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To the African-Arab Preparatory Conference for the forthcoming General Assembly Summit on Children

Imagen del UNICEF

Marrakech - 21 May 2001

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates:

UNICEF fully subscribes to the Secretary-General's identification of education as a key priority in poverty eradication, and his view that investing in education and other programmes of special importance to children will yield vast dividends over the long run.

This is especially true of education for girls. We know from hard empirical evidence that girls who are educated generally have healthier and better-educated children; that they are more likely to understand what they must do to protect themselves and their families against HIV/AIDS and other diseases; and that they tend to have smaller families.

That is why the UN Girls' Education Initiative is at the core of preparations for the Special Session on Children in September, and why - as the Secretary-General said in launching it last year - implementing its goals will require substantial national commitments.

As the Secretary-General also indicated, these and other investments in children require a visionary and long-term commitment, as the experience of parts of sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia has shown. We know that investments in children are extraordinarily productive - but we must be mindful that returns on these investments will materialise only if they are sustained over the long term.

Let us also not forget that investing in children is a moral and legal obligation.

One hundred and ninety-one countries accepted that obligation when they ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, history's most widely ratified human rights instrument.

As a result of these commitments, the1990s were a time of notable progress toward the goals of the World Summit for Children - including gains in child immunisation that have now brought polio to the brink of eradication; the widespread prevention of iodine deficiency disorders through salt iodisation; greatly expanded access to primary education; extensive provision of vitamin A supplements, and the promotion of breastfeeding standards.

But for all the millions of young lives that have been saved over the decade, and for all the futures that have been enhanced, these triumphs fall far short of the promises that governments made to children in 1990.

As we crossed into the new Millennium, children under the age of 5 were still dying at the rate of more than 10 million a year, all from preventable causes like diarrhoea, measles, and acute respiratory infections, while 150 million children are malnourished, often at a cost of developmental handicaps that can last a lifetime; over 100 million children, 60 per cent of them girls, never see the inside of a school; and 1 out of every 10 children have serious disabilities.

And this toll is occurring in the face of deepening poverty and inequity, including the burden of external debt; gender discrimination and violence, environmental degradation and natural disasters. These have been joined in recent years by the catastrophic spread of HIV/AIDS, along with the proliferation of armed conflict and related problems like anti-personnel land mines, the worldwide trafficking of small arms, and the merciless recruitment of child soldiers, whose re-integration into society poses immense difficulties.

Yet UNICEF believes that we now stand at the most opportune moment imaginable for reaching the remaining goals that were set at the World Summit for Children - and for mobilising governments and citizens of every nation, including families, communities, and civil society organisations, to carry the banner of a Global Movement for Children - a worldwide campaign to build a shared sense of responsibility for the well-being of every child on earth.

Dear Friends, we know what needs to be done - and nothing speaks louder than financial commitments. The principal reason that so many of the World Summit goals have gone unfulfilled is under-investment in basic social services. However, developing countries are currently devoting only 12 to14 per cent of their national budgets to basic social services, while developed countries earmark only about 11 per cent of their ODA.

It is a situation that cries out for a strong and united response. That is why UNICEF has been urging ministers of finance, from developing and developed countries alike, to take steps to ensure the long-term future of their countries by putting the well-being of children at the heart of the budgetary process.

Unfortunately, commitments to reduction of infant mortality and child malnutrition, primary education and gender equality, are often inadequately reflected in budget restructuring and policy reforms at the national and sub-national levels.

It has been suggested that one way to address these shortcomings would be to create a children's budget committee. Such a committee could be an effective lobby to defend the best interests of children in the budgetary process and to promote assessments of the impact on children of proposed budgetary decisions.

Essentially, the committee would function as a think-thank and watch-dog, with a clear objective of steering public policies and investment towards reaching the international development targets for children. The committee would be made up of representatives of government, parliamentarians representing various parties, members of the civil society, academic institutions, the private sector, children themselves and UNICEF.

In the case of Morocco, the National Child Rights Observatory could became a "secretariat" on follow-up for the committee. For example, such a committee could advise ministries on policies and programmes, while building partnerships between the public and private sectors and between government and non-governmental actors.

My Friends, I firmly believe that all of this is feasible, and that we can put human development back on a positive track by decisively shifting national investments to favour child well-being - and all of us here today can help accelerate that shift as we approach the General Assembly's Special Session on Children.

The Special Session, which will open less than four months from today, will be the biggest and most momentous international meeting on child rights since the World Summit for Children more than a decade ago - and we have every expectation that national leaders will use the occasion to commit themselves to a set of specific actions to help the world's children in the first 10 years of this new century.

This will require new and expanded partnership involving governments and every level of civil society, including the business community and private enterprise. For it is only through broad and committed partnerships that we will reach the remaining World Summit goals; tackle poverty, HIV/AIDS and armed conflict; and establish a comprehensive agenda for children for the first 10 years of this new century.

To succeed, we will need to enlist not only established leaders, but people of influence representing every part of civil society, from non-governmental organisations, religious groups and private enterprise to people's movements, academia and the media, community and grassroots groups, families - and children themselves.

President Nelson Mandela and Graça Machel have already assumed a direct and personal role in that effort, telling leaders from every walk of life that if we want a just, equitable and thriving world, we must invest in children now.

Your Majesty, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates: UNICEF has every hope that heads of State and Government will appoint Personal Representatives to attend the final Preparatory Committee meeting for the Special Session that begins on June 11 - and that top national leaders will themselves come to the Special Session in September with specific commitments, including action plans that involve civil society, especially children and young people themselves.

My Friends, Morocco has shown an extraordinary commitment to making the Special Session a success - and on behalf of the United Nations Children's Fund, I want to commend His Majesty and the Moroccan Government for their inspirational leadership.

With such commitment and vision, I have every confidence that we will meet the goals of the World Summit for Children and the Millennium Declaration targets - and assure nothing less than a second revolution in child survival - a revolution aimed not only at saving lives, but at imbuing those lives with dignity and worth, in a world based on equity.

Thank you.