New York - 26 January 2002
President Levine, Chancellor Levy, Esteemed Educators and Teachers, Students, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a pleasure to join you for this immensely important gathering - and it is a privilege to be in the company of so many dedicated professionals, whose work, day in and day out, serves the best interests of our most precious resource - children.
Ladies and Gentlemen, children are precious for many reasons - and one of them is that their growth and full development today will determine the well-being and productivity of future generations for decades to come.
That is why UNICEF and its many partners are working to help children survive to experience childhood as a joyous experience - a time of play, of learning and of growth, in an environment where they are loved and cherished, where their health and safety is paramount, where their gender is not a liability, where they can indulge their natural curiosity and expend their boundless energy in a just and peaceful environment - and where they have every opportunity to grow and develop into caring and open-minded citizens.
In all of this, education has a crucial role. Indeed, the power of education in the promotion of peace, tolerance, social justice and respect for human rights has been extensively documented - and it has helped inspire a Global Movement for Children - a growing worldwide campaign to build a shared sense of responsibility for the well-being of every child on earth.
But each and every day, countless numbers of children around the world face dangers that compromise their growth and development in devastating and often fatal ways. Nearly 10 million of them under the age of 5 die every year of garden-variety illnesses and the effects of malnutrition. Others fall victim to discrimination and gender-based violence; to neglect, cruelty and economic exploitation; to the pervasive effects of HIV/AIDS; to the effects of life as a refugee or displaced person, and all the other horrors to which the poor are susceptible - hunger, disease, disability, exposure, depression.
The single worst danger to children and their healthy development is armed conflict and violence of every kind. As Graça Machel noted in her landmark UN study of the impact of armed conflict on children, wars are proliferating, and more and more children are becoming caught up in the lunacy - some as combatants and camp followers - and all as victims and casualties.
In the last decade alone, at least 2 million children died as a result of armed conflict. Three times that number were disabled or seriously injured. Even more died because of disease, malnutrition or sexual violence. And this does not even count the disabling sorrow of those who lost their homes, their possessions, and often their families.
Political violence is also on the rise - and on September 11th, the United States mainland came into the crosshairs. The cumulative shock and anguish of that day and its aftermath have left their mark on all of us, but the effects have fallen most heavily on children, especially those who witnessed or experienced things that no child should ever see - and those struggling to understand the loss of parents or others dear to them.
The number of children who were directly affected is still anybody's guess; but we know, for example, that the deaths of 650 employees at Cantor Fitzgerald deprived some 1,300 children of at least one parent.
On Tuesday, The Daily News ran a story on how a sampling of children who lost parents are coping. The article mentioned a 9-year-old girl who dreams she is able to travel back in time to warn her firefighter father to stay away from the World Trade Center.
It talked about a 10-year-old boy who releases a balloon with a note attached to his dad asking how he's doing, up there in heaven. And we learned of a 14-year-old boy who endlessly scans the street for green Saturn sedans, hoping that sooner or later, he'll spot his father behind the wheel.
Other children and young people - part of the young multitude that Newsweek magazine is now calling "Generation 9/11" - told pollsters that the attacks had altered their worldview almost overnight.
Young people reported that life seemed suddenly more precious and fleeting. Massive military retaliation suddenly trumps non-violence. Racial profiling and the suspension of civil liberties suddenly seem prudent and reasonable.
Many young people told pollsters that they were convinced that the world had changed profoundly because of 9/11. Others are less sure. The British historian Niall Ferguson flatly rejects the idea, arguing that 9/11 represents simply another step in the globalisation of political violence, which has been a fact of life for years in major cities around the world - including New York's sister city, London.
Whatever the case, 9/11 caused educators all over the United States to begin pondering, on an urgent basis, two huge and complex educational problems - first, how to help children and young people cope with the personal fallout from the terrorist attacks; and second, how to think about war and political violence in an informed and open-minded way.
As most of you know, the President of Teachers College was off and running on the subject before anyone. On September 13th, an article by Arthur Levine was already in print. In it, he urged educators to steel themselves for days ahead that would continue to be filled with pain and loss - but also to recognise that a wondrous opportunity might have arisen to teach children about the values of peace, tolerance, diversity and altruism.
"This has been a terrible week, filled with horrific images," President Levine recalled in the Gotham Gazette article, titled The Lessons to Be Learned, "We have had to explain to our children things that are incomprehensible to us."
He added: "It has been said, on broadcast after broadcast, that America will never be the same again. Rather than waiting for the changes to happen to us, perhaps we have an opportunity to choose the changes we would like to occur."
Ladies and Gentlemen, it seems to me there are two opposite outcomes possible for children are affected by armed conflict and violence - either they will become victims or avengers - or they will become citizens of the world. All of us can help determine that outcome - and education is the key.
The importance of shaping an educational initiative that helps children understand what happened on 9/11 is in keeping with UNICEF's belief, borne out by evidence from places as disparate as Croatia, Lebanon, Belfast, Rwanda, Sudan, Bosnia and El Salvador, that the values of peace and tolerance can be taught - and that schools are the ideal venue.
Indeed, the recognition of education - formal and non-formal, institutional and family-based - as a powerful force for preventing or resolving conflict is reflected in the international consensus that gave us history's most embraced human rights treaty, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.
In 1990, Governments at the World Summit for Children explicitly committed themselves to education that promotes the values of peace, understanding and dialogue.
UNICEF has helped fulfil that commitment in various ways, in the field and through the US Fund for UNICEF.
For example, in Burundi between 1994 and 1998, UNICEF and its partners helped train more than 5,000 teachers in peace education - and more than 7,000 others took part in education for peace workshops. In Sudan, a Life Skills Programme for adolescents addresses peace, conflict resolution and human rights issues. And in Rwanda, educators have been driving home their points about conflict-resolution using the school sports and games curriculum.
Using a variety of mediums, from radio and TV to the Internet, UNICEF also sponsors open-ended international dialogue on Voices of Youth, where everything from child labour and polio to 9/11 have been up for discussion.
In the United States, the US Fund for UNICEF - part of UNICEF's worldwide network of National Committees - kicked off a programme called Kids Helping Kids to deliver cards, letters and drawings to comfort and console children affected by the attacks. It drew on the efforts of staff members, teachers, volunteers and children from across the country who were already mobilising for the US Fund's annual Trick or Treat for UNICEF drive.
Halloween found the US Fund struggling with a flood of Trick or Treat donations, which the Fund's President, Chip Lyons, announced would all be going to Afghanistan this year. The response included a letter to the US Fund from the Second Grade Class of the Cornerstone School in New Jersey, who wrote that "we are sad that he children in Afghanistan are poor and that it's going to snow soon."
"We hope," the letter added, that UNICEF will "send big furry jackets and scarves and gloves and hats."
Altruism was also on Chancellor Levy's mind soon after 9/11 when he decided it would be appropriate for students to "lend a hand" to help all those affected by the attack on the World Trade Center. On September 14th, the Chancellor's office contacted Common Cents New York - a foundation that collects relief funds in the form of pennies by the ton - and authorised the expansion of the foundation's annual Penny Harvest. As a result, the drive - involving hundreds of New York City students - began two months earlier than usual and involved over 940 schools, compared to the 600 that participated last year. The foundation president, Teddy Gross, says the students have decided to earmark a portion of the proceeds for Afghanistan - and will formalise the decision in the spring, when they plan to hold their annual global relief conference at UNICEF House.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I think these examples only hint at what education can achieve as we work to build a world fit for children. For education is the right of all children - and the obligation of all governments. It is the key to the new global economy - it is poverty's worst enemy - and it is a powerful force for peace.
That is why it is so important to get schools up and running again in long-suffering countries like Afghanistan. As you probably know, the interim Afghan government this week secured an international aid package that includes an ambitious plan, supported by UNICEF and our partners, to ensure that a million and a half children - girls as well as boys - are back in school within two months.
There can be no more accurate barometer of the effectiveness of the new government than the full restoration of education - and no more priceless outcome for Afghanistan and its children - especially the many girls who were so cruelly denied their right to education.
In a country that must rebuild from the ground up, it is a daunting project. But it will be worth the effort. As Graça Machel, the great champion of child rights, once said, "I have seen a generation of children armed with education lift up a nation."
Ladies and Gentlemen, the ideal of a just and peaceful world, sustained by collective international action, remains a beacon of hope, 57 years after it was first proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations.
It is a vision rooted in compassion and a profound sense of responsibility to our fellow human beings - and it begins with children and the realisation of their rights.
That is the organising principle behind the Global Movement for Children that I spoke of. It is also the premise behind General Assembly's upcoming Special Session on Children - the biggest global conference on children and their rights since the World Summit for Children in 1990. As you probably know, the Special Session was to have opened in New York on September 19th with some 80 heads of State and Government in attendance. It is now scheduled to open on May 8 - and we hope to draw an even bigger throng of world leaders.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in a global economy worth over $30 trillion, real improvement in the lives of children, their families and their communities is well within our resources - but making it happen will require the exercise of real leadership, from the pinnacles of government to civil society at every level - from non-governmental organisations and business and private enterprise, to religious groups and academia, community and grassroots organisations, the media, families - and children themselves.
My Friends, I fervently believe that each of us has the ability to exercised that power - and that together, we can build a better world for our children, secure in the knowledge that in serving their best interests, we serve all humanity.
I wish you every success in your work today - and beyond.