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Press release

A year later, children still waiting for leaders to deliver

Goals Agreed to by All Nations in May 2002 Are Slow to Take Hold

NEW YORK, 8 May 2003 – Goals agreed to at a United Nations summit in May of 2002 have barely begun to be implemented by the nations of the world, UNICEF reported today, saying that only half of the world’s governments had even taken the first step of developing a plan of action for children in their countries.

UNICEF said that 105 nations had so far outlined how they intend to improve conditions for children, with nearly 90 countries still due to create or modify their action plans by the end of 2003, in keeping with the agreed timetable.

“Stating clearly and publicly what each government will do to improve the lives of children is an important step toward real progress,” said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF. “I’m enormously pleased that already so many nations have set forward their plans. We cannot reach the goals we’ve set for 2005, 2010, or 2015 without saying up front exactly what each of us plans to do. That’s accountability, and I applaud the governments who have fulfilled this first commitment.”

Bellamy said resources and attention that should have gone to children’s issues over the past year had instead been devoted to crisis and war. “The children of Iraq are important, but there are 2.1 billion children in this world, half of them living in abject poverty, 150 million who are malnourished, 120 million who never go to school, and 11 million who die from totally preventable causes every year. These are the things that governments must focus on with consistency and rigor.”

The first United Nations Special Session on Children took place in New York from May 8-10, 2002. Government delegations from every nation, including some 70 heads of state and almost 200 children, agreed to a time-bound set of goals intended to:

• improve children’s health and survival
• provide them with a quality education
• reverse the impact of HIV/AIDS on their lives
• and protect them from exploitation and violence.

Bellamy said it was unrealistic to show major statistical progress in these areas in just the span of one year, but she emphasized that concrete action is necessary in order to reach the goals – especially the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, most of which are set for 2015 with interim goals along the way.

UNICEF also highlighted two national initiatives over the past year that illustrate how rapid change can be when leaders are fully committed to investing in children.

UNICEF cited the case of Kenya, where the government pledged to provide free education to all the nation's children as one of its first initiatives in January 2003. All kinds of school fees were abolished, and school registration soared. An additional 1.5 million children showed up for the first day of school. UNICEF continues to support Kenya in its efforts to improve its education system to ensure that children remain in school and receive a quality education that can help lift them out of poverty.

UNICEF also cited the case of Afghanistan, which despite enormous challenges also made huge strides in getting children in school, especially girls. From the first day of school in March 2002, when nearly 2 million children turned up in classrooms, to the new school year that kicked off in March 2003, Afghanistan has seen school attendance double, with huge numbers of girls attending for the first time in years.

“The only way to make real change for children is through bold strokes,” Bellamy said. A bold stroke in Kenya’s case was the stroke of a pen eliminating school fees. In Afghanistan it was a stroke of inspiration to make rebuilding education the country’s first major priority. The more bold strokes we make for children, the more decent and prosperous our societies will become. That’s a proven fact.”

Bellamy cited other improvements for children in the past year:

• Increase in birth registration in about 50 countries. Children registered at birth helps children realize their rights to a name, nationality, and access to social services.
• 120,000 child deaths averted due to increased measles immunization. The Measles Initiative, led by UNICEF, WHO, The American Red Cross, Canadian International Development Agency, United Nations Foundation, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has immunized 85 million children since 2001.
• A polio-free Europe. A notable milestone in the rapidly gathering campaign to eradicate polio from the earth. Only seven countries remain polio endemic.

A World Fit for Children

The real work of implementing the goals set at the UN Special Session on Children has just begun, Bellamy noted. “The progress made in the past 12 months is a good start, but tremendous challenges lie ahead. All stakeholders – governments, civil society and NGOs, families and children, and the international community - need to move further ahead from words to deeds, from plans and policies to actions and results,” she said.

UNICEF also listed several immediate actions to be taken by all governments in keeping with their commitment toward a world fit for children.

• All countries should establish or strengthen appropriate national bodies for the protection of children. National budgets should be reviewed to allocate at least 20% to basic social services which benefit children.
• Developed countries are encouraged to raise their ODA levels to reach the target of 0.7 per cent of their GNP for overall ODA and to allocate at least 20 per cent of ODA to basic social services.
• All countries should establish or strengthen monitoring systems at national and sub-national levels to assess progress towards the goals and targets.
• All countries should conduct periodic reviews of progress at national and sub-national levels to address obstacles and to accelerate progress.

“If current trends continue, it is unlikely the world will achieve the Millennium Development Goals,” Bellamy argued. “But if we invest in children now, especially using the high-effective, low-cost investments that we already know work, we’ll give ourselves a fighting chance to achieve our goals. They are goals worth achieving. For the sake of children, let’s redouble our efforts to reach them.”

* * *

For more information, please contact:

Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York (1-212) 326-7261 aironside@unicef.org
Jehane Sedky-Lavandero, UNICEF Media, New York (1-212) 326-7269 jsedky@unicef.org
Mohammad Jalloh, UNICEF Media, New York (1-212) 326-7516 mjalloh@unicef.org





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