World still lagging on its pledges to improve fate of children –

Two years after the world’s leaders agreed to time-bound goals to improve the welfare of youngsters, millions of children continue to die from preventable diseases and to lack such basic rights as education, safe drinking water and protection from abuse, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned today. “We are crawling toward goals that we should be marching toward,” UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said in a message on the second anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s first special session on children, noting that 30,000 youngsters under five die every day and chiding governments for lagging on the pledges they made. “We must pick up the pace and sustain it, or children will continue to suffer. For millions of the world’s children, the achievement of these goals is not a bureaucratic matter, but a question of life and death,” she added, calling on developed nations to fill a major shortfall in aid pledged to the world’s poorest countries and on developing nations to invest adequately in their children. From 8 to 10 May 2002, some 70 Heads of State and delegations from every nation met to draw up a set of time-bound goals to improve the health and survival of children, provide them with quality education, reverse the impact of HIV/AIDS on their lives and protect them from exploitation and violence. The most immediate of the goals – making sure that as many girls are in school as boys – is to be achieved by 2005, but girls continue to make up the majority of children out of school, Ms. Bellamy said. Almost 90 per cent of countries have made progress in integrating the goals into national plans, but now governments must take the next step, turning these plans into expanded programs for children, she stressed. Governments in poor countries could do more to focus their budgets on basic social services that help children survive and grow. At the same time, despite renewing agreements to raise the proportion of gross domestic product going to development aid to 0.7 percent, major developed nations have failed to come even half way to that target. On the positive side, UNICEF noted that Kenya increased its number of children in primary school by 1.3 million; Bangladesh continued to bring down child death and fertility rates and improve education of girls; Eritrea, Viet Nam, Guinea and Mali made strides in providing anti-malarial bed nets; and Cambodia, like Uganda and Brazil, reduced the rate of HIV infection while Botswana and other countries scaled up access to AIDS treatments.