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UNICEF Executive Director: Create a Latin America fit for indigenous children.

Statement by Carol Bellamy in Cusco, Perú, 24 July 2004

Dear friends,

I am very pleased to join with all of you in this beautiful city of Cusco.  Cusco, with its richness and diversity of cultures, is a symbol of Perú --and of all Latin America.  It is the site of the Copa América 2004, which CONMEBOL – the South American Football Confederation -- and UNICEF have dedicated to the children of Perú.  And this site, more than any of the other cities hosting games in this great tournament, offers us the best opportunity to reflect on what we need to do to create a Latin America that is fit for indigenous children – and indeed, all children.

 Late last year, Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, also visited Cusco.  In Machu Picchu, he reminded us of the fragility of the life of many indigenous peoples in the Andean region.  His reference to indigenous children was eloquent: “The discrimination and marginalisation faced by indigenous children is particularly disturbing… [There are] unacceptably high rates of infant mortality, and unacceptably low levels of birth registration, vaccination and education, among indigenous communities.  “The international community can no longer tolerate this situation,” the Secretary-General declared.  “Nor should any society where it is happening.”

My Friends, it is no secret that the social and economic inequities found in Latin America are among the world’s worst.  Many inhabitants still lack access to basic services in health and education. Millions are denied safe drinking water.  They lack birth certificates and remain excluded from the political and social life of their countries.

This exclusion particularly affects indigenous peoples --and within indigenous groups, children and women are the main victims of extreme poverty. The indicators for health, nutrition, and education for indigenous children and women are the worst in their countries, and in some places, hark back to national statistics from 50 or 100 years ago.

During the Copa América, UNICEF has been repeating, both inside and outside the stadium, a simple slogan that sums up the spirit of our agreement with CONMEBOL: ¡Con los niños sí se gana!  And today from the heights of the Andes I want to stress that this slogan must especially include indigenous children.  They need special policies to complement and reinforce national policies.  I mean policies that move us toward real progress in the realisation of their rights.  For indigenous children we seek:

a) the highest levels of  health and nutrition;
b) high quality education that incorporates indigenous languages and their cultural contexts – in other words, that is intercultural and bilingual;
c) effective protection that is sensitive to their culture and world-view; and
d) the participation of children and adolescents in the decisions affecting them.

These are non-negotiable conditions for indigenous children to be able to fully develop their physical, cognitive and emotional potential.  The world’s historic debt to the indigenous communities, and particularly to their children, will be satisfied only when governments, civil society and the private sector do everything within their reach to ensure that these conditions are met.

Ladies and Gentlemen: the path we must take is clear.  We need social programmes and policies directed especially and exclusively towards indigenous people.  One-size-fits-all investments through national programmes will not suffice. If we take that approach we run the risk of diluting our response to the regions and communities where indigenous peoples live – particularly in the Amazonian and high Andean areas.

Let us structure and implement special policies for indigenous children that complement national programmes for all children.  Let us ensure that these programmes have guaranteed, independent budgets.  And let us work to ensure that response of the State harmonises with the social, cultural and geographical conditions in which indigenous communities live.  Policies should be integral, combining interventions in health, nutrition, education, early stimulation and protection.  This is the way to ensure their optimal development.  And last but not least, in all efforts we must place special emphasis on children during their first years of life, when so much critical development takes place and when they are most vulnerable.

Let me conclude with a special invitation to all of those who have followed the Copa América 2004 with so much interest.  Let us join together to act in the best interest of all the world’s children, including indigenous children.  A healthy and literate indigenous boy or girl, who has a birth certificate and is able to speak out and participate in decision-makings, a child who develops in harmony with his or her community, strengthens the community, and contributes to prosperity through social progress and the promotion of respect for human rights.  Remember: Wawakunawanqa ari, llallisunmi [¡Con los niños sí se gana!]




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