UNICEF report says
Conflict, AIDS, poverty are main obstacles to children’s rights

Guyana Chronicle
September 23, 2001

THE United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has released its State of the World’s Children 2002 report, which identifies conflict, HIV/AIDS and poverty as the main obstacles on the road to ensuring children’s rights.

According to the report, many of the goals of the 1990 World Summit for Children have not been met and much world remains to be done.

Although significant progress has not been made in reducing mortality rates for children under five, the target to reduce such rates by one third was met in only 60 countries.

“The first goal of the World Summit was to reduce the rates of infant and under-five mortality by one-third between 1990 and 2000. The overall reduction of 14 per cent was significant improvement, as three million more children a year are now surviving beyond their fifth birthday than was the case a decade ago. More than 60 countries actually achieved the one-third reduction, including most countries in the European Union and North Africa and many others in East Asia and the Pacific, the Americas and the Middle East,” a summary of the report said.

The number of malnourished children in developing countries fell from 177 million to 149 million and the goal of eliminating iodine deficiency disorders by 2005 seems to be a realistic prospect.

Cutting malnutrition rates by half among children under five was another primary goal of the Summit. The summary pointed out that this has been “more than achieved” in South America, but in sub-Saharan Africa, the absolute number of malnourished children “has actually increased”.

Armed conflict, the report states, is one of the biggest roadblocks on the path to child rights. Between 80 and 90 per cent of those who die or are injured in conflicts are civilians - mostly children and their mothers. From 1990 to 2000, two million children were slaughtered, six million injured or permanently disabled, and 12 million left homeless because of conflict. The report suggests increasing social spending over military expenditure and using domestic resources for social development.

The impact of HIV/AIDS is also crushing the attempts of countries the world over to put human development and the rights of women and children first. In Latin America and the Caribbean alone, some 1.8 million people are living with HIV, including 210 000 new infections last year - adults and children - while life expectancy figures are plummeting in sub-Saharan Africa, the region hit hardest.

Meanwhile, poverty, which forces half a billion children to live on less than $1 per day, also deprives 100 million children worldwide of the opportunity to attend school.

The UNICEF report calls for leadership from all continents and all sectors of society and emphasises the need to give children the best possible start in life to ensure that every child completes a basic education, and to involve children - adolescents in particular - in the decisions that affect their lives.

Investing in children, the summary says, is the best investment a government can make. It points out that no country has made the leap into meaningful and sustained development without doing so.

“According to the World Bank, one of the significant reasons, along with good macroeconomic management, that the countries of East Asia were so much more successful than those of sub-Saharan Africa in economic development during the 1970s and 1980s, is that they had invested heavily in children in the preceding decades. They were reaping the harvests, in other words, of seeds sown in the 1950s and 1960s in the fertile soil of children’s health, nutrition and education,” the summary said.

The official launch of the report, which had been initially scheduled to take place today in New York, was cancelled by UNICEF in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.