Human Development Week
Washington D. C., 29 February 2000
Vice Presidents Doryan, Karlsson and other World Bank Colleagues, Friends and Partners in Development, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am delighted to address this diverse and distinguished forum. Human Development Week is an important event in the ongoing global dialogue about the nature and course of development -- and I think I speak for everyone here in expressing deep appreciation to the Bank, and to Jim Wolfensohn in particular, for affording us this special opportunity to share experiences.
I also want to thank Professor Emeritus Gerry Helleiner of the University of Toronto and Professor Savitri W. E. Goonesekere, Vice Chancellor of Sri Lanka’s University of Colombo, for so generously agreeing to share their wisdom and insight as members of this panel.
Ladies and gentlemen, I want to speak today about how we can best work together to build a renewed global commitment to human development -- an undertaking in which the well-being of children must be the foundation for any sustainable, global effort to eliminate chronic poverty.
For the reduction of poverty is central to the overarching goal of the UN: the promotion and protection of human rights.
Just as the Convention on the Rights of the Child has become history’s most embraced human rights instrument, so must we mobilise universal support for a global agenda for children in the 21st Century. But the strategies we pursue must be determined locally -- and they must guided by a knowledge of the needs of people who are poor.
The idea of a global agenda for children is a direct response to the fact that we live in a world with a $30 trillion global economy, yet one in which one-fifth of humanity -- 1.2 billion people -- are consigned to almost unimaginable suffering and want. At least half of them are children.
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 enslaved by poverty and exclusion, deprived not only in terms of well-being and fulfilment, but in their ability to become responsible citizens.
For children, poverty is not just an economic issue. Poverty often means physical, emotional or intellectual impairment, which can mean a lifetime of lost opportunity -- and a legacy of poverty for the next generation. That is the central reason why poverty reduction must begin with children and the realisation of their rights.
Poverty is why 12 million children under 5 die each year of preventable causes. And its disproportionate effects on girls and women can be seen in the fact that the majority of the 130 million children currently not in school are girls -- and that preventable complications in pregnancy and childbirth kill and disable more women and girls of child-bearing age than any other cause.
These needless casualties are emblematic of the ongoing challenges to human development -- challenges made more daunting by the relentless spread of HIV/AIDS, by the proliferation of armed conflict and instability, and by the continuing burden of external debt.
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 is pivotal to how a child grows and develops from birth to up to the eighth year -- and can greatly influence a child’s continued learning and psycho-social development in the later years.
We have also amassed extensive practical knowledge about what good care for young children really means: that they be breast-fed; that they have access to safe drinking water, uncontaminated food 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.
This convergence of new scientific knowledge and practical insight is why the global agenda for children in the 21st Century begins with three comprehensive goals -- all of them linked to early child care and development, to quality basic education, and to the realisation of the equal rights of girls and women:
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 a safe and enabling environment.
Ladies and gentlemen, these comprehensive and integral outcomes are the foundation for an agenda that is crucial to ending the cycle of global poverty -- one that builds on the gains we have seen in the decade since the World Summit for Children.
It is an agenda that draws on the growing effort to approach development issues and programming from a human rights perspective, guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, by the outcomes of the UN development conferences of the past decade, and by the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee goals for the year 2015.
And it is an agenda energised by triumphs like the entry into force of a global ban on anti-personnel landmines -- and the approval of an International Criminal Court that will challenge the impunity of war crimes, especially those where children are victimised.
Human development is often presented as an adult outcome. But it is, in truth, a continuum, with a series of critical junctures -- the last of them occurring in adolescence.
Adolescent children are an immeasurably rich resource -- people whose right to health and development is central to preventing not only a whole range of immediate threats like HIV/AIDS, substance abuse and violence, but also to a host of later problems that can threaten not only their lives, but their children’s.
The catastrophe of HIV/AIDS is a horrific illustration of how profoundly the human rights of children and young people are being violated -- rights affirmed by the 191 countries that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Young people are disproportionately at risk because, in a time of sexual awakening, they are deprived of the right to health services and nutrition, to a safe and supportive environment free of exploitation and abuse -- including protection from coerced sex. And they are denied the right to participate and to make their views heard in matters that affect them.
Ladies and gentlemen, millions of children and women die each year of preventable causes because they are predominantly poor and excluded people whose civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights are systematically denied -- violations that sectoral interventions alone cannot fully address.
That is why the values and principles of human rights must guide our efforts to overcome poverty and exclusion. A rights-based approach makes it possible to confront the entrenched distortions in societies that marginalise poor people and entire communities -- and hold public servants accountable.
A rights-based approach empowers families and communities to secure 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.
Working through the UN Summits and Conferences of the last decade, the global community has put forward a series of explicit, quantifiable, time-bound goals for the achievement of sustainable human development, including the reduction of poverty.
Yet progress has fallen far short of national commitments and legal obligations -- despite economic recovery in several parts of the developing world, and a surge in international trade and private capital flows during the 1990s.
Indeed, our collective commitments seem to be wavering, and the strategies and approaches to solving these chronic problems are in need of careful re-examination.
Despite a real-term increase in 1998, Official Development Assistance (ODA) remains at an all-time low -- and even within that diminished amount, the percentage allocated for basic social services has yet to reach the agreed-upon level of 20 per cent -- even at the World Bank.
And while the focus on the delivery of basic services has strengthened, we still seem consistently to shy away from addressing the underlying and structural causes of poverty, discrimination, violence, and exclusion.
Weak political commitment, the silent resistance of social groups with vested interests in discriminatory practices, a lack of institutional and administrative capacity for implementing necessary reforms -- all are major factors.
Yet there is cause for cautious optimism. In recent years, we have seen a convergence of thinking in favor of human development and poverty reduction.
For example, the benefits of market principles are now accepted in many areas, just as ethical principles are also increasingly emphasised for ensuring development that is both equitable and sustained. Similarly, the case for strong human and institutional capabilities has been made convincingly.
Moreover, the significance of democratic reforms and genuine participation by communities and poor families themselves is no longer a matter of debate. Nor is there any question about the leading role and responsibility of the State in ensuring human rights -- and the need for adequate levels of resources to help the State fulfil that role.
A decade ago, when the work on Adjustment with a Human Face was undertaken, there were fewer signs of convergence. Today, we see a very different World Bank, one that has sharpened its focus on poverty, and, in partnership with UNICEF, is committed to ensuring that the world’s children grow to adulthood in health, peace, and dignity.
Indeed, the latest World Development Report affirms that we stand on the brink of extraordinary opportunity for development and poverty reduction over the next 20 years. And the Report identifies -- through the voices of the poor -- the multiple dimensions of poverty beyond income poverty, such as the poverty of health and nutrition and hygiene, the poverty of rights, the poverty of community, the poverty of justice.
We have also seen convergence on the issue of financing basic social services.
In 1997, UNICEF and the World Bank agreed on 15 principles of cost-sharing for education and health -- the so-called Addis Ababa Principles. In 1998, we collaborated closely in preparing for the Hanoi conference on the 20/20 Initiative for achieving universal access to basic social services.
We have also worked together on the revision of the HIPC initiative with a view to linking debt relief more directly to poverty reduction and child development -- while increasing the resources that are readily available at country level.
But convergence, of course, does not always mean consensus.
The Bank insists, first and foremost, that its investments be evaluated on the basis of strictly economic considerations -- that estimated benefits in financial terms exceed the original investment costs. This is not unreasonable, considering that resources are scarce and that there are alternative ways in which they can be allocated to reach different goals.
But if sustainable human development is now generally accepted to be an overarching goal of development, is it not equally reasonable to insist that all investment proposals be considered not only in terms of their contribution to economic growth, but of the value they add to sustainable human development?
What I am suggesting is that the development community as a whole must be more willing to use new yardsticks to assess the worthiness of investments and to measure progress, such as indicators that delineate the empowerment, participation and special vulnerability of certain groups -- especially children.
Indicators of children’s well-being should be universally accepted benchmarks, equal to the more traditional, quantitative measures of economic and social progress.
At the same time, national partners must honour the moral commitments they have made -- and the legally binding obligations they accept when they ratify human rights instruments.
Ladies and gentlemen, the experiences of countries that have made rapid social progress have yielded a number of lessons learned that underlie good social policy.
They grow out of the recognition that good governance provides a structure of accountability for human development and protection of fundamental rights, beginning with the survival, protection, full development and participation of children.
First, these countries addressed economic and social rights simultaneously, rather than waiting for economic growth to “trickle down.”
Second, they defined universal access to basic social services as a public sector priority. None relied solely on the free play of the market.
Third, they spent proportionally more of their national budget on basic social services than the others.
Fourth, they also spent better in terms of equity, efficiency, and integrating basic social services, so that the combined impact was greater than the sum of the parts.
Fifth, they protected their budgets for basic social services during periods of crisis and austerity, knowing that these investments offer a long-term solution to poverty reduction.
Our effectiveness in reducing poverty -- indeed, the effectiveness of all of the UN System and the inter-governmental bodies -- will be judged by how well we work together to support the people we serve. The Comprehensive Development Framework is a major step in the right direction.
At the same time, new initiatives such as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) -- which promises enhanced and widespread immunisation of children against preventable diseases -- are stirring renewed hope for millions of children and families around the world. GAVI is a showcase for the broadened leadership that we must encourage -- leadership that represents government and civil society at every level.
Ladies and gentlemen, investing in children and mothers today will ensure the well-being and productivity of future generations for decades to come. It is an investment well within our means. Reaching the poor and disadvantaged is morally imperative -- but also financially and technically feasible.
That is why UNICEF looks forward to working with the World Bank and all of our partners, including civil society at all levels, in mobilising a renewed commitment to achieve the remaining goals of the World Summit for Children; to tackle the huge obstacles of poverty, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict; and to establish a global agenda for children for the first years 10 to 15 years of this new century.
The pursuit of human rights is not a luxury for the rich -- and it cannot be made conditional on economic growth. UNICEF firmly believes that freedom from violence and exploitation, respect for human dignity and the inherent right of each person to develop their human potential and participate in their communities are as basic to human development as income and property.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we agree with Amartya Sen that development is freedom, then the pursuit of human rights is the real aim of development -- and it all starts with the realisation of children’s rights.