Just before the world changed on September 11, leaders from around the world had been preparing to fly to New York City. For months they had been preparing to meet together to hammer out an important new set of goals for children. Their gathering at the United Nations in New York was to set a bold new agenda for changing the world with children.
The UN Special Session on Children, if it had gone ahead as planned from September 19-21, would have been the largest summit of world leaders this year. And the reason is simple: leaders everywhere have come to recognize that if you really want to change the world, you absolutely must begin with children.
The UN postponed the summit on children not because the tragic destruction of the World Trade Center had made it somehow less necessary, but because the family of nations understood that, for the time-being, New York and the rest of America needed to focus their energy and generosity on healing, not hosting.
And yet in myriad ways, the process of healing has turned the spotlight on children more urgently and with more resonance than perhaps a summit of leaders could have.
Throughout America and across the world, in school rooms and living rooms, in the warm embrace of caring adults, children have been asking questions, seeking reassurance, and looking for ways to help. Millions of dollars have been raised to aid the youngsters who lost parents in the attacks, and trauma counselors have teamed up with educators to make sure that young people have healthy outlets for their emotions.
Looking at all this activity, one conclusion seems obvious: When it comes to investing our hopes, we all put them in the same place - our children.
But in this time of global uncertainty and hurt, I would argue that we've got to invest more in children than just our hopes. We've got to believe enough in those hopes to back them with the investment of resources. To heal our world, we've got to start with each new child born - no matter where.
Across wide swaths of the globe today, children continue to grow up uneducated, stricken by disease, malnourished, threatened by violence and abuse. Over 10 million children die each year from preventable causes. Malnutrition affects more than 150 million. Over 120 million youngsters of school age never step foot in a classroom. And an upsurge in war over the last ten years has left 2 million children dead and 6 million wounded. These ills do not affect all children in all countries, to be sure, but where they do strike they leave whole generations wallowing hopelessly behind the rest of the world.
These were just some of the challenges that world leaders would have confronted in New York in September. The action plan that had been nearing completion set concrete goals for children. And leaders would have committed themselves not only to working together to reach these goals but to putting the well-being of children at the center of all their actions.
Lofty ideals, indeed. But from the ashes of our sorrow and our loss we must cultivate lofty ideals where we can. Children are a natural starting place for all of us.
In fact, ensuring the well-being of children is the key to sustained development in individual countries and to peace and security in the world. Conversely, insufficient investment, especially in young people, produces a global underclass of the forgotten. We simply cannot build a thriving global community without educating our children, promoting their health and guaranteeing their safety.
Meeting this duty, fully, consistently and at any cost, is the essence of leadership. Developing nations must dedicate more of their budgets to basic social services such as health and education. Wealthy countries can help by accelerating debt relief and earmarking more development assistance directly to these same social services.
It won't be easy to get the world focused on making these important investments, especially amid fears of war. But from this enormous tragedy - as from all others in which the world's children are victims - we take renewed resolve. While we care for our children today, we recognize that they are also our future. Only by increasing global investment in all of them, by fighting for their health and well-being, for their education and protection, we can truly begin to build a stronger, healthier world.