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UNICEF'S Bellamy says waste of human potential is a global tragedy

State of World's Children Report Says Key To Progress Lies With Very Youngest

NEW YORK, 12 December 2000 - Declaring that "investment in the development and care of our youngest children is the most fundamental form of good leadership," Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund, argued today that the world is squandering human potential on a massive scale as hundreds of millions of the world's youngest citizens flounder in poverty and neglect in their first years of life.

"Childhood poverty is insidious and immoral. Child by child, mind by mind, it leads to a vast loss of human capacity," Bellamy said. "Unleashing children's brain power through effective investments in health, nutrition, education, child care and basic protection is both a moral imperative and sound economics," Bellamy declared. "But those investments must happen early - early enough in a child's life to take advantage of that unique moment in human development."

In its annual assessment of the well-being of children - The State of The World's Children 2001 - UNICEF said that far too many political and economic leaders fail to grasp the essential truths about human development.

"The greatest tragedy is that many decision-makers simply don't know how crucial those first three years of life are," Bellamy said. "But we have made great strides in understanding human development, and we are now certain that those years are vital to everything that comes later. Investments made today will yield high returns to children and society in the future."

Bellamy argued that investing in children aged 0-3 is the only way to ensure that every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential. She said investment in early childhood development is also essential to making any real gains in education, economic development, crime reduction and debt reduction.

The UNICEF chief noted that nearly 11 million children die every year from preventable diseases, 170 million children are malnourished, over 100 million never see the inside of a school and that one out of 10 children have disabilities. In addition to these tangible measures of the ways the world fails children, UNICEF argued that almost beyond measure is the lost human capacity that results from poor early childhood care.

The State of the World's Children 2001 rallies individuals, governments, international agencies and donors to fully fund early childhood care, with a particular emphasis on ages 0 to 3. UNICEF says $80 billion per year is needed to give every new-born in the world a good start in life.

The report makes four key points:

1) Early childhood care is a human rights issue.
As a birthright, all children are entitled to registration at birth, sound nutrition, health care, clean water, adequate sanitation, basic education, cognitive stimulation and an opportunity to reach their full potential. Nations must strive to provide optimum care for all their children.

2) Early childhood care is grounded in sound science and practical experience.
Research in neuroscience and field experience point to critical windows of opportunity for the development of language, motor skills, personality, social behaviour and resiliency. Comprehensive early care provides the building blocks for social and intellectual competence that allow children to reach their full potential.

3) Early childhood care is a solid investment.
For every $1 spent on early childhood care there is a $7 return through cost savings. This figure is derived from studies showing that participants in pre-school and day care are less likely to suffer illnesses, repeat grades, drop out of school, or require remedial services later in life. Moreover, by shifting money within budgets, nations can create comprehensive programmes for their youngest citizens without adding large sums of money or further depleting their budgets.

4) Three major challenges loom: poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS.
These three plagues remain the most pressing challenges for the world and compete with early childhood care for funding. In the poorest nations, scarce resources are used to pay loans. By investing in destructive war machines, many countries steal food, clean water, health care and schooling from their citizens. And in some countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV/AIDS pandemic has stripped health and education budgets to the bone.

The State of the World's Children implores the global community to invest in its children as the best hope for overcoming these scourges. Poor, malnourished and weak children make for a poor and powerless state. By investing in children and families, a nation ultimately invests in its own sustained development. Saying that "poverty reduction starts with children," Bellamy urged donor nations to shift aid allotments to reflect a commitment to early childhood development.

Bellamy stressed that successful early childhood care is inseparable from the full protection of women and women's rights. "Educated, healthy, empowered women are essential to the well-being of the children they bring into the world," she said. "At the same time, educating men about these issues is essential to dispelling attitudes that create inequality and that make women and children second-class citizens."

"The state of the world's youngest children, citizens with the same rights as all others, is not nearly as good as it should be," Bellamy concluded. "It will only get better when we alter current priorities and accept the sound economic, social and political sense it makes to prioritize the world's youngest."

* * * *

Carol Bellamy's Statement at Launch

For the Press Kit and Launch details

For further information, B-roll footage, or interviews please contact:

Liza Barrie, Division of Communication, New York (212) 326 7593
lbarrie@unicef.org

Yasmin Zaman, Division of Communication, New York (212) 326 7506
yzaman@unicef.org

Shantha Bloemen, Division of Communication, New York (212) 824 6949
sbloemen@unicef.org

Alfred Ironside, Division of Communication, New York (212) 326 7261
aironside@unicef.org

Hans Olsen, Division of Communication, Geneva (41 22) 909 5517
holsen@unicef..org