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Photo: Kurdish girl. Iraq, 1997. Copyright Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas
Photo: Kurdish girl. Iraq, 1997. Copyright Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas

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Press Release

Introduction of the SG’s Report, ‘We The Children’
By Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF

Noon Briefing, New York, 7 June 2001

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am here to introduce the Secretary-General’s report on children. This important report, entitled “We the Children,” is the end-of-decade review following-up on the 1990 World Summit for Children. It contains information from 135 countries based on reviews conducted at the national level. It is, without a doubt, the most comprehensive study of what is happening to the world’s children today.

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The report contains the best available data on progress for children over the last decade.
Data is still coming in and there will be revisions and updates over the next few months. Some numbers may even change in the final analysis. As you know, we have been meticulous in collecting as much information about children as possible and every year since the early 1990s, in our Progress of Nations report, UNICEF has presented a picture of global efforts to achieve the goals of the World Summit for Children. The last such effort was in summer 2000.

I would like to address some of the major findings of the report. As the Secretary-General has said, “The world has fallen short of achieving most of the goals of the World Summit for Children not because they were too ambitious or were technically beyond reach." I echo that wholeheartedly. The goals were ambitious, and at the same time reflected what was sorely needed.

The picture that emerges from the data is mixed. There is good news and bad news.

First the good news. There has been real progress in a number of areas – much more than people tend to acknowledge in a world fraught with cynicism and scepticism. The specific goals of the World Summit were to protect children; to cut mortality rates among children and mothers, improve access to health care and education, reduce malnutrition, and provide better water and sanitation.

A major goal was the reduction of the mortality rate among children under five. In 1990, some 12 million children in developing countries died from preventable diseases. Diarrhoea was the number one killer. Then, three million children died each year from diarrhoeal causes. Today, that number has been cut by half.

Some 63 countries have achieved the Summit goal of reducing under five mortality by one-third, and over 100 other countries have reduced rates by one-fifth. As many as 1 million young lives have been saved.

What about immunization? Routine immunization has remained high in all regions save one; and new initiatives have begun to expand immunization programmes. There is the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI). Today, over 100 million children are immunized annually, saving 3 million lives every year.

In nutrition, the goal of reducing severe and moderate malnutrition by half among children under five has been achieved by Latin America and the Caribbean.

There has been a major effort to increase Vitamin A supplementation in the Least Developed Countries and especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. We concentrated on these areas because the need was greatest and action could make a significant and immediate difference to children. The widespread provision of this simple remedy has sharply reduced severe forms of Vitamin A deficiency, including blindness. The result is that the LDC’s overall have achieved an 80% rate of supplementation and Sub-Saharan Africa 70%. The use of iodized salt by 1.5 billion more people today than in 1990 has reduced the toll of brain damage, retardation or other physical impairments.

In education, the goal was to provide universal access to basic education and completion of primary levels by at least 80% of primary school children. Worldwide, millions more children are in school as net enrolment has increased, outpacing population growth. An added result has been that there has been a modest rise in the adult literacy rate.

Sometimes the data does not present the only picture. For instance, although there has not been a reduction of maternal deaths in developing countries, we know that there is now heightened awareness of the causes and we also know that there has been a increase in the attendance of skilled doctors , nurses, and midwives at births in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa.

In the period under review, over 800 million people have gained access to safe drinking water and an estimated 500 million people to environmental sanitation. In 1990 the figures were l.5 billion people without access to safe drinking water and 3 billion lacking access to decent sanitation.

So there has been progress. The report notes as well that children are now much higher on the political agenda than they were 10 years ago. Children’s issues now figure much more prominently in political and legal debate in dozens of countries. Here at the UN it is not just UNICEF that puts children at the centre of discussion – it is also ECOSOC and the General Assembly as well as all members of the UN family. The Security Council, as you know, has taken up children’s issues particularly in the area of armed conflict.

The past decade has also strengthened partnerships on behalf of children. In the preparatory process for the Special Session in September, ministerial level meetings involving the governments of many member states have taken place in four separate regions. NGO’s have also contributed to the review process which was highly participatory and included consultation and debate at high levels in most countries.

These are significant achievements, and they signal that the goals of the World Summit were realistic. But the report makes it clear that there is an unfinished agenda. The message from the report is that in the past decade, the world has not met its own standards for children. It has fallen short on many goals, with terrible consequences.

The report states: “There have been setbacks, slippage and in some cases real retrogression, some of it serious enough to threaten earlier gains”.

The stark challenges that face us today are that:

  • more that 10 million children still die each year from preventable causes;
  • 150 million still suffer from malnutrition;
  • 100 million children are still not in school – most of them girls;
  • The resources that were promised at the Summit have yet to materialize and there has been inadequate investment in social services;
  • And the lives of millions continue to be devastated by hazardous labour, by the sale and trafficking of women and children; the militarization and prostitution of children and by general abuse, exploitation and violence.

I also want to highlight three new and broad challenges that must be overcome if we are to make good on the world’s promises to children . These are poverty, civil conflict and HIV/AIDS all of which are compounded by continuing discrimination against women and girls.

Each of these challenges has grown more pronounced over the last decade. Hundreds of millions of children are born into entrenched poverty – poverty that restricts their chances for health and education and which in turn keeps nations poor. There have also been more conflicts over the last decade than at any time since the last world war, most of it highly localized and highly brutal, making women and children its primary victims.

Then there is the AIDS pandemic. This has exploded, not only taking millions of lives but weakening whole societies. There are now 13 million children who have lost one or both parents to this awful disease . Every minute 6 people under the age of 25 become infected. I need not recite statistics to you today but as the report points out the scale of this disease exceeds the worst case projection in 1990.

These are indeed daunting challenges. But we are undaunted, and we will continue to address them and with time we will succeed in our goal of making this a world fit for children. It is vitally important that the Special Session in September galvanise the leadership, political will, commitment and resources to address these challenges. As you will note from the positive aspects of the report, these challenges are not insurmountable. If intention and determination are in place , we have demonstrated that we can achieve all our goals for children.

The Special Session is the arena where we hope to get this message across to world leaders that there is unfinished business to be completed. One of the ways in which we hope to convince leaders is through the backing and support of the world’s citizens. To that end, UNICEF and a group of partners, led by Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel, has launched a global sign-up campaign in support of ten imperatives for children. Now gathering pledges in more than 100 countries, the campaign aims to demonstrate that people care about children and want governments to keep the promises they make to them.

We must never forget that we are our own keepers – history will judge us harshly if we continue to fail to use our knowledge, our resources and our will to ensure that each new member of the human family arrives in a world that respects and protects the invaluable, irreplaceable years of childhood.

I commend this report to you. It contains compelling information and by your efforts you can help us to rally the public support we need now to change the fate of our children and in fact, the fate of our world. This is not a one-story report. It is a vivid portrait of our children -- what we have done for them and how we have let them down. There are thousands of stories here.

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