SOWC 2002 Press Summary
I. Broken promises
It was September 1990, a time of unusual optimism in the world.
The cold war was over and there was widespread expectation that
money that had been spent on arms could now be devoted to human
development in a ‘peace dividend’. An unprecedented number of
country presidents and national leaders gathered at the United
Nations for the World Summit for Children, as the world considered
how to guarantee children a better life.
The World Summit for Children reflected the world’s hopes for
children. Leaders promised to ratify the Convention on the Rights
of the Child, which had been unanimously approved by the United
Nations General Assembly just the year before. They signed up
to ambitious goals to reduce child mortality, increase immunization
coverage, deliver basic education and a whole raft of other measures
by the year 2000. The World Declaration to which the leaders signed
their name was bold and unequivocal: “The well-being of children
requires political action at the highest level.” The cause of
children, for perhaps the first time in human history, was at
the top of the world’s agenda.
Eleven years on from the World Summit for Children, world leaders
are again to gather in New York, at the September 2001 UN Special
Session on Children. They will review the progress that has been
made over the years since the words of the Declaration were expressed.
The data presented to them will show the record as a mixture of
conspicuous achievement and dispiriting failure.
The State of the World’s Children 2002 is about leadership:
about the leadership that turned the commitments made at the 1990
Summit into actions that improved the lives of children and families,
and about the leadership that is still needed to ensure the right
of every child to live in peace, health and dignity. Presenting
models of leadership from individuals and agencies, organizations
and alliances, this report spotlights the ‘Say Yes for Children’
campaign and the United Nations Special Session on Children.
Meeting goals – and falling short
The first goal of the World Summit was to reduce the rates of
infant and under-five mortality by one third between 1990 and
2000. The overall reduction of 14 per cent was a significant improvement,
as 3 million more children a year are now surviving beyond their
fifth birthday than was the case a decade ago. More than 60 countries
actually achieved the one-third reduction, including most countries
in the European Union and North Africa and many others in East
Asia and the Pacific, the Americas and the Middle East.
Another primary goal was to cut malnutrition rates among children
under five by half. Although this has been more than achieved
in South America, the overall rate in developing countries has
declined only 17 per cent. In Asia, where more than two thirds
of the world’s malnourished children live, the drop in child malnutrition
rates was relatively small, from 36 per cent to 29 per cent. In
sub-Saharan Africa the absolute number of malnourished children
has actually increased.
The World Summit goals of universal access to safe drinking water
and sanitary means of excreta disposal by 2000 have not been neared.
Although the percentage of people with access has gone up in both
cases – from 79 per cent to 82 per cent for water, and 55 per
cent to 60 per cent for sanitation, around 1.1 billion people
are still without safe water and 2.4 billion people without adequate
sanitation. The vast majority of the latter group lives in Asia.
The goal of universal access to basic education is also far from
being achieved. Net primary enrolment ratios increased in every
region, but there are still more than 100 million children out
of school and many more than that who receive an education of
poor quality. The gender gap – the difference between the school
enrolment and completion rates of boys and girls – has closed
fractionally overall and narrowed significantly in most countries
in the Middle East and North Africa, but it is still far too wide.
In the area of women’s health, the aim was to reduce maternal
mortality rates by half but there is no evidence that there has
been any significant decline.
UNICEF is determined to focus attention on the unfinished business
of the World Summit for Children, on the children who have not
yet been reached. Every child has a name and a story; every one
has the right to health, learning and protection, the right to
their full potential and the right to participate in shaping their
world – rights which have in all too many cases been violated.
Governments, as well as international institutions, must be held
accountable for their leadership in putting the rights and well-being
of children above all other concerns. And those that fail to do
so must also be held accountable.
Ensuring the rights and well-being of children is the key to
sustained development in a country and to peace and security in
the world. Meeting this responsibility, fully, consistently and
at any cost, is the essence of leadership. Heads of State and
Government hold the lion’s share of this responsibility. But commitment
and action are also called for across the board: from community
activists and entrepreneurs, from artists and scientists, from
religious leaders and journalists – and from children and adolescents
Challenges for leadership in the face of HIV/AIDS
The impact of HIV/AIDS is crushing the attempts of countries
all over the world to put human development and the rights of
women and children first. In the Latin American and Caribbean
region, for example, an estimated 210,000 adults and children
contracted the virus in 2000, bringing the total number of people
living with HIV to 1.8 million. Haiti is the worst affected country
in the region, with an estimated 74,000 children orphaned by AIDS.
But the epidemic is at its most devastating in southern and eastern
Africa where, after decades of steady improvement, life expectancy
figures are plummeting.
In his February 2001 report to the Special Session of the UN
General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, UN Secretary-General Kofi A. Annan
spoke of the AIDS epidemic as a “crisis of governance and a crisis
of leadership.” And he went further to say that “leadership –
at the global as well as the country level – is the single most
important factor in reversing the epidemic.” Launching an intense
campaign at the highest levels of international cooperation in
April 2001, the Secretary-General proposed a multi-billion dollar
a year Global AIDS and Health Fund, with support to come from
donor and developing country governments and the private sector.
Leadership in policy-making
Some national governments have shown leadership by recognizing
the paramount importance of a particular policy and moving heaven
and earth to bring it about. The decision by Malawi in 1994 to
guarantee universal free primary education was just such a case.
This enormously popular move resulted in school attendance skyrocketing
from 1.9 million to 2.9 million. The school system is still straining
now to meet the demands – but the fee-free schooling remains in
Cambodia, China and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic have
shown leadership in the field of immunization. Through multiple
National Immunization Days backed by strong governmental commitment,
both China and Lao PDR reached the goal of polio-free status by
the end of 2000. Cambodia succeeded in eliminating polio in three
years despite huge obstacles, and in 2000 the country showed a
particular commitment to spreading the benefits of immunization
to people in remote, underserved areas, reaching more of these
– 65 per cent – than ever before.
In Thailand, meanwhile, immunization is close to universal: The
Government sustains the vaccination programme out of its own budget
and has stressed that no children under five die of vaccine-preventable
disease. The goal of freedom from polio has also been achieved
by Pacific Island Nations, which are also well placed to eliminate
measles and neonatal tetanus as seven countries in the region
have achieved and maintain 90 per cent immunization coverage.
Instances of leadership are by no means confined to the public
sector. There is a particular need for corporations, those in
the pharmaceutical industry in particular, to exercise leadership
in the world’s fight against HIV/AIDS, and many have stepped forward
in response to intense international pressure to do so.
The Coca-Cola Company recently announced that it would put its
enormous distribution net-work – which manages to get soft drinks
to nearly every nook of the African continent – to help bring
condoms, testing kits and literature to remote clinics. Coca-Cola
is one of many corporations that have joined the Global Business
Council on HIV and AIDS, an effort to mobilize the private sector
that is chaired by William Roedy, president of MTV Networks International
and includes such companies as AOL Time Warner, DaimlerChrysler,
MAC Cosmetics and Unilever.
Some private companies have shown a different kind of leadership
in finding a way in which high-tech commerce can serve the needs
of the poorest. The Finnish mobile-phone giant Nokia has launched
child-oriented social initiatives in many countries. The sale
of mobile phones has also ben-efited Palestinian children: The
Egyptian company MobiNil donated $140,000 of its proceeds to UNICEF
programmes in the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile in Bangladesh,
GrameenPhone is donating $2 to UNICEF for every mobile phone sold.
Leadership by individuals
Individuals who use their celebrity and popular respect for the
greater social good can have a huge influence. A classic example
of this kind of leadership on behalf of children came in October
1999 when 23 of the leading intellectuals in Latin America and
the Caribbean, including writers Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel García
Márquez, Elena Poniatowska and Ernesto Sábato, issued a moving
and out-spoken manifesto challenging governments and citizens
throughout the region to put aside their differences and establish
a ‘social pact’ for the region’s 192 million children and adolescents.
Internationally, Nelson Mandela, former President of South Africa,
together with Graça Machel, a former Minister of Education in
Mozambique and a world leader on the issue of children caught
up in armed conflict, together with UNICEF and other key children’s
agencies, are aiming to enlist the commitment of leaders to do
whatever it takes to create a world fit for children. “The future
of our children lies in leadership and the choices leaders make,”
they have said. “We call on those we have called on before to
join us in a new global partnership that is committed to this
change. We invite those whom we have never met to join us in the
global movement for children.”
II. “To change the world with children”
Since the earliest days of its existence, UNICEF has called the
world’s attention to the situation of children – to the many bruised
by the operation of national societies and the global economy,
to the ways in which they have suffered because of their parents’
poverty, to how their health has suffered through lack of food
or immunization and their mental development through poor health,
abuse and neglect, and lack of education – and has taken action
to offset the damage. During the 1980s, UNICEF focused its energies
on the processes such as immunization, breastfeeding and oral
rehydration therapy that would save the lives of millions of infants.
The achievements were remarkable, demonstrating that when political
will, knowledge and resources converge, seemingly intractable
problems could be solved.
And then, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted
in 1989 by the UN General Assembly and coming into force a year
later, profoundly changed the world’s engagement with children.
Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the Convention
articulated something fundamental about humanity’s sense of itself
and acted as a watershed and reference point for future generations.
It presented a coherent vision of children’s rights and how society
should provide for them – expressing it in the terms of a legal
document, and asking national governments to sign up to those
terms and thereafter be held accountable for them.
Seen through the Convention’s lens, the child is an active and
contributing member of a family, community and society. Children’s
participation changes thinking and alters the design of projects
and programmes. Yet the systematic soliciting of children’s and
adolescents’ opinions has until now been rare. So, in an attempt
to garner their views in a more systematic way, UNICEF has embarked
on a series of regional youth opinion polls, with the long-term
aim of constructing a database that will help the organization
evaluate whether children’s rights are being respected.
Governments must find ways of taking more serious account of
the views of children – and of adolescents in particular. The
proliferation of youth parliaments, for example, is an important
development. Some of the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe
and the Commonwealth of Independent States – notably Albania,
Azerbaijan, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova – are blazing
a trail in this regard. In Africa, too, children’s parliaments
have been launched in one form or another in nearly every country
on the continent.
The Global Movement for Children
The influence of the Convention on the Rights of the Child during
the last decade of the 20th century has been profound – and it
continues to augment with every passing month. Every day new people
come into contact with the idea of child rights; every day new
officials come to terms with the implications of their legal duty
to respect children’s rights; every day more children and adolescents
gain ground in exercising their right to be listened to and to
shape their world by changing the perspectives of the adults around
them. This groundswell of opinion and activism for a common purpose
is bringing about a global movement composed of children and their
families and those who care about child rights.
To help give this burgeoning mass movement a public voice, six
leading organizations that work with children – the Bangladesh
Rural Advancement Committee, Netaid.org Foundation, PLAN International,
Save the Children, UNICEF and World Vision – announced their commitment
to build a Global Movement for Children. This worldwide movement
aims to draw in all those who believe that the rights of children
must be a first priority: from caring parents to government ministers,
from responsible corporations to teachers and child-protection
officers. It is a movement that is gathering the kind of momentum
and moral force that politicians will ignore at their peril. In
all its aspects – including the fact that children are full and
necessary partners – the Global Movement for Children is about
Over the months leading up to the UN Special Session on Children,
this Movement has mobilized support all over the world for a 10-point
agenda that aims to “change the world with children”, moving into
villages, towns and cities in a massive grass-roots campaign.
Young and old alike have been asked to ‘Say Yes for Children’.
The same challenge is being posed on the Internet as people log
on to www.gmfc.org and offer their
pledges. The website has been set up and maintained by the Netaid.org
Foundation – itself a joint public-private venture between the
UN Development Programme and Cisco Systems of the kind the Global
Movement aims to inspire – and which World Vision, another founding
partner of the Global Movement for Children, is making a particular
effort to promote.
The national launches of ‘Say Yes for Children’ all over the
world beginning in March 2001 were spectacular for both their
diversity and their high profile: Presidents and prime ministers,
musical and sports celebrities, religious leaders and writers
joined forces with thousands of children and ado-lescents – all
with a shared agenda – “to change the world with children.”
III. Actions that can change the world
Investing in children is, quite simply, the best investment
a government can make. No country has made the leap into meaningful
and sustained development without doing so. According to the World
Bank, one of the significant reasons, along with good macroeconomic
management, that the countries of East Asia were so much more
successful than those of sub-Saharan Africa in economic development
during the 1970s and 1980s, is that they had invested heavily
in children in the preceding decades. They were reaping the harvest,
in other words, of seeds sown in the 1950s and 1960s in the fertile
soil of children’s health, nutrition and education.
Decisions by political leaders have profound effects in the private
lives of families in the years from the prenatal development of
the baby through school age; in the years of primary school; and
the adolescent years, when the child is grappling with the full
complexity of the world.
High-quality care in early childhood is a prerequisite of healthy
human development. It is also a fundamental human right. The world’s
leaders must ensure that every child, without exception, has their
birth registered; that they start life safe from violence or abuse;
that they have sufficient nutrition, clean water, proper sanitation
and health care. And just as importantly, communities must ensure
that the emotional needs of children are being met; that they
are given the requisite intellectual stimulation and early learning
opportunities; and that their parents and other primary caregivers
receive enough support and information to provide a nurturing
and enriching environment. If national and local governments do
not deliver these things, they will be making a costly mistake
– as well as failing their moral and legal obligations as set
forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Good ECD programmes encompass all of the child-survival goals
with which UNICEF is traditionally identified: maternal health,
safe childbirth, regular postnatal check-ups, immunization, growth
promotion through breastfeeding, complementary feeding, provision
of micronutrients and parental education about nutrition and health.
But they extend also into the mental, social, emotional and spiritual
development of children in their early years: both the physical
and psychosocial care they receive and the stimulation they enjoy.
The case for investing in basic high-quality education – particularly
in the education of girls – has been well established. It enhances
life and expands opportunities for all and its benefits can be
seen across the board. Girls given the opportunity to go to school
tend not just to improve their own life chances and potential
but those of their future children and families – and of society
as a whole. Girls’ education has been proven to reduce child mortality,
improve child health and nutrition, improve women’s health, and
to reduce population growth – given that educated women tend to
marry later and have fewer children. Societies that invest in
educating girls and boys equally reap huge development dividends.
Older children are most vulnerable to some of the major threats
to child rights – to HIV/AIDS, sexual exploitation, exploitative
child labour, being caught up in conflict or used as soldiers.
Adolescents are forced to enter these arenas of risk often without
the information, skills and access to support services they need.
But, again, Governments that have ratified the Convention on
the Rights of the Child must accept that adolescents have inalienable
rights. Adolescents have the right to relevant and reliable information
from a variety of sources, including parents, teachers, the media
and peer educators. They have the right to be taught the life
skills they need for the teenage years when they are exploring
their own identity and independence – skills in negotiation, conflict
resolution, critical thinking, decision-making, communication
and earning a livelihood. Securing and guaranteeing these rights
would not only help young people, it would help human society
as a whole.
Leadership responsibilities without border
All countries have economic incentives to invest in children.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates that ratifying
governments must implement all of the children’s rights recognized
in the Convention “to the maximum extent of their available resources”
and have accepted the legal and moral obligation to use the best
interests of children as the mediating principle when tough economic
decisions have to be made. National and state level finance ministers
and financial institutions must accept their responsibilities
for the ways in which countries use the public purse to invest
The Convention does add a rider, however, stating that “where
needed,” the resources should be sought “within the framework
of international co-operation.” Developing countries must do all
they can, but it is abundantly clear that most of them will fall
short of the 2015 targets reaffirmed by the international community
at the Millennium Summit unless there is a significant increase
in external assistance – and a major infusion of the resources
from debt relief.
The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative, which
was painfully slow and circumscribed at first, is finally starting
to kick in. By early 2000 HIPC had provided debt relief to only
four countries: Bolivia, Guyana, Mozambique and Uganda. Now, the
‘enhanced’ version of HIPC has at last begun to make a difference,
and 22 poor countries receive varying amounts of relief that should
eventually amount to around $34 billion. This should help reduce
their debt to one third of what it was at the start of the process.
Another extremely welcome development has been the announcement
by the G7 countries that they will forgive 100 per cent of the
bilateral debt owed them by HIPC-qualified countries.
Nations that claim leadership of the global economy must set
behind them the broken promises of the last century and respond
to the call by the Managing Director of the IMF, Horst Köhler,
for “a campaign to mobilize public support for action by all OECD
governments and parliaments to reach the 0.7 per cent target within
this decade.” That public support should not be difficult to enlist:
A recent poll in the United States found that respondents believed
their Government to be spending well over 20 per cent of the federal
budget on foreign aid. When asked what they considered to be an
appropriate level of foreign aid, the answer averaged out at 14
per cent of the budget.
An encouraging event took place in London in February 2001. The
UK’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, and International
Development Secretary, Clare Short convened a one-day conference
on International Action against Child Poverty that marked a notable
change of emphasis. Finance ministers from many parts of the world
were invited, along with the heads of the World Bank and IMF and
delegations from key UN agencies and NGOs. It was a recognition
that the development goals that the international community has
undertaken to meet by the year 2015 have little chance of being
met unless all parties work together with markedly more commitment
than has been shown hitherto – and most particularly unless the
finance ministers and international financial institutions that
control the resources are on board.
Speaking by satellite link at the event, Nelson Mandela challenged
those in the audience, “We must move children to the centre of
the world’s agenda. We must rewrite strategies to reduce poverty
so that investments in children are given priority.”
Among the initiatives launched at the conference was a proposal
from the Italian Government, using its leadership position chairing
the G7 countries, to create a special Trust Fund for Health to
which the 1,000 largest corporations in the world would contribute
a minimum donation of $500,000 each. The governments of industrialized
nations would then match those donations to arrive at a fund of
at least 1 billion dollars that could be dedicated to helping
countries meet the year 2015 goals on health.
The Special Session on Children
The UN General Assembly’s Special Session on Children in September
2001 represents the culmination of years of work by literally
thousands of organizations. The ground has been prepared for it,
as with any major UN conference, by a series of preparatory gatherings
at which key issues have been debated and explored, and guiding
principles and targets to which national governments will be asked
to commit themselves have been painstakingly drafted and revised.
The widest possible range of civil society organizations working
with and for children has played an active part in the debate
from the start. Representatives of NGOs have had broad access
and have made significant contributions to both the process and
the draft documents. They have created an alliance aimed at ensuring
that the world takes seriously the idea that children have fundamental
human rights, that they must have the first call on our energy,
commitment and resources.
It is an alliance, moreover, which does not just aim to represent
children’s needs and concerns but to be founded on their participation.
Children’s right to participate is nowhere more appropriate than
at the Special Session and the major meetings leading up to it.
So it was that in Jomtien, Thailand, in April, there was an unprecedented
gathering of children aged between 11 and 18 from countries all
over East Asia. In the same month, children from 27 countries
across Europe and Central Asia met in Budapest to work on a Young
People’s Agenda for Europe and Central Asia. There was a similar
Regional Youth Forum in Amman, in November 2000, involving children
from the Middle East and North Africa, while in April 2001 in
Kathmandu, a group called The Change Makers, representing children
from the eight countries of South Asia, presented their own vision
of the future to corporate leaders from the region.
A world fit for children
The Special Session will be a unique opportunity for the world’s
nations to make a clean break with the tradition of leaving hundreds
of millions of children abandoned in poverty or exploited in labour,
condemned to everyday hunger or denied the benefits of learning.
Those leaders present at the Special Session will have the chance
to commit themselves to creating a world fit for children within
a generation. We have learned a great deal over the decades of
development about the way in which promises are discarded or evaded
– always leaving children to bear the brunt of the betrayal. We
have learned that targets and goals have to be specific, time-bound
and measurable – and that progress towards them has to be carefully
monitored and reviewed. Delegates to the Special Session will
therefore be asked to sign up to concrete targets:
- child health
- in education
- in combating HIV/AIDS and
- in protecting children from abuse, exploitation
More than that, though, they will be asked to agree to account
for their progress or their failure.
At the Special Session, governments must show they have finally
understood that, for the good of all, the rights of children must
come first. As Nelson Mandela has said: “Any country, any society,
which does not care for its children is no nation at all.” Now
it is the turn of those who hold in their hands the greatest power
– and the greatest responsibility – to bring about change. The
millions of people in every country of the world who have pledged
their support to the cause of children’s rights will be watching
more closely than they have ever watched before. Those who would
call themselves leaders must give all that is needed – no less
will do – to create a world fit for children.