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UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children Report 2000
An urgent call to leadership

A summary of the advances made in child welfare, and the challenges facing the world community as it realizes that human progress is based on its commitment to children

As the 21st century begins, the overwhelming majority of the people in the world who live in poverty are children and women. They are also the overwhelming majority of civilians who are killed and maimed in conflicts. They are the most vulnerable to infection with HIV/AIDS. Their rights, as set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), are violated every day in numbers of such magnitude as to defy counting.

But the pall that these abuses of poverty, conflict, HIV/AIDS and gender-discrimination have cast on lives around the globe can be lifted. The conditions are neither inevitable nor immutable. Nor is the international community about to abandon women and children to them. Government bodies and civil groups, organizations of the United Nations system and non-governmental organizations, philanthropies and responsible corporate citizens — as well as children and adolescents themselves — have formed alliances to redress these wrongs.

Ready to take the necessary next step in advancing the well-being of the world’s children, representatives of these various groups are to gather in an extraordinary meeting in New York in the autumn of 2001, that will be linked to a Special Session of the General Assembly. Together, they will form a grand global coalition committed to meeting fully the goals of the 1990 World Summit for Children. And they will begin the 21st century with a new agenda, clear and passionate about what needs to be done — for all women and all children — before the first decade of the new millennium ends.

Taken as a whole, these many organizations and the millions of people they represent — neither cowed nor intimidated by the challenges ahead — will form an unprecedented international movement on behalf of children. Many have worked long years to better the lives of children, adolescents and women: bringing the Convention on the Rights of the Child into being in 1989; setting goals and plans of action the following year at the World Summit; striving in the decade since then to be true to their promises. Others have embraced the cause of child rights more recently, drawn by a particular issue such as child soldiers, child labour or the trafficking in children for prostitution.

Together, they share a belief that human progress and overall development lie in the progress of women and children and the realization of their rights. They are animated by what has already been accomplished: the proven child survival gains of the 1980s and 1990s, the tenets of the CEDAW, the law and spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the achievements in nearing the World Summit goals.

Humanity has seen stunning advances and has made enormous strides for children, many of them in the last decade, many others in just over the span of a generation. Children’s lives have been saved and their suffering prevented. Millions have grown healthier, been better nourished and had greater access to a quality education than ever before. Their rights as set forth in the Convention have been acknowledged and laws to protect them enacted and enforced.

Polio, once a global epidemic, is on the verge of eradication, and deaths from two remorseless child killers, measles and neonatal tetanus, have been reduced over the past 10 years by 85 per cent and more than 25 per cent respectively. Some 12 million children are now free from the risk of mental retardation due to iodine deficiency. And blindness from vitamin A deficiency has been significantly reduced. More children are in school today than at any previous time.

Despite the many stunning steps forward, a number of the goals remain out of reach for hundreds of millions of children throughout the world. Their lives and futures are threatened in a world marked by deeper and more intractable poverty and greater inequality between the rich and poor; proliferating conflict and violence; the deadly spread of HIV/AIDS and the abiding issue of discrimination against women and girls.

These problems are not new, but they are more widespread and profoundly entrenched than they were even a decade ago. Interwoven and reinforcing, they feed off one another and abrogate the rights of children and women in compounding ways. In some countries and regions, they threaten to undo much of what has been accomplished.

Inter-generational patterns of poverty, violence and conflict, discrimination and disease are not unconquerable. They — like other challenges before them — can be met. What is more, given the resources that the world has at hand, these deadly cycles can be broken within a single generation.

The world must now direct its efforts towards those points where the potential for change and impact will be greatest: the best possible start for children in their early years, a quality basic education for every child and support and guidance for adolescents in navigating the sensitive transition to adulthood.

The State of the World’s Children 2000 seeks to fan the flame that burned so brilliantly for children a decade ago. It is a call to leaders in industrialized and developing countries alike to reaffirm their commitment to children. It is a call for vision and leadership within families and communities, where the respect for the rights of children and women is first born and nurtured and where the protection of those rights begins.

And it is a call to all people to realize a new world within a single generation: a shared vision of children and women — indeed of humankind — freed from poverty and discrimination, freed from violence and disease.

More than 600 million children in the world — nearly 30 per cent — are poor and their numbers are growing throughout both the industrialized and developing worlds

Landmines — hidden killers

In the closing moments of the 20th century humanity came to its senses, at least partially. Many emergencies are acute and short-lived. The world’s attention focuses on a particular place and series of events for a time. Then the world and the media move on and the former emergency gets moved to a back page or merits only a short paragraph; the large international charities are challenged by other acute and important issues. Some emergencies, however, continue to be both acute and long-term — like landmines.

No-one who ever watched television in the last decade of the 20th century will forget the powerful images of the late Princess Diana wearing protective gear and detonating a landmine which had just been uncovered; or her compassionate smile while she comforted a young girl, a landmine victim. Thanks to her involvement, public awareness and anger at the preventable tragedies grew.

At the beginning of the 20th century nearly 80 per cent of landmine victims were military personnel, while at the beginning of the 21st century nearly 80 per cent of landmine victims are civilians. The appalling fact is that every 20 minutes someone is killed or maimed by a landmine.

As part of the Secretary-General’s reform, the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) was created as the UN focal point, co-ordinating the mine-related activities of 11 UN departments and agencies. UNMAS activities, however, are not funded by the regular UN budget, but are supported through the Voluntary Trust Fund for Assistance in Mine Action and annual donations. Its brief is very wide-ranging and includes the crucial work of training, locating, charting, and detonating mines as well as monitoring and developing educational programmes to enhance awareness of the dangers. This programme includes creating and disseminating publicity materials to alert people living in land mined areas, and also a publicity campaign to stigmatize the use of mines. Some of these programmes have been created in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO), and UNICEF. Mine clearance and detection technology is constantly being updated leading to more accurate surveying and mapping methods.

UNMAS is evolving a mine victim assistance project. At the core of the programme is its endeavour to provide mine victims with emergency care, in the first instance, to be followed up by longer-term physical and psychological support and help to achieve social and economic reintegration into society.

In 1999 the Ottawa Treaty was ratified and officially took effect, banning anti-personnel mines. The international community finally and formally recognized that the landmine problem is a serious on-going humanitarian emergency. Of the 135 signatories to the Ottawa Treaty, 72 have so far ratified it, and 59 have enforced it.

As signatories these countries have undertaken never to use, develop, produce, stockpile or transfer anti-personnel mines, or to assist anyone else to do so. They have further agreed to the destruction of all existing stockpiles within four years of ratifying the Treaty. There is a general acceptance of an obligation to help support international efforts in mine-clearance, awareness programmes and assistance to victims, which includes care, rehabilitation, and social and economic reintegration. (Source: UN Special Issue: A review of UN Activities in Mine Action)

Sweeping education reform in India

An education guarantee programme is creating a social revolution in India and bringing education to previously illiterate isolated villages. In just three years, 21,000 schools have been created — a rate of 20 per day. "Demand a school and we will give you one", the policy in the state of Madhya Pradesh, has provided basic education in mud huts in villages of the world’s largest pool of illiterate people. Many students are children of the "untouchables" caste and a large number are girls — previously deprived of education. The programme, started by a handful of politicians in Madhya Pradesh, is such a success that the World Bank and European Union are helping start a similar effort in three other Indian states.  (Source: Los Angeles Times, USA) 

From the January/February 2000 issue of Share International


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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005