UNICEF Executive Director, in Third Committee, Says 18,000 Children Still Dying Every Day, despite Dramatic Fall in Death Rate

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Sixty-eighth General Assembly
Third Committee
13th & 14th Meetings (AM & PM)

Other Child-Rights Officials in Presentations as Delegates Begin Discussion

Child deaths had fallen dramatically from 12 million a year in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011, but 18,000 children were still dying every day, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, urging States to design policies and programmes targeted at “hard-to-reach” populations, such as children in armed conflict.

“We best measure a society’s true worth by how it treats its youngest members ‑ the girls and boys who would one day become tomorrow’s parents, citizens and leaders,” said Anthony Lake, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and one of the five senior officials who launched the Committee’s general discussion on children’s rights this afternoon.

He said the global campaign for the ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention of the Rights of the Child had resulted in 166 States joining the Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and 20 more States had ratified the Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, bringing the total to 152.

“But perhaps the most rewarding measurement of our success is lives saved,” he said, noting that an estimated 90 million young lives had been saved over the past two decades. Yet, 18,000 children died every day, mostly from preventable causes. Millennium Development Goal 4 ‑ cutting the rate of under-five mortality by two thirds ‑ would not be achieved until 2028 if the current trends continued, he warned. Citing the UNICEF study “Narrowing the Gaps”, he said better results could be achieved more cost-effectively and rapidly when policies and programmes were designed not around the easiest-to-reach, but around the hardest-to-reach, the most disadvantaged and marginalized.

Leila Zerrougui, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said that in addition to its ongoing work with the European Union, her Office had signed a partnership agreement with the African Union and would continue to reach out to other regional organizations, such as the League of Arab States, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The Office had initiated a global campaign to end the recruitment and use of children by Government security forces by 2016, she said, underlining also the need to integrate child-protection concerns into mediation processes and peace agreements.

Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, emphasized that the risk of violence against children remained present in every setting, as shown in “irrefutable” figures, such as the 168 million boys and girls involved in exploitative work or the 11 million girls involved in domestic work. Child trafficking was a serious form of violence, as children were enslaved into prostitution, sold into marriage, coerced to work in plantations or deep-sea fishing, forced to beg on the street, or recruited by criminal networks. Violence was associated with poor law, weak law enforcement, high levels of organized crime and homicide rates, and a culture of impunity, she said.

Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said preventive measures had so far not guaranteed long-term protection for children due to a lack of coordination among the different actors involved. In fact, preventive actions often entailed sporadic and scattered activities that failed to address the various underlying factors in a systematic, holistic and sustainable manner.

Kristen Sandberg, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said that body continued to improve its working methods. It had reviewed and adopted its concluding observations on the reports submitted by 34 States parties.

Earlier today, speakers representing 27 countries and observer organizations took the floor as the Committee concluded its general discussion on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The representative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), speaking also for two other Rome-based agencies ‑ the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) ‑ was among the many speakers who addressed issues relating to the economic empowerment of women.

He noted that women represented 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce worldwide and as much as 70 per cent in some countries. The Rome-based agencies remained committed to implementing the five-year programme aimed at accelerating empowerment of rural women, a joint undertaking with UN-Women. They accorded priority to training female small-business owners so as to increase their productivity; supporting maternal and child nutrition by providing supplementary food and promoting nutrition-sensitive gardening; and enhancing gender-responsive delivery of agricultural services.

Also participating in both debates today were speakers representing Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Uganda, Marshall Islands (for the Pacific Islands Forum), Bangladesh, Argentina, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bahrain, Haiti, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Tonga, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malawi, Venezuela, Montenegro, United Republic of Tanzania, Honduras, Botswana, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Malaysia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and Barbados (on behalf of the Caribbean Community).

Others were observers for the State of Palestine, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Representatives of Israel and the State of Palestine spoke in exercise of the right of reply.

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 17 October, to continue its general discussion on children’s rights. It is also expected to take action on draft resolutions.