Remarks by Mr. Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director
United Nations Children’s Fund
At the High-Level Briefing Programme National Conference of Editorial Writers United Nations
Draft of 14 July 2002
23 July 2002
Distinguished colleagues from the media, ladies and gentlemen:
On behalf of UNICEF, I wish to thank the Department of Public Information for this important opportunity to meet with you and discuss the necessity of investment in children for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, and how this fits in the media context of today.
This Conference is very timely, as after a decade of world summits and conferences culminating in the setting of a common agenda shaped by the historic Millennium Summit, we must swiftly move into implementation mode, and the media are vital partners in this process. There is no better place to start than with children. With regard to their situation today, I often like to note that we are living in the best of times as well as in the worst of times. Why? Well, to most people, this characterisation as the “worst of times” is probably fairly obvious, as the causes have been well documented by the media. Yet the scale of the problems is oftentimes not fully grasped. For, as we crossed into the 21st Century:
Children under the age of 5 were dying at the rate of 11 million a year, most from easily preventable causes like diarrhoea, measles, and acute respiratory infections. This means over 30,000, or the equivalent of 60 jumbo jets filled to capacity crashing every day; • Some 150 million children under five were malnourished, often at a cost of developmental handicaps that last a lifetime; • Nearly 600,000 women were dying each year of complications in pregnancy and childbirth; • 120 million children of primary-school age were not in class, about 60 per cent of them girls; • The proliferation of armed conflict is growing and takes a horrific toll on children-setting the stage for wars that are passed from generation to generation. Millions of children are slaughtered, raped, maimed, exploited as soldiers and exposed to unspeakable brutality; • Hundreds of millions of children need protection from abuse, discrimination, exploitation, neglect, and violence. They are direct targets of violence and abuse, objects of exploitation, a source of cheap labour, used as instruments of war, and sold into slavery or prostitution. • There have been a number of tremendous setbacks to progress for children in the 1990s, including the explosion of the pandemic of HIV/AIDS. It is so devastating that it is already reversing decades of hard-won gains for children, and orphaned 14 million of them; and • The last decade was also marked by the growing number of humanitarian crises that involves children, and by a tragically long decline in Official Development Assistance (ODA).
Yet for all the uncertainties in the world, we are also living in the best of times for children. As the UN Secretary-General has pointed out, in a $30 trillion plus global economy, the necessary knowledge, resources, and strategies all exist to give children the chance they need to grow in peace, health and dignity. The global community has what it takes to give children the best possible start in life; quality primary education for all; and provide adolescents with opportunities to develop their capacities in a safe and supportive environment. All this was reaffirmed at the recently held Special Session of the General Assembly on Children in May of this year, which reviewed progress made since the 1990 World Summit for Children. Some of the World Summit goals were achieved in the 1990s and there are areas with great progress upon which to build. This includes the facts that: • The Expanded Programme of Immunization has been sustained, protecting children from major child-killer diseases•
Polio is on the brink of eradication; • There are more children in school than ever before; • 1.5 billion more people now consume iodised salt, resulting in more than 90 million newborns in the world being protected from a significant loss in learning ability; • The Convention on the Rights of the Child has been the most widely and rapidly ratified convention ever, with commitments not just on paper, and there are real efforts to implement it, as can be seen by the legislation and other measures taken; • Child protection issues have a much higher profile, are increasingly better articulated, understood and addressed; • NGO activism and partnerships with greatly served to accelerate action; • A human- and child rights-based approach is now taken in development planning; • Overall, children are much higher on the political agenda, as seen by the facts that: Ø Elections are being held and constitutions revised to take into account children’s rights and concerns; Ø Here at the UN, it is not just UNICEF that puts children at the centre of debates-it is also ECOSOC, and the GA.
Even the Security Council has taken up children’s issues, particularly in the area of children and armed conflict; and Ø The Special Session on Children concluded with the adoption of an ambitious yet eminently feasible agenda for children. Entitled A World Fit for Children, this agenda is set within the larger scope of the Millennium Declaration, and contains specific goals and strategies that contribute directly to the realization of six out of the eight Millennium Development Goals. We at UNICEF see A World Fit for Children, agreed to by the largest number of summit-level participants ever at a General Assembly special session as well as a host of leaders from all walks of life-including parliamentarians, religious leaders, mayors, representatives of civil society, corporate CEOs, and children themselves-as embodying the world’s agenda and commitment toward children. Furthermore, ten key principles and actions contained in the Declaration were at the heart of a record-breaking pledge campaign in the lead-up to the Special Session, whereby 95 million people in all regions of the world said Yes for Children to those ten points. The Plan of Action of A World Fit for Children has promoting healthy lives, providing quality education, protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence, and combating HIV/AIDS as priority areas of action. Ensuring sufficient resources and adequate follow-up and monitoring are also key components of the plan. We at UNICEF have defined our contribution to the implementation of the goals and strategies of this global agenda for children in our Medium-Term Strategic Plan for the period 2002-2005. Based on the analysis of the situation of children and on UNICEF’s organizational strengths, we have identified five priority areas where the biggest impact on the lives of children can be made. These organizational priorities are: 1. Integrated early childhood development including health, nutrition, water and sanitation, psychosocial care, early learning, and child protection 2. Immunization “plus” 3.
Girls’ education-a top corporate priority 4. Improved protection of children from violence, exploitation, abuse and discrimination; and 5. Fighting HIV/AIDS. UNICEF will pursue these priorities through country programmes, and also through advocacy, monitoring, research, policy analysis, and partnerships at all levels. In pursuing these priorities, we will be guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and other relevant human rights treaties. Ladies and Gentlemen, We at UNICEF see the goals and targets for 2010 agreed at the Special Session on Children as well as our five organizational priorities as helpful stepping stones for the Millennium Development Goals. Even these goals may need to be broken down into 3 to 5 year time frames, if today’s political leaders are to be held accountable for practical results. In preparation of the Special Session on Children, a massive end-decade review was conducted. As documented in the report of the Secretary-General entitled “We the Children…”, we found that perhaps the most important lesson of the last decade was this: “that it is not enough for leaders to promise something, even when the resources are available to back it up, unless the whole of society is mobilised to achieve the goal. The most striking advances towards the goals of the World Summit for Children (…) were achieved through this strong combination of strong partnership and sustained political commitment, involving the broadest possible range of people.” In today’s world, actions by governments alone cannot achieve ambitious goals.
The key to success lies in generating popular understanding and public support of development goals so that leaders see that it is good politics to pursue such goals whether the government is democratic or autocratic. This is where your work is vital. Your editorials can generate and sustain political as well as public commitment. The declarations and agendas hammered out at the UN are often the result of intense political negotiations and written in convoluted and technical language that needs to be made understandable by the general public. The MDGs need to be widely known and accepted. Their time-bound targets should serve as a focal point for management by objectives, as a rallying point for public awareness, and for maintaining the necessary political pressure. Public interest must be awakened and nurtured; ambition must be stirred; expectation must be aroused; and commitments from all possible sources of support must be secured and sustained. Journalism has a fundamental role in public monitoring and accountability. A goal-focused approach requires constant monitoring. To accelerate progress or take corrective action, monitoring must involve and inform political leaders, NGO activists and communities-your readership. Publicising progress – or lack thereof – by using indicators that the public can understand, is essential for successful goal-oriented approaches.
Generating healthy competition by comparing the performance of neighbouring states or countries can also be a great catalyst for progress. Your monitoring and reporting should provoke public debate, including in Congress and local assemblies. If we are to generate public support and action, the MDGs must be presented to the public in a manner and with messages that resonate in both hearts and minds. And nothing captures people’s attention better than the concern for their children. It is after all the survival, protection and development of their children to their fullest human potential that is the universally shared aspiration of all parents. Let us therefore invoke the cause of children to promote the Millennium Development Goals. Ultimately the MDGs cannot have a better purpose than creating a world fit for children. Ten years ago, the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism held a media conference entitled “Focus on Children-the Beat of the Future”. For many years, covering children was not part of the traditional “beat” structure of journalism.
Now, covering the youth beat is a regularly offered course at Columbia. What has been happening to increasingly propel the children’s beat to the front pages and the top of the news? I would say that the world is gradually coming to realize and act on the reasoning and arguments that UNICEF has been putting forth in our publications such as the annual State of the World’s Children. Our perspective is that children’s issues are not only a reflection of broader political, social, ethical and legal issues, but also that their rights and well-being are at the heart of sustainable responses to conflict, poverty, hunger, and inequity, and the foundation of a more peaceful and just society. Thus the extent to which political issues are defined around children’s needs, the degree to which children’s issues are taken seriously and commitments kept, should be a measure of good governance, a critical indicator of social progress and responsibility. This applies to industrialized countries just as much as to the developing world. The standards set by the Convention on the Rights of the Child are meant for all children everywhere, and there is currently not a single country in the world that has not signed the Convention.
This may sound like nothing short of a social revolution is being asked for. But the media have never balked at setting the social agenda and have counted many victories in the areas of civil rights, environmental concerns, and many fundamental freedoms. One of the biggest challenges is the mindset that says it can’t be done. Overcoming this negative mindset, and convincing the naysayers, is at the core of any movement, and within the power of the media. It’s as British Labour politician Tony Benn described: “It’s the same each time with progress. First they ignore you, then they say you’re mad, then dangerous, then there’s a pause and then you can’t find anyone who disagrees with you.”
Thank you for your attention.