Resolved to Help the Children
YESTERDAY 40,000 children under the age of five died in developing countries. Another 40,000 will die today. Another 40,000 tomorrow. Most of these deaths could be prevented.
For years this situation has been called the “silent emergency” or the “quiet catastrophe,” meaning that it has largely escaped world attention. “If 40,000 spotted owls were dying every day, there would be outrage. But 40,000 children are dying, and it’s hardly noticed,” lamented Peter Teeley, a U.S. spokesman at the UN World Summit for Children held at UN headquarters in New York in 1990.
The summit, some feel, may eventually change all of that. Top officials, including 71 heads of State, attended from 159 countries. Together they represented 99 percent of the world’s population. The mood was summed up by Mikhail Gorbachev, who said: “Mankind can no longer put up with the fact that millions of children die every year.”
In the days leading up to the summit, the world showed its support. Literally hundreds of national and community meetings, seminars, workshops, and debates focused on the plight of children. Over a million people in 80 countries lit candles to symbolize their hope that despite the problems and dangers ahead, the world could be made a better place.
The final day of the summit was hailed by UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) as “perhaps the most momentous day ever for children around the world.” Why such enthusiasm? Because world leaders had adopted a concrete “Plan of Action” to reduce the suffering and death of youngsters throughout the earth.
Admittedly, the history of conference diplomacy is rife with broken promises. Yet, many sensed a new spirit of sincerity and cooperation as a result of the end of the Cold War. James Grant, UNICEF’s executive director, enthusiastically stated: “The heads of State and Government took, in effect, the first step toward establishing the well-being of all people—of ‘grown-up children’ as well as children—as the central objective of development in a new world order.”
Indeed, within a year following the summit, most nations had already drawn up national plans to implement the summit resolutions. This prompted Director Grant to say: “We now see a very realistic prospect that health for all children will be achieved by the year 2000.”
But just what is the plight of the children, the world’s shameful family secret, that has been exposed by the international media? Is there now, in the post-Cold War atmosphere of international cooperation, sound reason to believe that the United Nations will spearhead a marvelous new world order? Can we realistically hope for a bright future for our children? The next two articles will consider these questions.