An Ongoing Search for Solutions
FROM its very inception, the United Nations organization has been interested in children and their problems. At the end of 1946, it established the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) as a temporary measure to care for children in areas devastated by war.
In 1953 this emergency fund was turned into a permanent organization. Although it is now officially known as the United Nations Children’s Fund, it retained its original acronym, UNICEF. Thus, for over half a century, UNICEF has been providing children throughout the world with food, clothing, and medical care and has been trying to look after children’s needs in general.
The needs of children were given greater prominence in 1959 when the United Nations adopted a Declaration of the Rights of the Child. (See box, page 5.) It was hoped that this document would generate interest in the problems of children and would help solve them by encouraging public support, financial and otherwise.
But “twenty years later,” according to Collier’s 1980 Year Book, “these ‘rights’—especially those relating to nutrition, health, and material well-being—were still largely unrealized by many of the world’s 1.5 billion children.” So in recognition of the continuing need to solve the problems of children and in accord with its declared goals, the United Nations designated 1979 the International Year of the Child. Government, civic, religious, and charitable groups all over the world were quick to respond to the search for solutions.
Was It All Just a “Cruel Joke”?
Sad to say, according to a UNICEF report, children in developing nations did not fare well during the International Year of the Child. At year’s end, some 200 million of them were still malnourished, and half the deaths of the 15 million who died under the age of five could be attributed to malnutrition. Of the 100 children born each minute that year in those countries, 15 would be dead before the end of their first year. Fewer than 40 percent would finish elementary school. Commenting on the UNICEF report, an editorial in the Indian Express newspaper complained that the Year of the Child turned out to be a “cruel joke.”
Some individuals foresaw this failure. For example, at the very beginning of the year, Fabrizio Dentice wrote in the magazine L’Espresso: “Something more than the Year of the Child is needed to remedy the situation.” The magazine commented: “Today’s life-style makes us what we are, and this is what needs changing.”
In the ongoing search for solutions to the problems of children, a world summit was held at UN headquarters in September 1990. It was one of the largest meetings of world leaders in history. Over 70 government leaders were present. The gathering was a follow-up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was adopted on November 20, 1989, and went into force on September 2, 1990. By the end of that month, the agreement had already been ratified by 39 nations.
“The Convention,” UNICEF recently noted, “has rapidly become the most widely accepted human rights treaty ever, creating a global momentum for children.” Indeed, as of November 1999, the Convention had been adopted by 191 nations. UNICEF boasted: “More progress was made in realizing and protecting children’s rights in the decade following adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child than in any other comparable period in human history.”
Despite this progress, German President Johannes Rau was moved to comment: “It is sad that in our time we still have to be reminded that children have rights.” Or to be reminded that they still have serious problems! Admitting in November 1999 that “much remains to be done,” UNICEF explained: “Globally, an estimated 12 million children under the age of five die every year, mostly of easily preventable causes. Some 130 million children in developing countries are not in primary school . . . About 160 million children are severely or moderately malnourished. . . . Many unwanted children languish in orphanages and other institutions, denied education and adequate health care. These children are often physically abused. An estimated 250 million children are engaged in some form of labour.” Mention was also made of the 600 million children living in absolute poverty and the 13 million who will have lost at least one parent to AIDS by the end of 2000.
Satisfactory solutions to these problems seem to elude political leaders. Yet, children’s problems are not limited to developing lands. In Western nations many children suffer deprivation of another sort.
[Blurb on page 4]
“It is sad that in our time we still have to be reminded that children have rights”
[Box/Picture on page 5]
The UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child:
● The right to a name and nationality.
● The right to affection, love, and understanding and to material security.
● The right to adequate nutrition, housing, and medical services.
● The right to special care if disabled, be it physically, mentally, or socially.
● The right to be among the first to receive protection and relief in all circumstances.
● The right to be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty, and exploitation.
● The right to full opportunity for play and recreation and equal opportunity to free and compulsory education, to enable the child to develop his individual abilities and to become a useful member of society.
● The right to develop his full potential in conditions of freedom and dignity.
● The right to be brought up in a spirit of understanding, tolerance, friendship among peoples, peace, and universal brotherhood.
● The right to enjoy these rights regardless of race, color, sex, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, and property, birth, or other status.
Summary based on Everyman’s United Nations
[Picture Credit Lines on page 3]
UN PHOTO 148038/Jean Pierre Laffont
[Picture Credit Line on page 4]
Photos on pages 4 and 5 Giacomo Pirozzi/Panos Pictures