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Press centre


At the Conference on Eliminating Child Poverty


London - 26 February 2001

Chancellor Brown, Secretary of State Short, Excellencies, Colleagues and All Other Friends and Allies of Children:

Let me begin by expressing UNICEF's gratitude to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to Secretary of State Short for launching this crucially important initiative.

As we move toward the General Assembly's Special Session on Children, I have every hope that this Conference will help significantly accelerate the international effort to combat global poverty.

Achievement of the year 2015 targets, centred around the rights of children, is an essential first step - and today we have, in one room, representatives of the very institutions and groups whose commitments can pave the way.

My Friends, eradication of the worst manifestations of poverty is not only a moral imperative. It is a practical and affordable possibility - and it starts with investing in children.

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.

Developed countries acknowledged as much when they committed themselves to the International Development Targets on child poverty, education and health.

Yet much of the public perceives a growing gap between official rhetoric and practice, a fact underscored by recent protests at international meetings.

UNICEF is strongly committed to the achievement of the IDTs, not only because they are feasible in every way, but because we have long recognised the value of targets and goals for mobilising political will.

Dear Friends, we are past the point where we need further debate about the commitments themselves. The economic benefits of investing in children have been extensively documented.

In a $30 trillion-plus global economy, it is clear that meeting the International Development Targets is well within our means.

More important, it is a solemn obligation - for in ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, 191 countries committed themselves to take all appropriate measures, using all available resources, to ensure the survival, protection, and full development of every child.

As the Secretary-General has pointed out, the knowledge, the resources and the strategies already exist to give children the best possible start in life, a quality primary education - and help in navigating the complex passage from adolescence to adulthood. These are all crucial first steps if we are to break the poverty cycle.

The gains for children of the 1990s demonstrated what can be done when commitments are matched by resources and political will.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child 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.

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 key survival and development goals that were set at the World Summit for Children - in such critical areas as basic education, under-5 mortality, maternal mortality, child malnutrition, and sanitation.

Dear Friends, we know what needs to be done - and nothing speaks louder than financial commitments.

The principal reason that so many of the World Summit goals have gone unfulfilled is under-investment in basic social services.

It was to address those under-investments that the 20/20 Initiative was adopted, based on the premise that 20 per cent of national budgets and 20 per cent of Official Development Assistance will ensure universal coverage of basic social services of good quality.

However, developing countries are currently devoting only 12 to14 per cent of their national budgets to basic social services, while developed countries earmark only about 11 per cent of their ODA.

The effects of these under-investments on children are magnified by the overall decline in ODA flows, the crushing burden of external debt, gender-based violence and discrimination, environmental degradation, natural disasters - and the devastating spread of armed conflict and HIV/AIDS.

Dear Friends, investing fully in children today will ensure the well-being and productivity of future generations for decades to come - and UNICEF is convinced that education - especially education for girls - is the No. 1 prerequisite for achieving the International Development Targets.

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.

But girls' education is more than a cost-effective investment; more than an economic issue; more than a desirable aspiration that societies should try to provide. Education is a human right, proclaimed by global agreements ranging from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

There are many obstacles to girls' education, including gender discrimination, child labour - and the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which is affecting children and women in alarmingly disproportionate numbers as it simultaneously destroys the educational infrastructure of many countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Yet a number of countries, including some in sub-Saharan Africa like Malawi and Mauritius and Chad, have given us outstanding demonstrations of how, despite such obstacles, it is possible to make significant progress in educating girls.

Their example proves that we do not need new studies. We do not need new institutions. And we do not need impossible amounts of new resources.

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

Dear Friends, 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 has been put at less than $10 billion per year. That may seem like a large amount of money, but it represents only a tiny fraction of world GNP - less than 0.03 per cent.

My Friends, 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.

Indeed, we hope that you will move to adopt formal measures to institutionalise a child-centred approach to your budget allocations - measures that would allow every finance minister to wear an additional hat: that of Chief Financial Advocate for Children.

Dear Friends, there will always be pressure to regard allocations for defense and debt service as immutable. But given the far-reaching economic benefits, resources for children should come first in any budget.

Let us also not forget that investing in children is a moral and legal obligation.

One hundred and ninety-one countries accepted that obligation when they ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child - and their responsibilities are set out in Article 4, which stipulates - and I quote - that "States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the present Convention" - and that "with regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international cooperation."

Dear Friends, the fact of the matter is that most developing countries will fall short of the 2015 targets unless there is a significant increase in external assistance - and a major infusion of debt relief. Moreover, development cooperation still suffers from inadequate coordination, high and often unnecessary transaction costs, and conditionalities that can be counterproductive.

It is a situation that cries out for a strong and united response.

The G-8 has already launched initiatives to address debt relief, infectious diseases, and the information-technology gap. Why not a similarly ambitious effort for girls' education?

Education is a proven spur to economic growth - and an essential first step in poverty reduction. And a girls' education initiative would be consistent with last July's Okinawa Summit communiqué, in which G-8 leaders agreed to "follow up vigorously" on the conclusions of the World Education Forum in Dakar "by ensuring that additional resources are made available for basic education."

Let me make one other proposal: Tools like the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and the Sector-Wide Approaches to Programming (SWAPs), should systematically and explicitly reflect the needs of children.

As countries like Malawi, Ghana and Uganda have shown, PRSPs and SWAPs can make a real difference in children's lives - and because they are country-led, they encourage partnership over what might be called "donor-ship."

My Friends, I firmly believe that we are at a moment in history when the world may finally be ready to alter the course of human development by decisively shifting national investments 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 as this Conference has emphasised, it is only through broad and committed partnerships that we will reach the remaining World Summit goals; tackle poverty, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict; and establish a comprehensive agenda for children for the first 15 years of this new century.

To succeed, the Global Movement will need to enlist not only established leaders, but people of influence representing every part of civil society, from non-governmental organisations, religious groups and private enterprise to people's movements, academia and the media, community and grassroots groups, families - and children themselves.

President Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel have already assumed a direct and personal role in that effort, telling leaders from every walk of life that if we want a just, equitable and thriving world, we must invest in children now.

My Friends, with your help and commitment, we can make it happen, beginning with achievement of the International Development Targets.

Thank you.



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