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UNICEF: Ending poverty begins with children

Please note: Last-minute scheduling changes meant that the speech by UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy described below was delivered by Deputy Executive Director Kul Gautam. Please continue to use Ms. Bellamy's name with the quotes.

Tuesday, 27 June 2000: Poverty reduction begins with children, most urgently the 600 million who are among the world's most deprived. UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said this in a statement delivered at a follow-up conference to the World Summit for Social Development. She said the world could escape unimaginable poverty in a generation if it agrees to focus on the urgent needs of the 600 million children and young people who are among the most deprived in today's world.

Ms. Bellamy stressed the need to address four challenges and seek three outcomes. The challenges are the HIV/AIDs pandemic, the prevalence of armed conflicts, continuing gender discrimination and deep poverty. The desireable outcomes would:

  • Guarantee the very youngest children a good start in life, nurture, care and a safe environment that enables them to survive, be physically healthy, mentally alert, emotionally secure, socially competent and able to learn.
  • Give all children an opportunity to complete a good, quality basic education. Special attention would be paid to remedying present glaring inequities in both girl's and women's education.
  • Provide adolescents an opportunity to develop fully their individual capacity in safe and enabling environments that empower them to participate in, contribute to, their societies.

The Geneva gathering of UN and world development leaders, collectively known as Geneva 2000 and Copenhagen +5, is evaluating progress since the 1995 Copenhagen Summit set out a series of ambitious goals to eradicate poverty, promote jobs, livelihoods, and end social exclusion.

Ms. Bellamy explained that her emphasis on three key outcomes results from UNICEF's 50- year experience with what works in situations of great deprivation and need.

"There is a growing body of scientific evidence that early childhood care is pivotal to how a child grows and develops from birth to up to the eighth year. Proper care can greatly influence a child's continued learning and psycho-social development in later years. Creating such conditions is not a question of charity, but of the rights of children, and it would lay the foundation for strong economies over time.

"An extra 30 cents out of every one hundred dollars would ensure that every child on the planet is healthy, well-nourished and enrolled in primary school. But money alone will not defeat deep poverty. Unless we are genuinely committed to do for children what they most need to have done, all the money in the world will not break the cycle of destitution and need."

Ms. Bellamy said economic recovery in several parts of the developing world, and a surge in international trade and private capital flows during the 1990s, creates a basis for new partnerships that could enhance the future of the world's poorest children.

"We have a $30 trillion global economy which leaves 1.2 billion people -- a fifth of the human race -- struggling to survive on less than a dollar a day," she said. "We need to agree that the time to address the basic needs of the 600 million of them who are children is right now."

Ms. Bellamy said governments in developing countries have been spending, on average, between 12 and 15 per cent of their national budgets on basic social services, while donor countries have been spending between 10 and 15 per cent of their aid budget on the same services.

A slight upward tick in both donor and developing countries, and focusing on the needs of children, could lead to a truly effective campaign to end poverty, she noted.

UNICEF's stress on childhood development and their right to basic social services is the outgrowth of history's most universally embraced human rights instrument, the Convention on the Rights of the Child. "The 191 ratifications of the Convention reflect a global 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."

Ms. Bellamy said that UNICEF is ready to play a key role with many old and new partners in facilitating a move toward providing the crucial services that can make the difference between poverty and self sufficiency.

"We are helping NGOs and Governments on the ground in unimaginably bad situations," she said "Helping children escape garbage dump subsistence in Brazil, protecting 3,500 street children in New Delhi, sponsoring HIV/AIDS prevention education in Uganda and Thailand. But we will be taking one step forward and two steps back unless we simply say that the mountain we want to climb is plain to us. And that when the climb is over, we will be looking at a world where the rights and needs of every child are honoured, a world where poverty is finally in flight."

Please email media@unicef.org with comments or requests for more information, quoting CF/DOC/PR/2000/54