UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell's opening remarks at the UNICEF event "Champions for Children: Child Rights at the Heart of the SDGs"

17 September 2023

NEW YORK, 17 September 2023 -- "Excellencies, distinguished guests, and friends of UNICEF, it is a real privilege to welcome you to UNICEF House. Thank you for being here.

"We will hear a great deal over the next few days about the Sustainable Development Goals.  The SDGs are an amazing blueprint.  They represent the coming together of the international community to make commitments to each other and to people in every corner of the world to achieve lasting peace and prosperity for people and the planet; to end poverty and inequality; to ensure universal access to health care, education and other essential services; and to spur economic growth; all while tackling the climate crisis and preserving critical biodiversity.

"They are bold goals, but at the halfway mark of the 2030 Agenda, we are rapidly running out of time to turn the promise of the SDGs into reality.

"Tonight, UNICEF will issue a new report which shows that we are on track to meet barely one-third of the child-related SDG targets. And by some measures, progress for children has begun to unravel.

"The numbers are daunting.

"Today, nearly 600 million children are not meeting minimum reading standards, that’s 52 per cent more than before the pandemic;149 million children under five still experience stunted growth; and more than 700 children under age 5 die from diarrhoeal diseases every single day because they lack safe water and sanitation services.

"So, what do we do?

"To achieve the 2030 targets, countries that are currently off-track will need to rapidly accelerate progress.  Easier said than done.  But we believe such acceleration is possible. It will require tremendous political will, investment, and collaboration across borders. No country or UN agency or organization can do it alone.  It will also require us to focus our efforts on reaching the most vulnerable – especially children, because they are the ones most in need of our support.

"This means putting their rights and well-being at the center of our efforts, and it means special attention to those who are marginalized and disadvantaged – those who are at highest risk of being left behind – this includes girls, children with disabilities, children living in crushing poverty, and children affected by endless conflict and by the climate crisis.

"Excellencies, thank you for joining us in this effort. Each of you was invited here this evening because you are a champion for children. Thank you for that, and now we need you more than ever. Together we can put children at the heart of the SDGs, and we can create a world fit for all of us.  

"With that, it is my honour and pleasure to introduce this evening’s keynote speaker – and a true champion for children. 

"I first met Dr. Biden more than three decades ago.  She is a devoted teacher who has helped countless young people make a better life from themselves through education.  She is a role model for women and girls here in the United States and around the world.  And she is a leader who wakes up every day and works to make the world a better place. 

"Please join me in welcoming– the First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden."


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UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across more than 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.

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