The Progress of Nations, an annual scorecard of the social health
of nations, records achievements in the form of statistics that measure
fulfilment of minimum human needs. The knowledge it unearths is fundamental
to solving problems, because information is the first ingredient needed
by those with the will and the means to make change.
Charting progress for children
The Progress of Nations 1997 tells both good news and bad, and
some news that is both. For example, mortality rates among children under
5 have declined impressively over the past 15 yearsóbut HIV/AIDS is undermining
that success in about 30 countries. A code is in place to protect breastfeeding
from unethical infant formula marketing practicesóbut enforcement of the
code is spotty. Safe water supplies have expanded dramatically in recent
yearsóbut access to sanitation is falling.
year's edition takes a broad view, assessing not only basic social conditions
but also progress and disparity in areas that are more difficult to measure.
Many of these have a profound impact on children's lives. No statistic
can capture the impact of violence that is directed against girls and women
simply because they are female, yet that violence thwarts their development
as well as that of their nations.
And as for children who come into conflict with the law, few nations
keep track of how many young people are in custody, for how long and why.
Though some countries in both the developing and the industrialized worlds
are reforming their juvenile justice systems, too many young people still
suffer harsh treatment and enjoy fewer legal protections than do adults.
Recognition of the importance of such topics has grown as the concept
of child rights has taken hold in the world community. With all but two
nations having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the
idea is gaining ground that bettering children's lives is not a matter
of government largesse but a fundamental legal requirement. Legislation
upholding the rights pledged in the Convention is being enacted at all
levels of government, and children throughout the world are learning to
claim their rights. For some young people, implementation of the Convention
will guarantee a birth certificate or a seat in the classroom. For others,
including those in industrialized countries where 'over' development brings
its own problems, the Convention will back efforts to improve the physical
and social environment.
year's Progress of Nations, the fifth, presents another indicator
of development: improved statistics. When we conceived the publication,
we hoped that the report in itself would inspire governments to sharpen
their statistical self-knowledge. That has proved correct. The Progress
of Nations 1997 is filled with evidence of improvements in both the
quality and the quantity of the data, revealing both the advances and the
declines in children's well-being.
It is clear that, buoyed by knowledge, committed governments have a
far better opportunity to achieve the goals agreed to at the 1990 World
Summit for Children. Fulfilment of these goals will ensure that all children,
especially the least advantaged, have a real chance to survive, grow up
healthy and well-nourished, go to school and achieve their full potential.