September 24, 2002 - Los Angeles World Affairs Council: Confronting Children's Challenges Around the World by Guatemala RPCV Carol Bellamy

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Confronting Children's Challenges Around the World by Guatemala RPCV Carol Bellamy

Confronting Children's Challenges Around the World by Guatemala RPCV Carol Bellamy

Confronting Children's Challenges Around the World

Thank you. It is really nice to be back. I'm delighted to be here on a kind of a two and one-half day rapid tour of three places: I was in Denver this morning, I'm here tonight and I'll be in Seattle tomorrow in conjunction with the U.N. Foundation and Better World campaign. It is an opportunity to talk about the thing I love talking about the most which is the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and investing in children, but reminding people about various phases of the United Nations and its work.

Remember, the United Nations is a children's agency and it's a world food agency and it's a refugee agency and it's the world health organization. So it's nice to be here as part of that and it's nice to see wonderful UNICEF friends. I'm walking around everywhere with my trick-or-treat for UNICEF, the box, just reminding people of what even they can do in their home communities for UNICEF.

I want to acknowledge your three Consuls General here. It's nice to see my friend [Glaudine Mtshali] from South Africa who covered the UNICEF board for a while so I have to be careful about what I say because she'll know, she knows as much as I know, if not more. It's nice to have The Netherlands in the room. They are one of the most generous donors to U.N. development and humanitarian causes generally, not only UNICEF. I've a personal connection to Belize, because I did serve there as a Peace Corps volunteer. It was the best thing I ever did and if, any of you were here a couple of years ago when I was here, you know I'm a zealot about the Peace Corps. It's the best thing going for the United States. I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. In those days there were no roads into Guatemala from where I was, and the one road—you wouldn't call it a road—took me into Belize. So, I held onto a little connection to the rest of the world by going to Belize. So, again, Consul General, it's nice to have you here.

Let me start out by saying what I certainly believe is true; that the survival of any species is tied to succeeding generations. And I hope that everybody in every country in the world knows that human progress is quite unattainable unless we ensure survival, protection and full development. I would also argue for fair participation of children, and I'm talking about all children. Indeed, countries that have invested in children and countries that have made the well-being of children and the advancement of them major priorities have also made the greatest strides in human development.

I'm pleased to report that over the last decade or so there actually have been improvements in this respect, and I always think it's good to reflect where you've come from in order to understand where you're heading. I think it's good also to reflect on success in order to be honest about where there has not been success. So let me offer some reporting on some of the progress that has been made in the area of children and young people over the last decade or so and I'll also point out where there are problems.

I think it's fair to say that children are healthier today than at any time; it's fair to say that today there are more children in school than at any period in the past. Child immunization now reaches more than three-quarters of all the world's children. The world is, indeed, on the brink of wiping out, for only the second time in its history, a disease and that is the disease of polio, a disease that cripples, a disease that has had a terrible impact. We don't think about it very much in this country any more. We've been polio-free for many years. Indeed, the Americas are polio-free. But, in fact, the world is not polio-free and as long as polio is anywhere, investment has to be made to try and keep it out of that particular place. In fact, the United States and Western Europe spend up to about a half a billion dollars every year just to keep their regions polio free. So, consider the success over the last decade. In 1988 when the big campaign to eradicate polio began there were over 120 countries in the world that had polio. By 1999 there were about 33, by the year 2000 there were about 20 and today there are fewer than 20. We're getting there.

Now, it's not easy. As I often say, I think people didn't realize what would be the main obstacles to overcome in polio when they first kicked off the campaign—and this is a wonderful partnership campaign. When people say, "You all don't work together," I'll tell you, this campaign to eradicate polio is a terrific partnership. It's a partnership of the countries themselves, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Rotary International, the Center for Disease Control, the U.N. Foundation—an extraordinary partnership. When it started perhaps people thought we had enough vaccine. Well, we're using virtually every bit of vaccine being produced because more and more vaccine companies have gone out of business these days—mergers and acquisitions, you know. Pharmaceutical companies disappear and then the vaccine production within the company disappears. Nevertheless, we'll have enough vaccine. But will there be enough money? Well, we don't have quite all the money we need yet but we'll get there.

The major obstacle now to overcoming polio is war. Why war? Because it keeps us from getting to every kid. So for years we haven't been able to get to every kid in Angola. We haven't been able to get to every kid in Somalia. We weren't, for a while, getting to every kid in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they had a third of the cases. But in fact, even in the midst of the bombing last year, our polio campaign went on because it had been planned. I must say, this is one of those "please make it happen and nobody gets hurt," and it happened and luckily nobody got hurt. And five million kids in Afghanistan last fall in the middle of the bombing were immunized against polio as well as about 30 million kids in Pakistan. We are getting there, but it's a challenge and we've had to come up with new techniques. Techniques like negotiating with fighting troops, rebel groups and governments, negotiating days of tranquility to allow the immunization – "Please stop the war for a couple of days. We need to immunize. You can start the war again later. Hopefully, you'll forget you're at war and you'll stop. In any case, stop for a little bit." Quite seriously, it is actually very serious negotiations to get these days of tranquility, these corridors of peace. But it's worked.

So, polio—on the brink of eradication. Guinea worms. You might not think about it very much unless you know Jimmy Carter and then if you know Jimmy Carter you'll know everything there is to know about guinea worms. He's played a major role in its eradication, but it's a terrible disease. It has affected people primarily in Africa. It’s virtually on the brink of eradication.

Another kind of thing that helped make kids healthier may not sound sexy. I know some of these things don't sound terribly sexy, but the major cause of slow cognitive development, the kind of mental retardation in children in the developing world, is the lack of a little bit of iodine in the diet. We don't think about it very much. We get iodine in different ways, and you can get iodine from food but they may not have that food for the entire year. So one of the cheapest, most effective, ways to get it is through iodized salt. To give you an idea of advancements that are made, we ended up working with some small, small, I'm talking small, salt manufacturers. They were largely people who lived near water and they harvested the salt. You work in countries, and you try to get a law that says you can't sell non-iodized salt in the market because non-iodized salt will cost a little bit more. In 1990 ten percent of the salt consumed in the developing world was iodized. By the year 2000, seventy percent was. So it can make a difference. Lives can be saved.

There's greater access to clean water. Access to clean water is very important. Equally so, and something that came out of a recent meeting, is understanding and improving access to sanitation. We do see this through diarrhea and, in fact, one of the goals set at the World's Summit for Children in 1990 was a reduction by half of child deaths from diarrhea. During the decade of the '90s that goal was reached in almost every country. As I said, more children in school than at any time before. So, there is some good news. I think these successes show what can happen when there's a real political commitment, when there's a real commitment to act, when there are resources that back up that commitment, when there are orientations such as exist within the U.N. but also exist in nongovernmental organizations.

Now, in the second year of the 21st century, LAWAC’s 50th year—I'd love to be celebrating my 50th year, and I was thinking, "Wouldn't that be nice, to roll that clock back?"—But now, in the second year of the 21st century, the world is confronted by some new and even more complex types of challenges, challenges that will probably grow more daunting unless we move decisively to meet them and we have to meet them now.

So, how are we meeting these things when it comes to children? Well, back in May of this year, there was the first-ever special session of the United Nations' General Assembly devoted solely to the issue of children. This was to have taken place in September 2001 and, as you can imagine, it was postponed, but it was held this year in May and even with all the postponements and all the turmoil, we still had about 70 summit level participants, heads of state, heads of governments or vice presidents and prime ministers. All in all, 180 countries were represented. We had kings and queens, we even had a king we hadn't expected to come; we had crown princesses, and crown princes; we had representatives from the private sector, from Bill Gates to heads of major industrial complexes in India; we had about 270 parliamentarians; we had religious leaders and 132 of the countries included young people as part of their official delegations. It was superb. It was excellent. It was like opening the windows at the United Nations, having these young people as part of the government delegations. There was more openness and dialogue and discussion in the meetings. Somebody would give an answer and one of the young people would say, "But why?" That was somewhat shocking. In fact, the demand for inter-generational dialogue, which was heads of state with young people, was oversubscribed. You'd run into some of these heads of state, these presidents, and they'd say, "You know, they weren't so bad," meaning those young people.

It was a very good gathering and it was to set out an agenda, a global agenda, for children for the next decade or so. So, as you might expect, a global agenda clearly had to build on the unfinished business of the past decade. It's not a matter of OK, we had the '90s, turn off the light, shut the door and let's just start over again. And so clearly much of the unfinished business was still in that health and education area. It was interesting. It was interesting to see that in the health area the focus did not just stop at survival but moved beyond survival to the early years. And the education agenda did not just stop with enrollment in education, but we began to talk about quality of education, education completion. The outcome of this session also began to take on some of the issues that have been emerging over the last few years, and they are of exploitation, violence and protection. Things like child soldiers and trafficking and child labor and, of course, the challenge of HIV-AIDS.

The four pillars of this new global agenda for children, adopted by the 180 governments that were there, are to promote healthy lives, provide quality basic education, protect against violence, abuse and exploitation, and fight HIV-AIDS. The challenge now is to maintain a strong global commitment to these goals. Given everything else that has happened in the world, this will probably now be easy. Much of the world is, as one can understand, preoccupied with the possibility of armed threats to human security. We're concerned about the proliferation threat of mass destruction, but we have to continue to recall and to remember that there are other threats to human security. Those other threats to human security are with us and they've been with us. They are HIV-AIDS, they are poverty, and they are the 120 million-plus children around the world of school age who don't go to school, 60 percent of whom are girls. If we are talking about instability and human security in the world today, let us look at the whole picture. Let us not just look at part of the picture.

So, does that mean that we should be discouraged? No. I don't think so. We live in a world that, even with economic disruptions, we can safely say has the capacity to respond to these challenges. We live in a world where there is leadership that can be demonstrated, and that leadership has to be illustrative for those areas where we are not seeing leadership. We live in a world where we know what needs to be done in most cases. Most of what we can fund today does not require great new scientific breakthroughs, great new ways of doing things, we know what needs to be done, we know that 11 million children under the age of five still die every year from totally preventable causes. That's unconscionable.

We know that HIV-AIDS isn't something that just passes through the air. We know that it requires proactive activity for it to occur, so we know that until a cure is found the best response to HIV-AIDS is education. We need to act to prevent the transmission of HIV-AIDS from mothers to their children in pregnancy and childbirth. We know that young people need to understand more what needs to be done to confront HIV-AIDS. We need to deal with the issue of AIDS orphans which is currently estimated at 14 million, of whom 11 million are in sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that there would still be a growth in AIDS orphans for the next seven to ten years even if a cure came tomorrow.

So we know what needs to be done, and what we need to do is to get about doing it. That's what we are partly about. We need to do it with you, we do it with others, we do it with our supporters. We work as part of a team within the United Nations; we work with our colleague agencies, particularly in the humanitarian area with the World Food Program and the refugee agencies and, in the area of development, with the U.N. development program the World Bank and the U.N. population fund. Our name is UNICEF the "E" means "Emergency." For a while, we didn't have to worry about that, but the world has come back to being quite an unstable place with conflicts that have taken place in the Sudan or Congo or Sri Lanka or East Timor or Colombia. But we are out there trying to do something about it and, as I said, we are out there trying to do something about it in partnership with others. We have identified for UNICEF four of the largest global goals that we will pursue over the next five years, not alone, but in partnership. They are; immunization, plus recognizing the enormous impact that immunization programs can have—whether it's eradicating polio which can cripple, or fight measles which can kill. Using immunization may be the one interaction that the poorest family or mother has with any kind of government system as an opportunity, as a door, that opens up the opportunity to reach out to that family and perhaps provide them with better micro nutrients.

So immunization, plus early childhood development: a recognition that the first three years of life are the years in which the greatest amount of development takes place in the human being. Even UNICEF used to focus on survival: if we don't survive, nothing else counts. Then we came back about five years later, when the kid was faced with school, having forgotten the crucial, crucial years when the greatest amount of development takes place. So, nutrition, clean water, a loving environment, an opportunity to play, no violence or as little violence as possible, is key to early childhood development.

Girls' education is my personal commitment in terms of wanting UNICEF to make a difference. Every child has a right to an education and as I've said, we know that more than 100 million kids who should be in primary school, are not. Sixty percent of those children are girls. We know from study after study after study that if a girl gets an education she is more likely to grow to be a healthy adult, her children are less likely to die before the age of five, and her family and she are more likely to be economically secure. Now, when I was an investment banker people used to ask me for my investment advice and I'm not sure I gave them great advice. It was only after I got to UNICEF that I knew how to give really good investment advice. Invest in kids. Particularly, if you want to put your resources anywhere, invest in making sure girls get an education—you get a return on that investment so many times over that's almost unimaginable.

Our fourth area is horizontal, not vertical—protection. Protection against exploitation and violence with a focus on everything from child soldiers to child labor to trafficking in children and confronting the problem of HIV-AIDS.

We thank all of you for your support, whether it's for UNICEF, for the United Nations or just generally in committing and understanding that as U.S. citizens or people here in the United States we are part of a broader and larger international community, there is a mutuality of interest as people who are part of a larger international community. We have some responsibilities, those of us who have done better than others, to try to assist those who could do better in the future but who need an opportunity. So I thank you very much for your interest and also, as part of the U.N. family, [I promise] to do our best within the U.N. On behalf of UNICEF I assure you that when you do put your nickels and dimes and quarters into the trick-or-treat box, they will be spent well.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

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Story Source: Los Angeles World Affairs Council

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Children's Issues; Peace Corps Directors - Bellamy; COS - Guatemala



By Rafael Vega ( - on Monday, July 18, 2005 - 5:43 pm: Edit Post

I am a recent USC film school grad that wrote his thesis screenplay on Liberian child soldiers. In my current rewrite, I would like to include info/details from interviews with ex-child soldiers and the people that worked with them. Any contact info would be much appreciated.

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