GENEVA / NEW YORK, 18 April 2002 - One out of twelve children will die before age five, almost all from preventable causes, the United Nations announced today as it released an updated version of its landmark publication on the world's children. The child mortality rate and other statistics contained in the report lend gravity to the basic United Nations assertion that serious investment in the rights and development of children is essential to overcoming poverty.
We the Children: Meeting the Promises of the World Summit for Children, a report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, is the most comprehensive study ever released on the condition of children. Backed with data from nearly 150 countries, it shows that the disparities and pervasive poverty of today are directly related to under-investment in young people, especially their health, education and protection. The report says that if governments are truly serious about reducing poverty, then they must make children their first priority.
The report was compiled for the May 8-10 UN General Assembly Special Session on Children, where more than 70 world leaders and 170 national delegations will commit to a series of concrete goals on the survival, development and protection of young people. According to UNICEF, the meeting is a critical follow-up to the recent International Conference on Financing for Development, held in Monterrey, Mexico. While the Monterrey conference led to a pledge of substantially more development assistance from donor countries, the Special Session on Children will help define where a large share of that money should go.
We the Children provides a detailed look at the progress made on behalf of children since 1990's World Summit on Children, where governments agreed to specific goals on the development of children. Systematic and rigorous monitoring has left an indelible imprint of where the world has succeeded, where it has failed - and why. The overall results reflect the world's failure to invest adequately in young people: over 10.5 million still die each year, often from readily preventable causes; an estimated 150 million are malnourished; and over 120 million never go to school, the majority of them girls.
"Clearly, the world's children have not had the promised 'first call' on resources - despite the extraordinary growth of the global economy. Consequently, much more needs to be done now, and with the greatest urgency," the report says. "National leaders must act on the past decade's most important lesson: that investing in children from the earliest years is neither a charitable gesture nor an extravagance, but is rather the best way to ensure long-term development."
A Roadmap for the Future
The Special Session on Children comes in the middle of an important series of international conferences that are drawing a roadmap for reducing poverty world-wide. For the Special Session, the framework for moving forward is spelled out in documents like We the Children and the draft outcome document, A World Fit for Children.
We the Children is a revised and updated version of a draft report first released last June in preparation for the Special Session on Children, which was postponed from last September by the attacks on New York and Washington, DC. The 102-page report and an all-new statistical appendix - complete with colour graphics, statistical tables and charts - analyzes the progress of countries over the last decade in areas of child heath, education, nutrition and protection.
"Thanks to work at the national and international levels, the knowledge and guidelines are already in place," says Patricia Durrant, Jamaica's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, who is chairing the Special Session's preparatory process. "What we need is the commitment of leaders, both financial and political, to see that children are given the priority they deserve. We will address this at the Special Session. "
Investing in Children is Key
In asserting that economic development and social cohesion start with investing in children, the UN is drawing on a proven historical record. During Europe's era of rapid progress in the 19th century, countries across the continent invested in universal primary education and broad public access to healthcare. In the 20th century, several East Asian countries successfully used similar policies. With comprehensive funding and political will, the same is possible in the 21st century for countries that are home to the estimated one billion people living on less than US$1 a day.
The programmes to help children are straightforward and highly effective: immunization, nutrition, sanitation, and good quality education for every child. The economic benefits of such investments are well-documented. A 1998 study by the Rand Corporation found that for every $1 invested in the physical and cognitive development of infants and young children, there is a $7 return, mainly from future savings on costs such as health care, remedial education, unemployment and crime. Other studies show large-scale returns on investment in health and education.
"Unfortunately, many governments don't give children the resources they deserve - and that goes for both developing countries and the donor nations that provide funds," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF.) "So we will continue to state what may seem obvious to many. Healthy and educated children are a critical force driving economic development. If we want to overcome poverty, that means, first and foremost, we must invest in them."
We the Children: Major Trends
We the Children and its statistical supplement present the results of the largest effort to survey, extract and analyze information on how well the world has kept its promises to women and children. Some examples of goals set in 1990 and where the world stood in 2000:
Infant and under-five mortality: reduce this rate by one-third. The latest figures show the global average has declined by 11 per cent, from 93 to 83 deaths per 1,000 live births. More than 60 countries achieved the target of one-third reduction. But the mortality rates are extremely high in Africa and South Asia, with malnutrition playing a role in half of all deaths. Child malnutrition: reduce severe and moderate malnutrition in under-fives by half. The report shows that underweight prevalence - the key measure for determining malnutrition - has only declined from 32 to 28 per cent in developing countries. These high levels pose a major challenge to development and expose children to myriad diseases while also hindering their complete development. Primary education: universal access to basic education, with completion of primary school by 80 per cent of children. By 2000, around 82 per cent of primary school age children are enrolled and/or attend class - up from 80 per cent in 1990. Yet completion rates remain much lower - a quarter of all those who start school drop out by grade five. Moreover, nearly 120 million children do not go to school at all.
* * *
For further information, please contact:
Liza Barrie, UNICEF Media Chief, New York (212) 326-7593 Patsy Robertson, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 326-7270 Laufey Love, UN Department of Public Information, New York (212) 963-3507 Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 326-7261