Address by Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director United Nations Children’s Fund
At the Launch of the NGO/UNICEF Regional Network for Children In Central and Eastern Europe
Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic States Sarajevo
27 June 2002
I am delighted to speak on behalf of the United Nations Children’s Fund on this historic occasion. The launch of the new Regional Network for Children in the CEE/CIS/Baltics region so soon after the United Nations Special Session on Children, sends an important signal to the children of this region – that the promises made to you at that global summit in New York can – must — be kept. The participation here today of so many senior officials of Bosnia-Herzegovina conveys a particularly significant message — that governments and civil society are working together ever more closely in this country and in the region, to build a World Fit for Children. In a region where governments played such predominant role in all affairs of society and in the lives of peoples until very recently, this message is both powerful and inspiring. It reflects the tremendous changes taking place in this region, where all citizens are now encouraged to take part in creating more democratic, prosperous, and peaceful societies.
On the eve of the Special Session in New York, the UN Security Council heard a strong and moving appeal from three teenagers from conflict-affected countries. One of them was Eliza Kantardic from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Eliza, who is here with us today, told the world’s highest body on peace and international security issues: “The best thing you can do is stop and prevent war. That is something that this Council has the power to do. The real question is – is that power used?” This bold question asked by a 17 year-old is one that we all must ask ourselves. Are we using the great power that we have collectively and individually – as international agencies, governments, NGOs, religious groups, corporations and ordinary citizens – are we using this power not only to protect children from war, but to change the world – with children – so that all their rights – and ours – can be fully respected? Eliza, I must say what you must know already — the answer is: no, we are not doing enough. And in a $30 trillion global economy, lack of resources cannot be our excuse. It is a question of priorities.
Fortunately, the outcomes of the UN Special Session – and of the Monterrey meeting on development financing earlier this year – enable us to say with greater optimism — that it is possible to build a world fit for children. All of you remember – perhaps even Eliza will remember – the optimism — indeed the euphoria — produced by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It ushered in an era of greater freedom and opportunities. Our gathering here today is testimony to this fundamental and unprecedented transformation. But frankly, few of us imagined a decade ago that the transition in this region would be as prolonged and wrenching as it has turned out to be. It was said by many at the time that it was for the children, the new generation, that the old system had to be changed. And it is true. Many children in this region have benefitted and many more will continue to benefit, especially now that most economies in the region are recovering and in a few cases, surpassing, their 1989 levels.
But all of you know that the transition has had a dark side. As NGOs working to improve the lives and secure the rights of children, you are all too well acquainted with it. The pioneering research done by UNICEF’s MONEE project has documented it. Permit me to illustrate with a few examples: • According to the World Bank, nearly 18 million of the region’s children are living in poverty – 60 million if we use the Bank’s higher per capita income threshold. • Over 18 million young people are out of school and without jobs. • Nine transition countries — a third of the region’s 27 countries – have experienced armed conflicts – converting almost one million people into refugees and displacing over 2 million within their own borders. Hundreds of thousands of children have been killed, injured, traumatized or orphaned.
The number of children in public care has increased instead of declining since 1989, an alarming result of economic crisis, family breakdown and under-funded social services. Close to a million children are growing up – growing up but not really developing as they should — in institutions instead of families. • There are over a million HIV/AIDS cases in this region. The CEE/CIS region now has the fastest growing HIV/AIDS pandemic in the world. A major study by Imperial College, London, out just last week warned that the epidemic is now moving from intravenous drug users in Russia and Ukraine into the mainstream population through unprotected sex and is likely to begin a westward march into Central and Western Europe. • Only 26% of household salt is now iodized in this region. This is the lowest coverage in the world, in a region where we used to have universal salt iodization just a decade ago.
This represents perhaps a 10-15% IQ points deficit for millions of children, with reduced learning capacity and labour productivity as a result. • The day care and pre-school system has virtually collapsed in a number of countries. • Trafficking, sexual exploitation, juvenile offences, suicide, accidents, alcohol and drug abuse are all up significantly in the region. What this all adds up to is that the transition is leaving large numbers of children – the present and future of your societies — behind. This is morally unacceptable, of course, and it starkly illustrates the challenges this region faces to make the Convention on the Rights of the Child – ratified by all States in the region – a reality.
This is of immense practical concern as well, in a region where declining birth rates mean that smaller generations of the young will soon have to sustain social security systems supporting larger numbers of retirees. Investing more in children’s health and education, in their protection and participation, is therefore of paramount importance. It is an “insurance policy” against instability, conflict and terrorism. Fortunately, the picture is not all dark. There is growing awareness and significant signs of progress for the region’s young. Bosnia-Herzegovina is a case in point. Recovering little by little, from a devastating conflict and faced with the complexities of a multi-entity State structure, Bosnia-Herzegovina has shown its commitment to place children’s issues high on the agenda.
This was reflected in the leadership role that Bosnia-Herzegovina played on the Bureau of the Preparatory Committee of the UN Special Session on Children. It was reflected in your role as co-convener, along with Germany, of the first-ever International Conference on Children in Europe and Central Asia, held in Berlin in May 2001. It was reflected in President Belkic’s strong statement to the GA Plenary at the Special Session and in his speech on the need to prevent iodine deficiency disorders for the well-being of children. It was reflected in this country’s ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child just before the Special Session. And I was delighted to learn yesterday that a Plan of Action for Children has already been finalized at the State level, including establishment of a state-level Council for Children. And plans of action are also being developed at the Entity levels.
This shows real political will to “strike while the iron is hot”, to accelerate actions to achieve the Special Session goals and to fulfill the promises made in Berlin. The fact that we are meeting in Sarajevo to launch this regional NGO/UNICEF network on children, reflects yet another commitment of Bosnia-Herzegovina to the Global Movement for Children and the government’s proactive leadership in strengthening cooperation with NGOs as essential partners. UNICEF is proud to work closely with governments and civil society throughout this region to develop action plans and monitoring systems to follow through on the Special Session four key commitments: promoting healthy lives; providing high-quality education; protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence; and combatting HIV/AIDS.
This region has massively said Yes to children with 26 million out of the 94 million pledges made worldwide in the Say Yes for Children campaign. This is a mighty achievement for which you can all be proud. Yours has become the number one region in terms of the large number of pledges, and for the way the campaign was used to bring together new partners – from Presidents to rock stars, from children with disabilities to Children’s Parliaments – to gain greater traction for health, education and other programmes for children. We look forward to the campaigns you will carry out on the priorities that emerged from the voting in this region: Leave No Child Out; Educate every Child; Prevent HIV/AIDS; Stop Harming and Exploiting Children. In the powerful Open Letter you sent to the governments in Berlin from the Regional CSO Consultation on Children held in Bucharest in April 2001, you stated: “Now is the time to act, as leaders of our nations, as civil society organisations and above all as parents.
Urgently needed social change will not happen without partnership between governments and civil society. It is an historic occasion and an historic opportunity and it is one that we have a great responsibility not to miss. We, the representatives of civil society commit ourselves to creating a child-friendly world.” I know that Eliza and children everywhere will be watching with innocent hope and – why not? healthy skepticism too – to see if we keep our promises.
I am sure that working together we can keep them. With regional networks like the one you are establishing here, based on national coalitions and linked to the Global Movement for Children, I know we will!
Thank you and best of luck in your deliberations.