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At the International Conference on Financing for Development

Image de l'UNICEF

Monterrey - 18 March 2002

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates:

This Conference is a potential watershed. For if we can address the desperate need for development resources in so many countries, we can finally fulfil the decade-old promise of the World Summit for Children: to give every child a better future.

That future can begin here, at this Conference.

If the vast benefits of globalisation are to be shared, developing countries need to move strongly against poverty. They need to attract private investment. They need to mobilise their domestic resources to help the poor, stamping out corruption wherever it is found. And donor countries need to reciprocate by combining new commitments of development aid with supportive policies on trade and investment and to counter the devastating effects of external debt.

Mr. President, 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 ringingly affirmed that principle when it endorsed the International Development Targets on child poverty, education and health, including the goal of halving the proportion of people living in abject poverty by 2015.

Distinguished Delegates, your work here is of crucial importance, for the outcome of this Conference will help determine the scale of a 21st Century agenda for children - an agenda that the General Assembly will take up beginning May 8th, at its Special Session on Children.

Not since the World Summit for Children in September of 1990 will the international community have a more promising opportunity to lay the groundwork for a world that is truly fit for all children. Development is about building that better world - and children and young people are central to the process, both as contributors and beneficiaries. It is their creativity, energy, initiative and adaptability that together are the engine of development - and the future is theirs to inherit. That is why the Special Session on Children is a natural bridge between the Monterrey Conference and the World Summit on Sustainable Development that opens in Johannesburg in August.

Mr. President, 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. That is why no effort to reduce poverty can succeed without first ensuring the well-being of 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.

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.

Yet the overriding reason that so many of the World Summit goals have gone unfulfilled is because of chronic under-investment in basic social services.

Indeed, our collective commitments seem to be wavering, and the strategies and approaches to solving these problems are in need of careful re-examination. For example, Official Development Assistance (ODA) remains at an all-time low - although we note and welcome recent announcements by a number of donor countries that have pledged to increase their budgets for development assistance.

Mr. President, 56 years ago, in the aftermath of World War II, the General Assembly gave UNICEF an emergency mandate for children - to advocate for the protection of their rights, to help meet their basic needs, and to expand their opportunities to reach their full potential.

That postwar world has changed beyond recognition. The "emergency" in UNICEF's original name is gone. But 56 years later, who can deny that an emergency still exists - one far more daunting in scale and complexity?

Is it not an emergency that hundreds of millions of children are suffering in extreme poverty and inequity, their lives torn apart by the spread of HIV/AIDS; by armed conflict; by external debt; and by gender discrimination and violence, environmental degradation, natural disasters and terrorism?

Is it not an emergency that children under the age of 5, most of them infants, are dying at the rate of nearly 11 million a year, all from easily preventable causes like diarrhoea, measles, and acute respiratory infections?

Is it not an emergency that 170 million children are malnourished, often at a cost of mental and physical handicaps that can last a lifetime; that nearly 120 million children, 53 per cent of them girls, never see the inside of a school; that complications in pregnancy and childbirth kill and disable more impoverished women and girls of child-bearing age - over 500,000 a year - than any other cause, and that 1 out of every 10 children in the world have serious disabilities?

For children, poverty is much more than an economic issue. A malnourished infant, a subjugated girl child, a child soldier - all are effectively enslaved by poverty and exclusion, deprived not only in terms of well-being and fulfilment, but also in their right to become responsible and productive citizens.

That is why the values and principles of human rights guide UNICEF's efforts to overcome poverty. A rights-based approach makes it possible to confront the entrenched distortions in societies that marginalise poor people and entire communities - and makes it possible to hold public servants accountable. It empowers families and communities to participate in decision-making, and to seek the support they know they need. It addresses discrimination that originates in economic and social policy-making. It advocates for a fair and just distribution of income and assets - and it underscores why economic indicators alone are inadequate measures of poverty.

Education, especially for girls, is a prerequisite for attacking poverty.

Only education can put young women on a path to economic and social empowerment; help them make the most of their abilities; and provide a means for changing attitudes about violence while promoting equality.

We know from hard empirical evidence that girls who are educated generally have healthier and better-educated children; that they are more likely to understand what they must do to protect themselves and their families against HIV/AIDS and other diseases; and that they tend to have smaller families.

Ensuring quality education and basic literacy will also open the doors to information technology and the new economy - and prevent the "digital divide" from becoming a new gender divide.

Their benefits illustrate why the UN Girls' Education Initiative is at the core of preparations for the Special Session on Children in May - and why, as the Secretary-General said in launching it, implementing its goals will require substantial national commitments - and the involvement of all stakeholders.

But education will be of little use unless children are prepared for it.

There is a growing body of scientific evidence about how a child grows and develops during the first months and years - and it shows clearly that how a child is nurtured and cared for from birth onward has a profound bearing on that child's ability to learn and develop.

UNICEF has also amassed extensive practical knowledge about what good care for young children really means: that they be breastfed; that they have access to safe drinking water, and unpolluted air. That they live where there is adequate sanitation and waste-disposal practices. That their environments be healthy and free of disease. And that they be protected from injury, with time and space to play, to explore, and to 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.

Mr. President, the International Development Target for education is achievable if major progress is made in two areas:

· We must improve access to primary education while enhancing its quality. This means allocating additional resources to ensure that schools are healthy and protected places for learning - and that there are more classes, more educational materials, and for teachers, more training and better wages.

· Second, we must ensure that children get the care and nurturing in their earliest years so that, by the time they enter primary school, they are ready to learn.

The additional costs needed to reach the 2015 target for primary education have been put at less than $10 billion per year. That represents only a tiny fraction of world GNP - 0.03 per cent.

Mr. President, these and other investments in children are not short-term propositions. They require a visionary and long-term commitment, as the experience of parts of East Asia and sub-Saharan Africa has shown.

We know that investments in children are extraordinarily productive - but we must be mindful that returns on these investments will materialise only if they are sustained over the long term.

That is why UNICEF urges ministers of finance, from developing and developed countries alike, to take steps to ensure the long-term future of their countries by putting the well-being of children at the heart of the budgetary process.

Policy makers in developing countries have a central role to play in mobilising resources through such steps as expanding the tax base, improving tax compliance, and allocating greater proportions of the budget for basic social services.

Moreover, if governments are to have resources to spend on children's education, health, and water and sanitation, they need to pursue sound policies for pro-poor growth, employment creation, poverty reduction, price stability and sustainable levels of debts. It is also important to make budgetary processes more transparent, participatory and accountable, especially in matters related to achieving the goals.

The increasing role of the private sector and of civil society in development and poverty reduction provides an important avenue to finance the goals. A large number of these organisations are becoming effective partners of governments and international development agencies in the fight against global poverty. They include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Associations, the Rockefeller Foundation in the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), and Ted Turner's creation of the UN Foundation.

Mr. President, I believe that the world may finally be ready to alter the course of human development by decisively shifting investments, both governmental and private, to favour child well-being - and all of us here today can help accelerate that shift as we approach the Special Session on Children.

That is why UNICEF has begun working with all our partners to help mobilise a Global Movement for Children - a worldwide campaign to build a shared sense of responsibility for the well-being of every child on earth. For it is only through broad and committed partnerships that we will reach the remaining World Summit goals; achieve the poverty alleviation targets; slow the spread of HIV/AIDS and armed conflict; and establish a comprehensive agenda for children for the first 15 years of this new century.

Distinguished Delegates, your leadership and resolve are crucial if we are to unlock the resources that can make all of this possible.

I wish you every success in your work here in Monterrey.
Thank you.