NEW YORK, 10 May 2002 - UNICEF today hailed the President of Peru, Alejandro Toledo, who pledged in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday that his government would reduce military spending in order to redirect public funds to basic social services for children.
"I pledge that my government will significantly reduce military expenditures with a view to reorienting them to social investment, particularly in children," Toledo told the General Assembly. The hall broke into applause.
The 56-year-old leader, elected last summer and Peru's first president of Native origin, said he was born into "extreme poverty" as one of 16 children. Seven of his siblings died, and the President referred to himself as a "statistical aberration" for having survived. "When first born I confronted the face of extreme poverty," Toledo said. "I cannot forget that face."
UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said the Peruvian President's commitment was "an extraordinary example of real leadership for children. This courageous step should be supported and emulated. This is just what we've been talking about. It's just what children need."
Bellamy noted that many of the government leaders who have addressed the Special Session on Children have made pledges and commitments to children that are worthy of praise. "Now what we need is follow-up and action," she said.
President Toledo has his work cut out for him. More than half of his country's 26 million people live in poverty.
"At this solemn assembly I reaffirm my commitment to struggle against poverty, particularly that of children," the President told the General Assembly. "My commitment is to re-prioritize public expenditure, to redirect it toward health, education, nutrition, poverty reduction. I am entirely convinced that no better investment exists than investing in the minds of our children."
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