June 1, 2002 - UN Chronicle: Carol Bellamy - A conversation on children

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Carol Bellamy - A conversation on children

Read and comment on this interview from the UN Chronicle with former Peace Corps Director Carol Bellamy on her job as head of UNESCO about setting an agenda for the future-- investing in our children-at the United Nations Special Session on Children at:

A conversation on children*

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A conversation on children

Jun 1, 2002 - UN Chronicle

Author(s): Anonymous

A little over eleven years ago, leaders met in New York for the World Summit for Children. With wide expectations that the "peace dividend" would be devoted to development, they declared that "the well-being of children requires political action at the highest level", and signed up for ambitious goals. In a conversation on 5 April 2002 with the Chronicle's Russell Taylor, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy talked about what has and has not been achieved since then, and on setting an agenda for the future-- investing in our children-at the United Nations Special Session on Children (8-10 May 2002).

In "We The Children", Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that "the world has fallen short of achieving most of the goals of the World Summit", not because they were too ambitious or technically beyond reach, but largely because of insufficient investment. You yourself stated that "we have failed to achieve most of the end-of-decade survival and development goals set in 1990". What can the Special Session accomplish?

Part of what this Special Session is aiming to do is take a look at what has or has not taken place in light of the plan of action agreed upon in 1990, and then set an agenda for the future. There is already an official document of the Special Session-"We the Children"-and it shows a mixed picture. Some goals were achieved. More than 60 countries reduced their under-five and infant mortality rates by a third. About 100 countries cut their under-five mortality by a fifth. Countries took the Summit's plan of action seriously. And where there was adequate leadership and investment, there were clearly also gains.

As another example, the world is on the brink of the eradication of polio. In 1990, there were 154 countries with polio cases; by 1999, there were 33; and by 2000, there were about 20. Guinea worm, too, has almost disappeared. More kids are in school today than at any time before. But the indicators in sub- Saharan Africa are still very, very low. Of the 20 countries in the world with the worst under-five mortality rates, 19 are in sub- Saharan Africa; the other is Afghanistan-by the way, this was long before II September. On maternal mortality goals, there was very little movement. So I think it is fair to say the picture has been mixed, with clearly better achievement in the Americas and East Asia than in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Why wasn't more done? Again, it needed leadership. It has suffered from the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, which is just knocking the daylights out of some of the gains that had been made or could be made. War continues. Conflict and instability continue to be a very major obstacle. And war has changed: the victims today are largely civilian, and mainly women and children. And in some cases corruption is also a problem.

Actually, there has been reasonable improvement in the access to safe drinking water, but that has not been matched by improvement in sanitation. That is really the key. There is still a need for access to clean water in parts of the world, but it's also clear that access to clean water without some commensurate improvement in sanitation is only bringing modest gains.

Clearly, resources are necessary, and the decade has seen a decline in development assistance. But I don't think the issue is only resources. Part of what we are trying to do in the Special Session is to focus on financing. That is why this Special Session is such a good bridge between the Financing for Development Conference in Monterrey (Mexico) and the Sustainable Development Summit in Johannesburg (South Africa). But sustained leadership is required, even in the poorest countries, to say, "we are going to allocate some of our limited resources to basic education and basic health".

It is not a totally bleak picture, but it is disappointing. One expected more to have been accomplished over the decade-that's what it is. It is not that nothing has been accomplished.

What do you expect and hope for from the major donor countries, as well as from developing countries, in this Special Session?

I think those that have more have a responsibility to assist those who have less. Donor countries have to realize that because they are blessed by having more, they have a global commitment. But this issue isn't just about money going from donor countries to poor countries. Poor countries themselves have to make choices to invest in their children. You can't hide behind "oh, we're poor; we couldn't do anything". Look at Malawi-certainly a poor country, but it has made a big effort on girls' education; Bangladesh, too. So, it's not good enough to say, "if only we had more money" or "resources are needed".

It is also a matter of choices.

Why should there be financing for development? Because you want to reduce poverty. Who's in poverty in the world? The largest number are women and children. So if you want to finance for development and have it be sustainable, one of the keys areas where you can achieve sustainability and get a good return on your investment is investing in children and in basic services. Therefore, we are expecting leadership from both developing and developed countries.

What are some of the main challenges facing children today?

If you look at the outcome document, which is about 80 per cent approved, it builds on the unfinished business-some of the key health and education issues-and it moves the agenda beyond issues of survival. It has to encompass survival because, if you don't have that, nothing else counts. But it also begins to set some objectives and goals in the area of HIV/AIDS, based on the agreements from the AIDS Conference. It has to reflect HIV/AIDS because half of all new cases are children and young people. Second, it takes into account early childhood development. And third, it begins to reflect on some of the exploitation and protection issues-child labour, child soldiers, children affected by conflict, trafficking in children-in addition to key health and education areas.

Children in armed conflict and commercial sexual exploitation of children were the topics of two recent meetings.

The issue is that the face of war has changed. Coming into the twentieth century, the victims of war were largely military. But as we came out of that century, conflict has, unfortunately, "evolved". Increasingly, war is internal and this has as much, if not greater, an impact in the virtual drawing to a standstill of services and activities in a country, and in the killings that fall largely on civilians now -in the majority of cases children and women. And it isn't just child soldiers. It is children affected by conflict; children who lose or may be separated from their parents; children who may be killed.

It is the fact that even if they were with their parents-largely their mothers-they are moved from their communities across borders or are displaced within their own country. Basic systems collapse. Children can go for years in some of these conflicts with no formal education. We need to work on trying to get some kind of learning going, even if it is not always official schooling. So there are multiple implications: the increased proliferation of landmines; the use of children as soldiers or sex slaves or messengers, etc. The increasing impact on kids is something that has to be taken into account in the outcome document.

Like war, sexual exploitation also did not start ten years ago, but I think there is now a greater public recognition of it-out of the conference in Stockholm five years ago and a follow-up conference in Yokahama at the end of last year. You are starting to see greater public awareness; this is the kind of thing where you need to shine the spotlight.

Can you explain a little about the Global Movement for Children and the Say Yes for Children campaign?

Everybody can make some difference-- for and with kids. While these special sessions are basically government meetings, and much has to start with the State or Government, these are not the only players. The idea of the Global Movement at least is to say that creating a world that is fit for children requires a broader array of actors.

You have to start somewhere. You can't just walk out and say, "hey, global movement!" The Special Session has to be seen not just as a three-day meeting of leaders, or a children's forum with the kids, but as an opportunity to re-energize and focus the world on these issues: remember what we've done, but also what we've not done, and move the agenda forward. So, I see the Special Session as an opportunity to start allying ourselves with some of the key civil society actors, such as Save the Children. Another NGO, Two Worlds, is working now with pediatricians and with religious leaders to try and give some momentum.

There is also the Say Yes for Children campaign, to try and bring the voice of the public to this government meeting. There are already over 50 million people who have at least taken the time to cast their pledges on the Say Yes campaign. It is really quite extraordinary. It has been a very good organizing tool in countries, and the kids have really pursued it. "Educate every child" came in as the number one issue of the ten on which people in \every region of the world were asked to comment.

You mentioned the meeting on financing for development in Monterrey and the upcoming meeting on sustainable development in Johannesburg. How does the special session fit in?

Some people think those are the hard, economic things, and we have the "soft stuff". But, I would argue-although it had been planned for last year-that the Special Session is certainly the glue that holds Monterrey and Johannesburg together. Why do we need sustainable development and why do we need finance? Well, these are attempts to really create a more thriving environment, a thriving economy. You are not going to attain that unless you are also investing in human resources. Not to the exclusion of everything else, but we know from both studies and common sense that one of the areas where you get your best return on investment is basic services.

We know, for example, that a girl who gets even a basic education is more likely to grow into a healthy adult than the girl who does not; she is more likely to have healthier children; her children are less likely to die before the age of five; and her own family is more likely to be more economically stable. If you want to put a face on financing for development and sustainable development, that face is kids.

You have held public offices at both the local and national levels in the United States and in the private sector before becoming the UNICEF Executive Director. How are goals set different(cy in an international setting and how is meeting them different?

I actually think the perspective is more a public/private sector one, rather than local/international. I have been a corporate lawyer and an investment banker, and I have been in the public sector. Your test in business is bringing in business, creating wealth or stockholder value. But in the public sector, whether it's the United States domestic public sector or the international, your measurement is not a production of wealth or revenue, it's whatever your objectives are. If you're the Commissioner of Sanitation in New York, it's to pick up the garbage on time in a relatively efficient way, so people are not screaming that you are there at 3:00 in the morning banging the cans.

The UN operational agencies are-and I say this in a positive way- businesses. Our job is to get the job done. Based on our agreement with our counterparts, it is to add value in terms of health-system building, improving capacity in routine immunization in a country, reaching people who have been caught in an earthquake with at least clean water, or getting children basic education. It isn't just "go give speeches"; we are supposed to accomplish things.

I used to make the distinction between being a legislator, which I once was, and being at the executive side in government. As a legislator, you are supposed to pass bills, but you also have to give a lot of speeches about your bills. On the executive side, you are just supposed to get your work done. Again, whether you are the Police Commissioner or the Secretary of Defense, or the Secretary of Housing or the Peace Corps Director, as I was also, or the Director of UNICEF, our team's job is to produce results. We make mistakes; and we sometimes have better performance than other times, but performance is what we should be about.

Copyright United Nations Jun-Aug 2002

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