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Press centre


Statement to the Executive Board


New York, 7 June 1999

Mr. President, Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen: It is a pleasure to welcome you to this Annual Meeting of the Executive Board of the United Nations Children's Fund -- our last such meeting before the 21st Century.

Mr. President, the future belongs to those bold enough to act on their dreams -- and UNICEF, which has never been bashful in pursuing its mandate, has a 21st Century dream for children.

It is a world where children survive to experience childhood as a joyous experience -- a world of play, of learning and of growth, where they are loved and cherished, where their health and safety is paramount, where their gender is not a liability, where they can indulge their natural curiosity and expend their boundless energy in a just and peaceful environment -- and where they have every opportunity to grow and develop into caring and responsible citizens.

Mr. President, that world has remained a dream for more years than anyone can count. But I am convinced that together, we can make it come true -- for each and every child on this planet.

In UNICEF's new global agenda for children, you have before you a vision of the better future that we all aspire to.

It is a vision animated by the same spirit that launched the World Summit for Children -- and that gave birth a decade ago this November to the world's most acclaimed human rights instrument, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, whose principles inspire our work and light our path.

Distinguished Delegates, it is a vision based on the sure and certain belief that in all our actions, the best interests of children must always come first.

Now, on the threshold of the 21st Century, we have the foundation for a future global agenda for children, an agenda that builds on the progress we have seen since 1990 as it addresses the new and emerging challenges we will face in the years ahead.

It draws on our ongoing efforts to approach development issues and programming from a human rights perspective.

It reflects the outcomes of the United Nations development conferences of the past decade and the OECD's Development Assistance Committee goals for the year 2015.

And it is inspired by recent 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.

It is an agenda, Mr. President, that grows out of the urgent need to assess how far the world has come -- and how much more we must do to ensure the well-being of all societies by ensuring the rights of all children -- and all women.

Mr. President, in drawing up our recommendations for a new global agenda for children, we began with 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 early 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 realization 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 basic quality education.
Third, that we must ensure that adolescents have ample opportunities to develop and participate in a safe and enabling environment.
Distinguished Delegates, these three outcomes are crucial to ending 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 knowledge, the resources and the strategies all exist to make these outcomes for children possible -- and I am convinced that it can be done in a single generation.

And indeed, there is extensive evidence, Mr. President, that countries that have made the well-being of children and the advancement of women their overarching priorities are those that have already made the greatest strides in human development.

The missing ingredient is political commitment on a global scale -- and resources and actions to match.

Mr. President, I firmly believe that a global consensus on these bedrock objectives is within reach -- 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 the well-being of children.

That is why UNICEF has decided to mobilize a Leadership Initiative for Children -- the first step in realising a universal agenda for child survival, development, participation and protection that will culminate in a series of events linked to a Special Session of the General Assembly in 2001.

It must be said that the obstacles ahead are formidable. Indeed, many of the challenges that loom before us in the next century are impervious to sector-based strategies alone. It is therefore essential that UNICEF, our development partners and our dedicated network of National Committees forge broad new alliances -- alliances that reach far beyond traditional sectors and arms of government to include, as equal partners, community-based organizations, people's movements and other diverse elements of civil society -- including private sector entities -- that have a genuine concern for human progress.

We are already reaping the benefits of the close collaboration with our UN partners within the context of the United Nations Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) -- and in the spirit of such initiatives as the World Bank's Comprehensive Development Framework.

As requested by UNICEF's Executive Board, our partnership with the Bank has expanded in a number of sectors, including primary school enrolment efforts in Africa, particularly for girls, and in early childhood development. And we are grateful to the Bank for its recent $1 million grant for humanitarian efforts in The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Mr. President, as we are discussing collaboration with UN partners, let me take a moment to pay special tribute to Gus Speth, who will soon be leaving the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). Gus has been an esteemed colleague and friend, a leader in the UN reform initiative -- and a most effective chairman of the United Nations Development Group (UNDG), which moved from inception to full operation under his steady hand. We shall all miss him.

But at the same time, we look forward to a close and productive relationship with his successor as UNDP Administrator, Mark Malloch-Brown, whom we have already come to know as a friend and colleague during his years with the World Bank.

Mr. President, UNICEF's recommendations for a future global agenda grow out of the recognition that we must enter the new century with a comprehensive strategy to meet emerging threats head-on, even as we exhort governments to devise national plans and to allocate the maximum resources necessary to accelerate progress toward the end-decade goals of the World Summit for Children.

It is a process that we are well equipped to measure, using such yardsticks as the multiple indicator cluster survey, or MICS, which proved its utility in the Mid-Decade Review -- as well as an innovation that we call the "child-risk measure" -- a concept that we hope will eventually offer a more effective way to assess child welfare.

But in the final analysis, UNICEF's 21st Century dream for children will come true only through a process that begins here, in this room.

Distinguished Delegates, it can happen only with your help in defining and developing a future global agenda -- and with your commitment to help build the broad consensus for action that we must have. Together, we must clearly define the specific areas within that global agenda where UNICEF can most effectively concentrate its energy and its resources.

That is why I want to initiate an intense and focused phase of discussion of our future work within the UNICEF Executive Board, and also with governments, non-governmental partners, leaders from academia, the private sector and elsewhere.

These discussions will take place against the backdrop of the priorities set forth in our Medium-Term Plan (MTP) for 1998-2001 -- priorities that are based on an integrated approach to planning, budget, programmes and reporting on outcomes, and that are discussed in the Report of the Executive Director, which I am presenting today.

The Report offers a detailed analytic assessment of UNICEF's progress toward achieving the organizational priorities of the MTP in the year just passed, in line with the Executive Board's request for an annual analytical report beginning in the year 2000. It is my hope that your input and guidance on this year's Report will help in defining the content of next year's analysis.

Distinguished Delegates, the panorama of achievements and progress set forth in the Executive Director's Report makes it clear that amid all our preparations for the 21st Century, UNICEF's overriding objectives for children remain the same.

In this connection, I want to assure everyone in this room that we are steadfast in our determination to maintain UNICEF's focus on child survival -- especially the 12 million children under the age of 5, three-quarters of them infants, who continue to die, year in and year out, of preventable causes.

Indeed, our stepped--up support for increased immunization coverage and other health measures comes amid the certainty of increases in under-5 child mortality and decreases in life expectancy associated with the continuing spread of HIV/AIDS.

But we must do more.

We know that a cornucopia of new vaccines now under development could save the lives of up to 8 million additional children a year in the next 5 to 15 years alone -- twice the number saved by the drive for Universal Childhood Immunization (UCI).

UNICEF, in partnership with the World Health Organisation, the World Bank and non-governmental partners like the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) and the Gates Foundation, has already begun laying the groundwork for a campaign to ensure that those vaccines become widely available -- beginning with the children of sub-Saharan Africa, whose survival rates are already in obvious decline.

Distinguished Delegates, we must do everything to intensify those efforts.

At the same time, let me also stress that our future agenda 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 mobilize young people in prevention efforts.

The stakes are enormous. In sub--Saharan Africa, it is now clear that many countries are reeling from the effects not only of an HIV crisis, but of a broad-scale health emergency involving not only HIV infection itself, but tuberculosis, which is facilitated by HIV, and by malaria, which kills 3,000 children a day in Africa alone.

Early next month, I intend to meet with Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland to review how WHO and UNICEF can best solidify and strengthen our long-standing cooperative relationship in fighting these and other health scourges. We will be looking at current cooperative ventures such as child immunization and various other efforts to strengthen preventative and curative child health services, the Roll Back Malaria programme and the Tobacco Free initiative -- as well as additional areas for future collaboration.

UNICEF, in partnership with UNAIDS and UNFPA, has already taken the lead in the fight against mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS. And UNICEF programmes in Africa and elsewhere are reallocating resources in a search for more improved approaches for engaging young people and adolescents in the fight to discourage high-risk behaviour.

At the same time, UNICEF's future agenda affirms that armed conflict and social instability has emerged as widening threat to children that is increasingly consuming our energies and our time and our resources. Whether in the Balkans or in the more numerous calamities in Africa and elsewhere, the spread of armed conflict has already uprooted 22 million people worldwide, most of them children and women.

That is why, Mr. President, UNICEF has proposed a global Peace and Security Agenda for Children, about which I briefed the Security Council in February. It is a set of recommendations drafted in the spirit of UNICEF's Anti-War Agenda and the Graça Machel Report -- and we are deeply encouraged by the reception it has received. And there is no question, Mr. President, that the Council's issuance of a Presidential Statement on children and armed conflict has opened new opportunities for improving standards for child protection while strengthening humanitarian assistance.

The extraordinary international response to the plight of children caught up in the humanitarian emergency in and around Kosovo -- a situation that will persist long after the conflict ends -- shows what the world can do when it summons the will to act decisively. UNICEF is profoundly grateful to the donor governments, our National Committees and the World Bank, whose efforts to ease the suffering have generated close to $30 million in pledged and in-pipeline donations over the course of just two months.

During my recent visit to the region, I saw for myself the difference those funds are making to the region's children, in such areas as UNICEF's work with psycho-social counselling and with immunization campaigns, mine awareness programmes, pre-school care, trauma relief and the organization of youth councils in refugee camps.

Distinguished Delegates, very little imagination is needed to envision what a proportionately generous outpouring of assistance could do for children and their families caught up in the forgotten and overlooked humanitarian emergencies that are raging in Africa, in Asia, and in the Middle East and Latin America.

Our recommendations for UNICEF's future agenda also include 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.

It is a threat compounded by the mixed blessings of a globalised economy that, as the Secretary-General has said, stirs universal appetites, but is rendering us ever more unequal in our capacity to satisfy them.

And it is compounded by the neglect and indifference that has condemned impoverished countries to strangulation by external debt -- by the damage to social sectors in upheavals like East Asia's financial crisis -- and by natural catastrophes like last year's hurricanes in Central America and the Caribbean -- all of them events that have unfolded in tandem with the continuing, shameful plunge in Official Development Assistance.

That is why, Mr. President, UNICEF is joined with the rest of the UN System in the global drive to eradicate poverty -- an effort that we are helping to further through national programmes to improve the health, growth and development of children. The conquest of poverty has become the overarching goal of the United Nations -- and we pleased that the 20/20 Initiative has been embraced as a key element in that struggle.

Distinguished Delegates, you have only to look at the materials that are circulating in this room to appreciate the origins of the report on UNICEF's future global agenda for children and the focus of our work beyond the year 2000.

These documents, together with the oral reports you will hear this week, are a testament to the fact that the survival, protection and development of children remain universal development imperatives -- imperatives that are crucial for human progress.

They speak to the countless children and women whose lives are degraded and cut short by such unacceptable inequities as malnutrition, by the denial of basic quality education, by inadequate sanitation and unsafe water, by the ravages of maternal mortality, and by the myriad dangers facing children in especially difficult circumstances, such as those caught up in war, natural disasters, extreme poverty, all forms of violence and exploitation, and those with disabilities.

Regardless of who we are or where we live, the centrality of children shines over all our lives. As the American writer James Agee once put it, "In every child who is born, under no matter what circumstances, and of no matter what parents, the potentiality of the human race is born again."

Distinguished Delegates, UNICEF's successes for children over these many decades have come about because this is an agency that has dared to push, dared to question, dared to dream. Let us continue that tradition, together, in the new millennium.

Thank you.



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