The State of the World's Children 1998: Focus on Nutrition

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Panel 4

Recognizing the right to nutrition

Nutrition has been expressed as a right in international human rights instruments since 1924. Among these are declarations, which are non-binding, and conventions and covenants, which are treaties carrying the force of law.

Some of these human rights milestones are noted below.

1924: Declaration of the Rights of the Child (also known as the Declaration of Geneva). Adopted after World War I by the League of Nations through the efforts of British child rights pioneer Eglantyne Jebb, the Declaration marks the beginning of the international child rights movement and is also the first international affirmation of the right to nutrition. The Dec laration affirms that "the child must be given the means needed for its normal development, both materially and spiritually" and states that "the hungry child should be fed."

1948: Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This human rights land mark, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, proclaims in article 25 that "everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services . . . ." This article also affirms that "mother hood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance."

1959: Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assem bly, the Declaration states in principle 4 that children "shall be entitled to grow and develop in health" and that children "shall have the right to adequate nutrition, housing, recreation and medical services."

1966: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Adopted by the United Nations and ratified by 137 States as of mid-September 1997, this Covenant was the first to spell out States' obligations to respect people's economic, social and cultural rights. Article 11 affirms the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food, and the "fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger." The Covenant also mandates States parties to take steps to realize this right, including measures "to improve methods of production, conservation and dis tri bu tion of food."

1986: Declaration on the Right to Development. Article 1 of the Dec laration, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assem bly, proclaims that the right to devel opment "is an inalienable human right," with all people entitled to participate in and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development "in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized." Article 8 calls for all States to ensure equal opportunity for all in access to health services and food.

1989: Convention on the Rights of the Child. The most widely ratified human rights treaty, the Convention establishes as international law all rights to ensure children's survival, development and protection. Article 24 mandates States parties to recognize children's right to the "highest attainable standard of health" and to take measures to implement this right. Among key steps, States are mandated to provide medical assistance and health care to all children, with an emphasis on primary health care; combat disease and malnutrition, with in the framework of primary health care, through the pro vi sion of adequate nutritious foods, and safe drinking water and adequate sanitation; and provide families with information about the advantages of breastfeeding. Ratifications: 191 States as of mid-September 1997, with only two countries - Somalia and the United States - yet to ratify.

1990: World Declaration and Plan of Action on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children. The unprecedented numbers of world leaders attending the World Summit for Chil dren committed themselves to "give high priority to the rights of children" in the Summit's World Declaration. The Summit's Plan of Action set out the steps in 7 major and 20 supporting goals for implementing the Declaration. Re ducing severe and moderate malnutrition by half of 1990 levels among under-five children by the end of the century is the main nutrition goal. The 7 supporting nutrition goals are: reduction of low-weight births to less than 10 per cent of all births; reduction of iron deficiency anaemia in women by one third of 1990 levels; virtual elimination of iodine defici ency disorders; virtual elimination of vitamin A deficiency; empowerment of all women to exclusively breastfeed their children for about the first six months; institutionalization of growth monitoring and promotion; and dissemination of knowledge and supporting services to increase food production to ensure household food security.

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