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An open letter to the European Union from UNICEF's Executive Director Anthony Lake

Tomorrow, European Union leaders gather in Brussels to discuss their position for the UN Secretary General’s much-anticipated September Summit on the Millennium Development Goals – eight key commitments inspired by the United Nations Millennium Declaration, which ten years ago launched an unprecedented global movement to build a more peaceful, prosperous and just world for all. 

The meeting in Brussels is a chance for the EU to reaffirm its historic advocacy for children’s rights – and especially the world’s most forgotten and marginalized children.   We at UNICEF greatly hope it will do so. 

Because today, as the world measures its progress toward meeting the MDGs, it is increasingly clear that millions of children are being left behind.  In fact, data is beginning to show widening rifts between rich and poor countries, and glaring disparities within developing nations.

For example, in countries like Afghanistan and the DRC, the under-five mortality rate has not dropped by as much as a single percentage point, even as the global rate has dropped by 30% between 1990 and 2008. 

A woman in Niger has a 1 in 7 chance of dying from a pregnancy-related cause over the course of her lifetime.  In the richest countries that rate is 1 in 8,000 on average. 

Within the developing world, children in the poorest 20% of their societies are two or three times more likely to be underweight than children from the richest 20% of their societies; two to three times more likely to suffer from stunting; two to three times less likely to attend school. 

In some countries, these disparities are growing – and they affect girls, indigenous children, and children from ethnic minorities most of all.
All this is cause for alarm – and immediate action.  

Focusing our efforts to meet the MDGs on the easiest areas and people to reach might achieve a statistical success, but mask a moral failure -- leaving behind those who are most in need.   We must focus more effort on the forgotten children.

The international community asserted in 1948 that we are all ‘born free and equal in dignity and in rights’.  This fundamental commitment is at the core of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; it is echoed in the Millennium Declaration, and has been reaffirmed in the 2005 Paris Declaration, the 2008 Accra Agenda for Action, and many international declarations of human rights.

In this decisive moment, the bottom quintile should become the world’s top priority.  In that spirit, we hope the European Union will seize the chance to champion children’s rights in Brussels tomorrow – and in doing so, help lead the effort to put the world’s neediest children at the top of the world’s agenda in September.

Anthony Lake
Executive Director

UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence.  The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS.  UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. Visit www.unicef.org

For further information, please contact:
Christopher de Bono, UNICEF Media, New York,
Tel + 1 212 303 7984,




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