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UNICEF home The State of the World's Children
2002 Photo © UNICEF


  Please note that the report is embargoed until 15:00 GMT on
Thursday, 13th September 2001

SOWC 2002 press kit

One Week Before The UN Special Session on Children,
UNICEF Says Broken Promises Hurt The Children of the '90s

It's Too Late for 11-Year-Old Ayodele, But What of the Next Generation?

NEW YORK / GENEVA, 13 September 2001 - Days before world leaders gather for a UN summit on children, UNICEF said in its flagship annual report today that broken promises hurt the children of the 1990s.

The report, The State of the World's Children 2002, says that despite outstanding examples of progress for children in the last decade, most governments have not lived up to the promises made at the 1990 World Summit for Children. But the report added that lessons learned in the '90s offer a clear roadmap forward and that "the promises we make now are the promises we must keep. This time there is no excuse."

Introducing the report, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy urged the leaders gathering in New York next week to "seize this opportunity to finish unfinished business. We know what needs to be done. Now we need leaders to step forward and do it."

"Our report not only looks at the state of the world's children but also at the state of the world's leadership," Bellamy added. "To a large degree, although they don't know it, the children of the 1990s were let down. The gains made - while important - were significantly less than what we had all anticipated when the decade began. Given the accumulation of resources and know-how in the world today, we have really fallen short of our collective potential. Some among us have achieved great things, but collectively we have under-achieved. The difference was leadership."

The UNICEF report details numerous examples of how enlightened leadership and a thorough-going commitment to children has paid off in lower child mortality, improved child health and education, and gains in overall human development. Among many examples from the 1990s, the report also cites the timeless inspiration of Costa Rican President Jose Figueres, who in 1948 abolished his country's army and transferred the defense budget to the education budget at a stroke. Today, Costa Rica has the best human development statistics in its region, including an under-five mortality rate that is one-third that of its neighbors.

And while Bellamy pointed out that differences among regions and within regions vary considerably from goal to goal, overall the data shows a "mixture of conspicuous achievement and dispiriting failure" for children - especially for those born in 1990 and who lived through a decade of under-achievement.

The Global Child

The first chapter of the report takes the example of an imaginary but representative baby girl - Ayodele, a common name in Nigeria meaning "joy has come into the house." Born at the time of the 1990 Summit for Children, Ayodele came into the world at a time, says the report, when children's issues were at the top of the world's agenda, perhaps for the first time in history.

"Ayodele is now 10 years old, going on 11 and, though she does not know it, she has been let down," says the UNICEF report. Her life has not changed for the better. She cannot go to school as she is obliged to work at home and in the fields. In any case, school is too expensive. She cannot read or count beyond a very basic level. She has no idea of her rights. But she is lucky to be alive. Two of her siblings born since the 1990 Summit died from preventable childhood diseases."

While the report acknowledges that one child cannot stand for the whole world, data collected on the goals set at the 1990 summit show a catalogue of broken promises made to children like Ayodele. Indeed, the group of children born at the start of the last decade of the 20th century was the largest generation of children the world has ever known. Reduced proportionally to a representative cohort of 100 children, they would look like this:

· Of the 100 children, 55 would have been born in Asia, including 19 in India and 18 in China. Eight would have come from Latin America and the Caribbean, seven from the Middle east and North Africa, 16 from sub-Saharan Africa, six from CEE/CIS and Baltic States and eight from industrialized countries.

· The births of 33 of these children went unregistered: As a result they have no official existence, no recognition of nationality. Some of them have no access to health facilities or to school without this official proof of their age and identity.

· Around 32 of the children suffered from malnutrition before the age of five and 27 have not been immunized against any diseases. Nine died before the age of five. Of the remaining 91 children, 18 do not attend school, of whom 11 are girls. Eighteen of the children have no access to safe drinking water and 39 live without sanitation.

Progress and Problems

The UNICEF report shows progress, albeit uneven, in improving the state of the world's children over the last decade. Altogether, 3 million fewer children a year will die than in 1990. In addition, there has been significant progress in:

- reducing the number of deaths of children from diarrhoeal diseases;
- bringing polio to the brink of eradication;
- and in protecting 90 million newborns each year from a significant loss of learning ability, through the simple iodization of salt.

Despite this progress, UNICEF notes that:

- more than 10 million children under-five still die each year from preventable causes;
- 149 million children in developing countries still suffer from malnutrition;
- more than 100 million children are still not in primary school - the majority girls;
- millions are still caught up in child labour, trafficking, prostitution, and conflict.

The Global Movement for Children

In an effort to galvanize leadership at every level, UNICEF and partners this year launched the Global Movement for Children (GMC) and the "Say Yes for Children" campaign. Both are intended to broaden leadership for children beyond traditional structures and engage all the world's citizens in considering how their own daily actions can impact children.

The GMC is a global coalition for change on behalf of children. Led by Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel, it unites people and organizations whose idea of human progress is embodied in the well-being of every child, every "Ayodele." Business leaders, intellectuals, celebrities and other persons of note are spearheading the movement.

The "Say Yes for Children" campaign is an outgrowth of this movement. It calls for action on ten key principles for the betterment of children and young people, and asks people to pledge themselves to supporting them. Via the Web and paper ballots, individuals can vote for the three principles they consider the most important. So far some 20 million pledge forms have been collected worldwide. The final count will be presented to leaders at the Special Session on Children next week.


The report details numerous examples of leadership not only by governments but also by businesses and individuals. These examples of enlightened leadership for children - examples that required vision, boldness, and creativty - include: Malawi's guarantee of universal free primary education; Venezuela's abolition of fees for hospitals and health centres and an end to enrolment fees for primary education; pharmaceutical companies that have begun to demonstrate a sense of social responsibility in the face of the HIV/AIDS crisis; a Bangladeshi telephone company that donates $2 to UNICEF for every mobile phone it sells; and many others.

The State of the World's Children 2002 also highlights some problems that exist for children and young people in industrialized nations. It notes that while child poverty in almost every country in the European Union has increased over the last 20 years, the proportion of public expenditure on children has diminished - even as government coffers reaped the benefits of global economic expansion.

In summary, the report urges leaders everywhere - from Heads of State on down - to renew and fulfil the promises that have been made to children. "With our feet still fresh on the sand of a new century, let us make a sacred promise to deliver to the children who will be born into our world the health and nutrition, the education and protection, that is their birthright.

"It is already late for Ayodele and other children of the 1990s… But the decisions made in September 2001 and the action taken in the years ahead could change the fate of the next generation… This time there is no excuse. The task is set and the road ahead is clear. Let's go to work."

* * *

For further information and interviews, please contact:

Lynn Geldof, Media, Geneva, (41 22) 909 5531,
e-mail: lgeldof@unicef.org

Alfred Ironside, Media, New York (212) 326 7261,
e-mail: aironside@unicef.org

Shima Islam, Media, New York, (212) 824 6949,
e-mail: sislam@unicef.org

Patrick McCormick, Media, New York (212) 326 7506,
e-mail: pmccormick@unicef.org



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Photo:  Kurdish girl. Iraq, 1997. Copyright Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas

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