On December 11, 1995, UNICEF launched its State of the World's Children 1996 Report (SOWC '96). At UNICEF's 50th anniversary, SOWC '96 looks at the plight of children in war but also highlights progress made and lessons learned over the half-century of UNICEF's work with children, facing the "silent killers" of poverty and disease.
There is much progress to report. In the last 50 years, child mortality rates have fallen by 50 percent, from 25 million to 12.5 million deaths per year. Since 1980 alone, basic immunizations have saved 20 million chidren's lives. The juxtaposition of the brutalities of armed conflict and achievements in child health may seem ironic, but UNICEF derives both hope and guidance from progress made through investments in children. The SOWC '96 Report states that "many of today's intractable disputes, for all the ethnic or religious character they acquire, are at heart struggles for resources and for survival. Today's problems of poverty and violence will never subside unless we invest in the physical, mental and emotional development of the next generation."
Our letters to the editor on the release of UNICEF's SOWC '96 Report, highlighting the principle of "first call for children", can serve to: 1) publicly acknowledge Congress for giving priority to investments in children's programs within the 1996 foreign aid budget, and 2) call on Congress and the Administration to ensure that these programs are fully funded next year, in line with Congressional intent.
The 1980s were "a lost decade" in terms of economic progress for many developing nations. Early in the 1980s, an economic recession and the debt crisis increased poverty in much of the developing world. Yet the 1980s were also a decade of immense progress for child health, as UNICEF and others launched an initiative known as the child survival revolution. This child survival revolution, focused on the promotion of simple, cost-effective health strategies, saved the lives of 12 million children over the decade, raising immunization rates from 15% to 80%, and ensuring access to safe drinking water for an additional 1.2 billion people.
The success of the child survival revolution did not halt the worsening poverty or economic desperation of that lost decade. Yet in spite of worsening economic conditions and major cutbacks in social services, the lives of millions of children were saved, and the health of tens of millions protected, because of the priority given to child health strategies. In the US, within a foreign assistance budget which was reduced by billions of dollars during the 1980's, investment in child survival, vitamin A programs, and UNICEF increased from a total of about $50 million in 1984 to about $400 million in 1993.
Gains made in the child survival revolution spurred UNICEF and world leaders to convene the 1990 World Summit for Children, where 159 nations endorsed a global plan of action to meet the basic needs of all children and families by the year 2000. While 2/3 of the resources to meet this commitment will come from developing countries themselves, 1/3 must come from industrialized nations, including the US. 1995 marks the midpoint of this decade-long effort.
In 1995, while the US Congress cut foreign aid by over $1.5 billion, Congress also acted to give priority to international child health programs, creating a new $484 million child survival and disease account, or earmark, within the foreign assistance budget. This children's account will provide $300 for child survival programs, an increase over 1995, and will protect funding for vitamin A programs and UNICEF. Congress also strongly recommended spending $108 million for international basic education programs.
In the closing to the SOWC '96 Report, UNICEF states, "It has been a long struggle to have the lives of children taken seriously; it has consumed half a century to put children at the centre of the international development and human rights agenda. But they are there, and nothing will now dislodge them. It is therefore possible to say, even amidst the horrors of conflict and deprivation, that the 21st century will belong to the children. It then remains to shape the policies and programmes, the principles and the resources to give meaning to what has been achieved."
ACTION: Write a brief, legible letter to the editor.
1. You might refer to a recent newspaper article on the fight over the 1996 federal budget, or an article on the conflict in Bosnia or elsewhere. You could lead by stating that UNICEF's SOWC '96 Report focuses on the need to give children protection and "first call" on society's resources in times of war and in times of economic difficulty.
2. This year, at a time when Congress cut the overall foreign aid budget by over $1.5 billion, acknowledge Congress for protecting funding for lifesaving child health programs, including child survival and UNICEF. Note that these investments will literally save millions of children's lives and protect the health of tens of millions more. Acknowledge your own Representatives or Senators if they played a role in this effort.
3. Urge Congress and the Administration to ensure that these commitments to children are fulfilled in 1996.
Source: SOWC '96, UNICEF
236 Massachusetts Ave., NE
Washington, DC 20002
ph: (202) 543-9340
fx: (202) 546-3228