Putting Children at the Centre of NEPAD and TICAD

Statement by Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF
At the TICAD Workshop at the WSSD
Japan Pavilion, Ubuntu Exhibition Village
Johannesburg, 31 August 2002

Much has been said at this workshop, and indeed in the plenary of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), about the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and its promise to bring about a renaissance in Africa’s Development.  We trust that NEPAD will indeed provide a focus and a framework for increased investment and solidarity on the part of Africa and its international partners at the 2003 Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD III).

NEPAD makes the case that “the continued marginalization of Africa from the globalization process and the social exclusion of the vast majority of its peoples constitute a serious threat to global stability”.
Why should a region that comprises only 12 per cent of the world population and barely 1 per cent of the world’s economy pose such a threat to global stability? And why should it command such global interest at all major UN conferences?

I submit that this is so because from the point of view of world peace and prosperity, and especially from the vantage point of children, sub-Saharan Africa indeed represents a development challenge of global proportions.
Despite its relatively small population and even smaller economy, sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 43 per cent of the world’s child deaths, 50 per cent of maternal deaths, 70 per cent of people with HIV/AIDS and a staggering 90 percent of AIDS orphans. Achieving the Millennium Development goals of lowering under-five mortality, maternal mortality, HIV/AIDS infection rates, and other health, nutrition and education goals on a global scale therefore hinges on progress in sub-Saharan Africa.
For example, even if the rest of the world, including the most populous countries of Asia, achieved the international development targets of reducing infant and maternal mortality, if Africa failed, the world as a whole would fail to achieve the millennium goals.

The world cannot develop in peace, dignity and prosperity when children in a whole continent face death, malnutrition and illiteracy in massive numbers over a prolonged period.
The future of Africa’s children, therefore, ought to be a matter of global concern. The well-being of Africa’s children does impact on all of our futures.
It is with this realization, that along with the rest of the UN system, UNICEF attaches the highest priority to Africa’s children – not just in words but in deeds. Forty per cent of UNICEF’s staff worldwide work in sub-Saharan Africa and 46 per cent of UNICEF’s regular resources are allocated to programmes in this region.

If poverty is the greatest obstacle to Africa’s progress, investing in children ought to be the first step towards overcoming it.
Poverty causes lifelong damage to children’s minds and bodies, and perpetuates a cycle of poverty from adults to children. This is why poverty reduction must begin with children, who account for half of Africa’s population and all of its future.
Indeed, investment in children today is the best guarantee of equitable and sustainable development tomorrow.

At the OAU Summit in July 2001 in Lusaka, leaders of Africa adopted an African Common Position containing a set of specific goals, targets and strategies aimed at creating an “Africa Fit for Children”.  This Common African Position is fully reflected in the outcome of the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children.  And we would urge that its goals and strategies become a central priority of NEPAD to be supported by the TICAD process.

To realize the vision of an “Africa Fit For Children”, we would recommend actions in four priority areas:

1.  Combating HIV/AIDS: The HIV/AIDS pandemic has now become the greatest threat to Africa’s development. This pandemic is not just a threat to people’s health. It is now a threat, in many African countries, to their national security and human survival.

The food insecurity crisis engulfing Southern Africa today is perhaps the first major crisis attributable in part to the devastation caused by HIV/AIDS in people’s health, education and productivity.

Africa has no future unless the HIV/AIDS pandemic is stopped. This pandemic must be fought with the same determination as countries of Africa fought their wars of national liberation against colonialism and apartheid – but with even greater sense of urgency.

Fortunately, we now have many good examples of effective interventions that are producing good results in preventing HIV/AIDS. At present these all operate on a small scale, pilot basis. Time is overdue to take such actions to large-scale implementation.  Investment in preventing HIV/AIDS is investment in saving Africa from a downward spiral of self-destruction. There is no higher priority for the foreseeable future.

2.  Girls’ Education: Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for over one-third-40 million-of the world’s children out of school. Two-thirds of them are girls. Investment in basic education, with emphasis on girls, is one of the most effective ways to combat poverty and unfold a virtuous cycle of social upliftment.
Girls’ education is undoubtedly a “best buy” for Africa. The social benefits of girls’ education include increased family incomes, delayed marriage, reduced fertility, lower infant and maternal mortality, better nourished and healthier children, greater opportunities and life chances for women (including their empowerment to protect themselves against HIV/AIDS), and greater participation of women in political social and economic decision-making.

It is estimated that an additional $3 billion per year would enable African countries to ensure universal access to quality basic education. There are few other investment opportunities with comparable payoffs.

3.  ­Protection of Children from Violence, Exploitation and Abuse: Children in Africa suffer from a preponderance of civil wars, armed conflict, and violence.  So many of these wars and conflicts are not for any worthy cause or liberation movement, but are motivated by greed and hatred.  Women, children and civilians bear the heaviest burden of these conflicts. Their rights are violated on a massive scale – from murder, rape and mutilation to forced recruitment, displacement, injury and malnourishment. Moreover, most of those who wage, legitimize and support wars continue to act with impunity. All this must end.

At least 18 countries in Africa have used, or are currently using, child soldiers, and 40 per cent of the world’s 300,000 child soldiers are found in this continent.   At a time when they should be in school, and learning skills necessary to live in a peaceful society, the lives of these children are wasted on the battlefields.  This too must end.

Besides armed conflict, children should be protected from other evils of discrimination, abuse, neglect and harmful or exploitative labour practices that have devastating impact on their lives.

Working with Government agencies, young people and community organizations should be empowered to create a protective environment to help prevent the abuse and neglect of children. The needed priority actions will vary from country to country, but could include actions such as:

Supporting communities to strengthen the traditional safety nets of extended families and relatives for orphans and vulnerable children.
Prohibiting and working towards the elimination of trafficking of children and women; Prohibiting and giving priority to the elimination of the worst forms of child labour through the use of education as a preventive and protective strategy; and Prohibiting and working towards ending harmful customary practices such as early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation.

4. Health and Nutrition: There is a need to redouble investment in health and nutrition in Africa. Africa contains a dozen countries in the world where child mortality has actually increased in recent years.  In stark contrast to children everywhere else, today’s southern African children are likely to live shorter lives than their grandparents.

We are worried that immunization coverage in sub-Saharan Africa has decreased in recent years. Less than half of the region’s children under one are fully immunized. Despite progress in a few countries, the number of malnourished children has increased. While modest gains have been made in expanding access to improved water sources, families in sub-Saharan Africa still have the world’s lowest access to safe drinking water. Poor sanitation and the weakness of public health systems have led to the resurgence of major child-killers, such as malaria and cholera. We trust that the Third World Water Forum to be held in Kyoto next year will generate significant support for water and sanitation programmes in the region.

Universal salt iodization and the provision of Vitamin A capsules are simple, affordable and very effective interventions to protect the health and nutrition of children and to improve their learning ability. Deworming in school is another intervention that contributes to enhanced school performance.

Eighty per cent of a child’s brain is formed in the first 18 months of life.  Whether a child will be a genius, or an underachiever, is largely determined in the first three years of life.  There are therefore extraordinary long-term benefits of investing in early childhood care and development.  The consequences of neglect are equally far-reaching-life-long deprivation and deficit for children and great cumulative loss for families, communities and nations as a whole.

If human development is about creating an opportunity to lead a long, healthy, creative and productive life, then a good start in life is critical to the physical, intellectual and emotional development of every individual.

Investing in early child development is therefore investing in building the very foundation for Africa’s development and renaissance.

NEPAD rightly focuses on many long-term goals-ranging from bridging infrastructural gaps to promotion of democracy, protection of human rights and assurance of good governance.  While pursuing the long-term vision of such comprehensive development, it is essential that NEPAD delivers to the people of Africa some practical results benefiting their children in the not too distant future.  Some of the low-cost, high-impact interventions in the four priority areas for investment I have outlined above, would help build a solid foundation for an Africa fit for children.

Both NEPAD and TICAD will resonate well with the ordinary people of Africa if these child-centred concerns were at the heart of these processes.