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



I. Leadership from 1990-2000

At the 1990 World Summit for Children held in New York, world leaders designed a blueprint for improving the lives of children and women within a decade.

© UNICEF/Harare and Ziana/Zimbabwe

A boy in Zimbabwe studies while two girls work in a field in the background.

Their goals were straightforward: Reduce child mortality rates. Improve maternal health care. Cut malnutrition rates in half. Assure safe drinking water and access to sanitation for everyone. Deliver basic education to all children. Improve the protection of children.

Following the World Summit many leaders aggressively began the work that was called for, and the outcomes were impressive. Under-five mortality rates were reduced by 14 per cent. Neonatal tetanus was eliminated in 104 of 161 developing nations. Vitamin A and iodized salt were delivered to nearly 75 per cent of children.

But a decade that began with promise was marked by missed opportunities.

One third of all children were still not being registered at birth at the end of the year 2000, resulting in no official record of their existence and leaving them vulnerable to denial of health care and schooling. Around 30 million infants are still not reached by routine immunizations. In sub-Saharan Africa only 47 per cent of children are immunized against diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus.

A third of the children in the world suffered from malnutrition during the 1990s. Children's malnutrition rates declined by only 17 per cent in developing countries rather than being halved. The drop in malnutrition in Asia was a mere 7 per cent. In sub-Saharan Africa the absolute number of malnourished children actually increased.

Today 1.1 billion people remain without safe water and 2.4 billion are without adequate sanitation.

The goal of universal basic education has not been achieved. Over 100 million children of primary school age are not in school and many more receive poor quality education. The gender gap leaves more girls than boys out of the classroom.

The maternal mortality ratio remains at 1990 levels instead of being halved. The goal for all pregnant women to have access to prenatal care and trained attendants during childbirth has not materialized. Only 29 per cent of South Asian births and 37 per cent of sub-Saharan African births are attended.

On balance, while there have been some notable successes since 1990, much more is needed from governments and individuals if the rights of all children are to be realized.


For an extensive treatment of the effects of nutrition on child development, see The State of the World's Children, 1998.

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'In brief'

Leadership from 1990- 2000
The United Nations Special Session on Children
The Global Movement for Children: 'Say Yes for Children'
The magic of leadership
Acts of leadership
Leadership challenges
Good for children, good for the world
It takes a leader to listen
The costs of children's silence
Every nation has a role to play