit Programme of Action underlined that feasibility by endorsing the 20/20 Initiative, a mutual commitment between interested donor and developing countries to allocate an average of 20 per cent of ODA and 20 per cent of national budgets to basic social programmes.
I am pleased to report that the commitment to implement 20/20 has grown steadily in the five years since Copenhagen. The consensus documents that emerged from the Oslo and Hanoi conferences are evidence of a better understanding of the Initiative - including recognition that if 20/20 is fully implemented, we can assure each and every child that good start in life that is so pivotal to later development.
Yet global spending on basic social services is currently falling short by about $100 billion per year. This may sound like a dauntingly large sum - but in fact it represents only one-third of 1 per cent of global annual income. In other words, if the world were to invest an extra 30 cents out of every one hundred dollars, we could ensure that every child on the planet is healthy, well-nourished and enrolled in primary school.
Mr. Chairman, seldom has the international community been presented with a better investment opportunity.
The under-investment in basic social services that we are witnessing is, in part, a consequence of the crippling debt burden that weighs on many low- and middle-income countries, some of which are spending as much as three to five times more on debt service than on basic social services.
To spend such sums on external debt when tens of millions of children lack access to basic education, primary health, adequate food and safe drinking water is not only morally wrong - it is also poor economics.
Mr. Chairman, in confronting this crisis, the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative remains our best hope.
Under the "enhanced" HIPC initiative, the priority use for the debt dividend will be poverty reduction. And in this connection, it is encouraging to note that Uganda - the first country to receive HIPC support - is now spending most of its debt dividend on primary education and AIDS orphans.
And so UNICEF calls on creditor countries to maintain the momentum that was generated at last year's G7 summit in Cologne so that the Jubilee 2000 campaign can bear fruit in the near future.
Mr. Chairman, the time for debt relief is not today - it was yesterday. Tomorrow will be too late for hundreds of thousands of children.
My predecessor at UNICEF, James P. Grant, once remarked that the problem before us "is not that we have tried to eradicate global poverty and failed - the problem is that no serious and concerted attempt has ever been made."
Regrettably, that observation remains as valid now as it was in 1993.
Yet the fact remains that we have the knowledge and the means to reduce - and ultimately eradicate - the worst forms of poverty.
It will require commitment and action on four fronts: first, ensuring that every child gets a good start in life, from birth through adolescence; second, to see to it that anti-poverty strategies are determined locally and are guided by a knowledge of the needs of people who are poor; third, to mobilise a stronger sense of commitment and solidarity within and between nations; and fourth, to live by principles of good governance and sound social policy.
Mr. Chairman, the international commitment to building a better future for every child is strong, and it is clear. The challenge now is to bring it to critical mass - to engage millions of additional people who can lead the fight for child rights at every level.
That means that we must mobilise not only established leaders, but all people with influence, whether from the highest echelons of government or civil society, non-governmental organisations, business and private enterprise, people's movements, academia and the media, community and grassroots groups, the family - and children themselves.
Mr. Chairman, investing in children and mothers today will secure the well-being and productivity of future generations for decades to come. So let us go forward in the spirit of Copenhagen, secure in the conviction that the rights and needs of children must be at the centre of all our actions.