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The State of the World's Children 2000


Berlin, 13 December 1999

President Rau, Sir Peter, Distinguished Guests, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to be here, among so many friends of the United Nations Children's Fund -- including the two distinguished figures who honour us with their presence today -- His Excellency, President Johannes Rau of Germany, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Sir Peter Ustinov.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are few more exciting symbols of the future than this transformed and transforming city -- and so it is hard to imagine a more appropriate place than Berlin to introduce The State of the World's Children 2000, UNICEF's latest assessment of the challenges that face our children as we enter the 21st Century.

As UNICEF's Report explains, the journey to the edge of a new century has given us much to celebrate, especially in recent decades.

Nearly 10 years ago, the largest gathering of world leaders ever assembled met to convene the World Summit for Children -- and there they made a promise: "to give every child a better future."

Ladies and gentlemen, that solemn vow did not come out of a vacuum. It was the result of years of work by millions of people -- in government and civil society alike, from non-governmental organisations and the UN System to philanthropies and private enterprise and individuals -- and from children themselves.

Their efforts launched a global movement, one dedicated to the universal realisation of child rights -- a movement based on the sure and certain conviction that children not only have a right to a better future -- but that, in a quite literal sense, they are the future.

The centrality of child rights to the better world we all hope for is nowhere more powerfully set out than in this movement's crowning achievement: the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which came into force as the World Summit for Children was being convened -- and rapidly went on to become the most acclaimed human rights instrument in history, ratified by 191 countries -- virtually the entire community of nations, save two.

Indeed, the adoption of the Convention, whose 10th anniversary we commemorated last month, was one of the most stirring demonstrations of the potential for global cooperation to emerge from the aftermath of the Cold War.

The results to date have been dramatic -- and can be seen in the unprecedented gains for child health and development that have occurred in the decade since the Convention was adopted -- and in the nine years since governments at the World Summit for Children agreed on a set of universal goals for child survival and development.

Thanks to the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- and a companion treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women -- there is now widespread recognition that every child has a whole galaxy of fundamental rights: the right to health and nutrition, to quality basic education, especially for girls; to clean water and adequate sanitation, to gender equality and an end to discrimination; to freedom from exploitation and abuse. And it is acknowledged that children have a right to a name and a nationality -- to express themselves freely, and to participate in decisions that affect them.

Ladies and gentlemen, this recognition of the rights of children is not merely rhetorical -- far from it. In scores of countries, in every region of the world, the importance of child rights has been tangibly affirmed through concrete changes in law, in policy, and in practice.

The Convention reflects a consensus that investing in children is the surest way to maximize the political, social and economic development of families and communities and countries -- and to achieve a better future for all.

Yet it is clear that we will enter the 21st Century freighted with many of the same dangers that have faced children in the 20th -- along with a galaxy of new and more threatening ones. Indeed, the inequities are growing. For we live in a world with a $30 trillion global economy in which half the human race lives on $2 a day or less.

A world where preventable childhood ailments like diarrhoea, measles, and acute respiratory infections are killing 12 million young children a year -- deaths that might never occur but for the lack of proper food and nutrition and clean water and adequate sanitation.

Where some 130 million children, the vast majority of them girls, are denied the right to a quality basic education -- and where millions of others must make do without qualified teachers or even pencils and paper.

A world where an estimated 250 million child labourers are denied a childhood, many of them the objects of sexual trafficking and abuse.

And a world where millions of children and women are brutally targeted in military action, and hundreds of thousands of children are pressed into service as soldiers, porters, or sexual slaves.

Ladies and gentlemen, these ongoing violations of child rights, most of them in developing countries, are not only disastrous for children and families -- they are a blow for development, because they mean that communities and society as a whole are deprived of incalculable human potential.

They are emblematic of the ongoing challenges to child survival and well-being that we face as the old century falls away -- challenges made even more daunting by the relentless spread of HIV/AIDS and by the vast proliferation of armed conflict and instability.

And they are why, as UNICEF argues in The State of the World's Children 2000, that we must move to harness the same commitment and energy that gave us the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- and use it to ensure that all governments not only acknowledge their commitments to child rights, but honour them fully.

For the Convention is very explicit: it obliges donor countries to support the rights of all children through international cooperation -- and it is brutally clear that without global leadership to ensure that those obligations are met, the lives of tens of millions of marginalised children and women will be threatened in the next century as never before.

Administrative reforms are not enough. Good governance must make the survival, protection and full development of all children its fundamental objective -- and that can only happen when societies create structures and institutions that ensure accountability for the realisation of child rights.

To that end, The State of the World's Children offers a future agenda for children, an agenda that builds on the progress we have seen since as it addresses the new and emerging challenges that the world will face in the years ahead.

It is an agenda that takes full account of the immense peril that HIV/AIDS poses to every aspect of child survival -- and of the urgent need to find effective ways to mobilise young people in prevention efforts.

It affirms that armed conflict and social instability are a growing threat to children, and must be addressed on an urgent basis by pressing for child protection while strengthening humanitarian assistance. (And that is why we are so encouraged by the entry into force of a global ban on anti-personnel landmines, which kill or maim some 8,000 children a year -- and the approval of an International Criminal Court, which will challenge the impunity of war crimes, especially those where children are victimised.)

And it is an agenda that includes the explicit recognition that global poverty, which has already consigned some 3 billion people to living on less than $2 a day -- half of them children -- is not only a moral outrage, but a profound political and economic threat to the whole world.

In developing a new global agenda for children, UNICEF focused on a fundamental question: What are those moments of intervention in the life of a child that can open the way to dramatic gains for human development? Knowing what we now know about the critical importance of pregnancy, infancy and childhood, it was clear that there are three paramount points of intervention. Each grows out of the recognition that the survival, development and general well-being of children are all inextricably linked to the realisation of the equal rights of girls and women. They are:

First, that we must ensure that 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, that all children must be educated -- which means that they must have access to quality basic education.
Third, that we must ensure that the adolescents, long a neglected and misunderstood group, are assured the guidance and support that they need to make the sensitive and difficult transition to adulthood.
Ladies and gentlemen, these are crucial first steps if we are to break the endless cycle of global poverty, much of it occasioned by poor health and poor nutrition -- poverty that has not only compromised the lives of countless numbers of children, but jeopardised the future of the very societies in which they live. The State of the World Children argues that the knowledge, the resources and the strategies all exist to make these outcomes for children possible -- and it shows how, with the same combination of political will and resources that gave us the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we can achieve them within a generation.
Thanks to the vision and leadership of James Grant, my predecessor at UNICEF, we have already seen what is possible in the drive for universal child immunisation, in oral rehydration therapy, in the iodisation of salt, the distribution of vitamin A, the scientific confirmation of the miraculous benefits of mother's milk, basic education at low cost, and the provision of clean water and sanitation.

Now, with the 21st Century upon us, we have a chance to take a giant step toward making the world a safe and nurturing place for all children. Ladies and gentlemen, it is an opportunity we must not let slip. We would be happy to take your questions.



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