Thank you. It is a pleasure to be here to introduce
my tenth and final State of the World's Children report
as Executive Director of UNICEF.
This year's State of the World's Children was given the
title “Childhood Under Threat” for a simple reason. The
report concludes that half of all children in the world
today suffer from some form of extreme deprivation. Whether
it is lack of water, lack of health care, lack of schooling,
or lack of protection; whether it is displacement in war,
exploitation due to economic desperation, or the losses
caused by HIV/AIDS, more than 1 billion children are being
robbed of childhood.
And when that many children are robbed of childhood, our
shared future is compromised.
This report looks at the three major underlying forces
disrupting childhood: poverty, conflict and AIDS. It
- That 1 in 3 children has no access to
clean water, sanitation or basic health
- That 55 of the 59 conflicts since 1990 have been within countries,
with the result that nearly half of those killed in war since 1990 have
- And that there are now more than 15 million children orphaned by
AIDS – with millions more affected by the deaths of adults in their lives.
These statistics only scratch the surface of what this
report is about. Fundamentally it is about a failure
of leadership. It has been 15 years since every nation
on earth signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child,
which set out a basic, universal standard for a healthy,
protected, decent childhood for every human being. And
progress has been made toward that standard, there is no
question. Yet with half of all children still deprived
of childhood, we are clearly failing to meet our commitments.
Deprivation of services, conflict, the way AIDS is spreading
younger and younger and further and further – all these
things are related. Poor allocation of national resources
over time often leads to internal conflict. Conflict
spreads HIV more readily, and causes even greater deprivations
than those it set out to correct. Disrupted childhoods
lead to another generation of adults who never reach their
full potential, and the poverty cycle continues.
The report examines each issue independently and makes
recommendations for steps governments needs to take. I
won't go into these now. The entire report and supplemental
material can be found on the UNICEF Web site at www.unicef.org
The key point is that we remain far short of delivering
the kind of childhood we said we wanted for our children.
After ten years at UNICEF, I'd like to make a few personal
observations. The first is that war is never good
for children. When I come back from places like northern
Uganda, where children run away from their villages at
night to avoid being abducted by rebels; from DRC, where
children and women are systematically raped as a weapon
of war; from Nepal where schools are deliberately targeted
as recruiting centers and as soft spots in the community;
Afghanistan, where, God help us, girls still face enormous
discrimination; and, yes, Iraq, where increased school
enrollment demonstrates parental desire and commitment
to change things, but where nutrition is worse – when I
return home from these place I am more convinced than ever
that war has no short or medium-term benefits for children.
Maybe for a generation of children born long after the
conflict has ended, life is improved. But in today's
wars, where civilians have become the prime targets, there
is rarely a justification for war that mitigates the suffering
and loss of war. That goes for all of today's wars,
whoever is behind them and for whatever stated reasons. We
have to accept responsibility for the fact that children
in the millions are suffering when we go to battle.
Ladies and gentlemen, childhood is under threat not for
mysterious reasons that strain our imaginations, but because
of deliberate choices made by governments and others in
power. Poverty doesn't persist because of nothing;
war doesn't emerge from nowhere; HIV doesn't spread by
choice of its own. These are our choices. How we
allocate resources, how we assess impact of our decisions,
how often we consider children in our choices – these are
the moments that matter.
The flow of childhood never subsides, it never rests. It
just flows irrepressibly forward, waiting for no one to
perfect the environment or circumstances. Maybe that's
why we are so passive about childhood – after all, it just
keeps coming, with each succeeding generation of children,
new hope and, eventually, old disappointments.
But although they may seem intractable, poverty, conflict
and AIDS can be curtailed, they can be slowed, they can
be bent to our will. Once we decide in favor of protecting
childhood, we can accomplish nearly anything.
I have seen many things in my years at UNICEF, many great
achievements for children. But frankly I have seen
many more opportunities missed and deliberate acts of greed
and knowing short-sightedness. I sit before you today
to tell you that despite steady progress, the state of
the world's children is not what it could be, what it ought
to be, what we have promised to make it. Meanwhile,
childhood keeps rolling forward, and for half of those
in this age group it is a childhood under threat.
We can do better.
I am Carol Bellamy, and it has been an enormous privilege
to fight for childhood these past ten years.