To the Arco Forum at Harvard's Institute of Politics, John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Cambridge, Massachusetts- 19 February 2003
Secretary Glickman; Mr. White, the Arco Forum Director; Mr. Noble, Director of Career Services; Distinguished Members of the Harvard Faculty, the Harvard Student Body and Staff; Ladies and Gentlemen of the Community:
I am delighted to join you for this ARCO Forum, a leading arena for informed discussion of pressing public policy issues - and a vital feature of the University's Institute for Politics, which has been inspiring students to take up public service as a career for nearly four decades. I am also pleased to note that the pace of that undertaking will soon intensify, for tonight's Forum also marks the kick-off of the Kennedy School's International Career Fair.
The Institute's mission is wholly in keeping with the legacy of President Kennedy. JFK may not have been the idealised figure many of us thought. Yet because of his thousand-day presidency, countless numbers of young people became involved in politics and public policy. It is a legacy that has endured to this day.
I can speak with some authority on this, because I was one of those who was moved by JFK's famous 1961 call to arms, "ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" - and his definition of public service, "The full use of one's powers along lines of excellence," which he appropriated from the ancient Greeks' definition of happiness.
My Friends, as a former Peace Corps volunteer who returned to serve as Director, I can tell you that the Peace Corps still embodies a shining ideal for people whose imagination is fired by the challenge of public service.
It is the challenge that President Kennedy proclaimed in 1961 with the creation of the Peace Corps - and his warning that "if a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."
Those words still resonate amid the apprehension and uncertainty over global terrorism that have gripped the world since the 9/11 attacks.
Indeed, for many people, JFK's patient handling of dangerous confrontations with the Soviet Union - especially the Cuban missile crisis - stands in sharp contrast to the more confrontational aspects of the ongoing standoff over Iraq. The differences are especially clear-cut when one reads Kennedy's watershed 1963 speech at American University, where he declared that since "the United States, as the world knows, will never start a war," it is time to pursue a new kind of peace - "not a Pax Americana enforced on the world by American weapons of war…but a more practical, more attainable peace - based not on a sudden revolution in human nature, but…on a series of concrete actions and effective agreements which are in the interests of all concerned."
Ladies and Gentlemen, 40 years later, we live in a world where the multilateralism that JFK espoused is more urgently needed than ever. It is a world where poverty and ignorance threaten human security as surely as any weapon of mass destruction - and where HIV/AIDS and armed conflict have already caused more devastation and heartbreak than any terrorist could dream of.
It is a world with a $30 trillion-plus global economy, yet one in which one-fifth of humanity - 1.3 billion people - are consigned to lives of almost unimaginable suffering and want. At least half of them are children.
Tonight, I want to speak about the mandate of the organisation that I serve - the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) - and discuss why the well-being of the world's children is inseparably linked to the overriding mission of the United Nations: achieving the goals that world leaders agreed to at the Millennium Summit in September 2000 - goals designed to help the world secure freedom from fear, freedom from want - and protection of the earth's resources.
My Friends, eradication of the worst manifestations of poverty is a moral imperative. It is also a practical and affordable possibility - and it starts with investing in children. The UN Millennium Summit and the General Assembly Special Session on Children ringingly affirmed that principle when they endorsed previously agreed-to targets on child poverty, education and health, including the goal of halving the proportion of people living in abject poverty by 2015.
The economic benefits of investing in children have been extensively documented. Investing fully in children today will ensure the well-being and productivity of future generations for decades to come.
By contrast, the physical, emotional and intellectual impairment that poverty inflicts on children can mean a lifetime of suffering and want - and a legacy of poverty for the next generation.
Amartya Sen's definition of "development as freedom" offers a measure of their plight. A malnourished infant, a subjugated girl child, a child soldier - all are denied the opportunity to achieve their full potential. All are enslaved by multiple poverties and exclusion, deprived not only in terms of well-being and fulfilment, but in their ability to become responsible citizens.
As the daughter of a nurse growing up not far from New York City, I had an early inkling of the kinds of everyday catastrophes that are caused by poverty - and of the disproportionate toll that poverty takes on children and women.
My mother and her nursing career constituted one of the major influences in my life. But it was only later, as a young Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala, that I cast off the last vestiges of my sheltered suburban life and came face to face with human suffering on a scale that I had never imagined.
Poverty causes life-long damage to children's minds and bodies, which ensures that poverty will be passed on to their children - thereby perpetuating the cycle. And that is the central reason why poverty reduction must begin with children and the realisation of their rights.
One hundred and ninety-one countries acknowledged as much when they ratified the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which commits States Parties to take all appropriate measures, using all available resources, to ensure the survival, protection, and full development of every child.
As a lawyer for more years than I care to count, the CRC is the one body of law that is as close to my heart as it is to the center of UNICEF's daily work - and that is because, more than a decade after its adoption, the Convention on the Rights of the Child continues to make a difference in the lives of children the world over.
Because of the CRC, children are now higher on the public and political agenda than ever before - and there is widespread recognition that every child has a fundamental right to develop physically, mentally and socially to his or her fullest potential - to express their opinions freely - and to participate in decisions that affect their future.
The CRC ushered in a decade that saw a number of successes, including reductions in iodine deficiency disorders through salt iodisation; an immunisation drive that has now brought polio to the brink of eradication; widespread provision of Vitamin A supplements, and progress in promoting the many benefits of breastfeeding.
These and other gains for children in the 1990s demonstrated what can be done when commitments are matched by resources and political will.
But for all the millions of young lives that have been saved, and for all the futures that have been enhanced, we have failed to reach most of the end-decade survival and development goals that were set at the 1990 World Summit for Children, including such critical areas as basic education, under-5 mortality, maternal mortality, child malnutrition, and sanitation.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is simply unacceptable that more than 10 million young children die every year before their 5th birthday because they lack access to vaccines or treatments for preventable causes like measles, acute respiratory infections and tuberculosis.
Meanwhile, over 110 million children, the majority of them girls, are not in school - while countless others lack qualified teachers and even pencils and paper. An estimated 250 million children work to survive, and millions more are targets of commercial sexual exploitation and abuse.
The explosive spread of HIV/AIDS throughout much of the developing world has already wreaked devastation across vast parts of sub-Saharan Africa and - as Dr. Peter Piot will tell this Forum in greater detail next week - now threatens to run rampant in South Asia.
It seems like a very long time since we viewed HIV/AIDS primarily as a health problem, rather than the across-the-board social catastrophe that it has become. Today we confront a nightmare world of children without parents, of classrooms without teachers, and of schools without students, a place where grandparents outlive grandchildren and orphans are objects of fear and abuse.
The statistics reaffirm what we have known for some time - that the virus is still proliferating faster and more widely than anyone could have imagined a decade ago; that it is undermining virtually every institution in society, including farms and traditional systems of food distribution as well as schools and education systems; and that it is young people who will determine the future course of the disease - because it is they who are most at risk.
At the same time, millions of children and women continue to be targeted in military action, and hundreds of thousands of children continue to be used in armed conflict as soldiers, porters, or sexual slaves. In the last decade, 2 million children have been killed in war and more than 6 million injured or disabled.
We see also a proliferation of humanitarian calamities affecting children above all, the product of armed conflict, environmental degradation, forced migration and terrorism - along with the effects of natural disasters like famine, floods, storms and earthquakes.
Ladies and Gentlemen, children's vulnerability to disease, armed conflict and natural disasters is a direct function of the extent to which they are impoverished. And in fact, the overriding reason that so many of the World Summit goals have gone unfulfilled is because of chronic under-investment in basic social services, caused in part by the unprecedented decline in
Official Development Assistance (ODA) and the crushing effects of external debt on the world's most impoverished countries.
Yet solutions are at hand. Education, especially for girls, is a prerequisite for attacking poverty. It equips children with the skills and confidence to make the most of their abilities to join a dynamic workforce or succeed in a sustainable livelihood; provides a forum for changing attitudes about violence while promoting equality; and helps put girls on a path to empowerment - a position from which they can better protect themselves from gender-based violence.
But education will be of little use unless children are prepared for it.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that early childhood care can greatly influence a child's continued learning and psycho-social development in the later years, care that includes such necessities as breast-feeding, clean water, adequate sanitation, healthy environments - and time and space to play, to be creative, and learn.
Caring for the child also means caring for the mother. For in societies where women have no voice, limited access to resources, no legal protection and no respect, optimal child development - much less survival - is next to impossible.
This convergence of new scientific knowledge and practical insight is why UNICEF has concluded that the global agenda for children in the 21st Century must be based on three paramount outcomes - outcomes that can open the way to dramatic gains for human development:
First, we must ensure that all infants begin life in good health - and that young children are nurtured in a caring environment that enhances the physical, emotional and intellectual capacities that they must have to learn and to grow.
Second, we must ensure that all children have access to, and complete, a programme of quality basic education.
And third, we must ensure that adolescents have ample opportunities to develop into caring and responsible citizens, free to participate in shaping their own societies.
Ladies and gentlemen, the knowledge, the resources and the strategies all exist to make these outcomes for children possible. But without the strong and committed support of all aspects of society, this priceless chance to guarantee the future of children will be lost.
That is why UNICEF is calling on leaders at all levels to redouble their efforts to end discrimination against women.
It is why we are asking governments to reduce the burden of external debt so that impoverished countries can invest in children instead of debt service; and why we are urging them to redirect resources within their national budgets for early childhood development programmes.
It is why the global community must work harder to end armed conflict, and ensure that resources are invested in children, not armaments.
It is why we are asking governments, civil society organisations and the private sector, including corporations and the media industry, to join in waging an all-out battle against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
And it is why UNICEF is working to mobilise governments and citizens of every nation, including families, communities, and civil society organisations, to carry the banner of a Global Movement for Children - an unstoppable crusade to end, at long last, the poverty, ill health, violence and discrimination that needlessly blights and destroys so many young lives.
Despite the threat of global terror hanging over all of us, there is only one path: to pursue the Millennium Development Goals with fresh resolve - confronting violence, bigotry and hatred with the same determination that we attack the causes from which they spring - conflict, ignorance, poverty and disease.
The world we seek, where every child can grow to adulthood in health, peace and dignity - in short, a world fit for children - has remained a dream for more years than we can count. But we at UNICEF are convinced that working together under enlightened leadership, with committed partners, and with an appropriate plan of action and a commitment to resources, we can make that dream a reality for each and every child on Earth.