MAPUTO / GENEVA, 8 July 2003 – A day before arriving in Mozambique to attend a summit of African leaders, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said that the only chance for sustaining development and progress in African countries is for their leaders to invest in children – and to do so "early and often."
Speaking as dozens of national leaders gathered for the annual African Union summit, Bellamy said that “to keep hope alive, Africa must start by keeping its children alive.”
“From Ethiopia to Liberia, from DRC to South Africa, children are the hope of this continent, even in the midst of crisis,” Bellamy said. “But they need their leaders to keep the promises they have made by putting far more resources into basic social services. Investing in children is the only way to overcome the enormous challenges Africa faces; it’s the only way to diminish poverty, stop AIDS, and counter conflict.”
Arguing that no single measure of development predicts the future as reliably as the well-being of children, Bellamy also suggested that African nations use a series of child-centred standards as their primary gauge of progress.
“The well-being of your children should become the most important standard for measuring your individual achievement as leaders,” Bellamy said, addressing her thoughts directly to African heads of state. “I urge you to make investing in children your first priority, and openly assessing the results your second priority. Do not wait another week or another year. Their survival – and yours – depends on it.”
At the African Economic Summit last month, Bellamy first presented UNICEF’s proposal for a child-centred system of measuring national development. The proposal took the form of a 50-page white paper entitled, “The Young Face of NEPAD” – a reference to the New Partnership for African Development, a movement founded last year by African leaders seeking to develop accountability for the continent’s destiny.
Bellamy expressed support for the NEPAD proposal of an annual system of “peer review.” She said that UNICEF and other UN agencies stood ready to assist in such reviews by providing the uniform statistical data needed to measure the progress of nations.
UNICEF pointed out that African countries in a similar per capita income range of $260 to $300 nonetheless register wide variations in the well-being of children, including child mortality rates, which range from 75 deaths per 1,000 live births to 202 per 1,000; the percentage of schoolchildren reaching grade five, ranging from 24% to 84%; and in the percentage of under-fives who are malnourished, ranging from 16% to 33%.
Bellamy observed that countries in this income range sometimes score better on one child-related indicator but less well on another. “But real progress depends not on one or two child indicators alone, but on steady progress across the whole range of child well-being,” she said. “That’s what African nations should be striving toward; that is the only road to economic development.”
The UNICEF chief highlighted investment in basic health for women and children; education for all children, with an emphasis on girls; and HIV prevention among young people as three key areas of needed investment. She said focus on those three areas would bring sustainable progress in the medium and long term.
She also said progress in Africa is crucial to reaching global objectives agreed to by the nations of the world at the UN’s Millennium Summit in 2000, known as the Millennium Development Goals.
Africa accounts for only 12 per cent of the world’s population yet claims 43 per cent of the world’s child deaths, 50 per cent of maternal deaths, 70 per cent of people living with HIV/AIDS, and a staggering 90 percent of the children orphaned by AIDS.
“No continent with such unfavourable indicators can achieve lasting development or stability without fundamentally raising their level of investment in children,” Bellamy declared. “Only by improving the immediate prospects of children can we break out of poverty toward true progress for Africa.”
Bellamy said she believed Africa’s leaders were coming to see this crucial connection, and she urged the AU chair, Mozambique, to advance the ball.
“We know how committed the Mozambican Government is when it comes to children,” Bellamy said. “We count on Mozambique to use its role as chair of the AU to put investment in children at the centre of the agenda.”
* * *