PRESS CONFERENCE BY UNICEF ON CHILD POVERTY REDUCTION
Funding for children must be treated as a war for children, Najma Heptullah, a parliamentarian from India and Chairperson of the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU), told correspondents this afternoon during a briefing on the importance of legislative reform and budgetary commitments by both developed and developing nations in the pursuit of child poverty reduction. Other participants in the briefing were: Hilde Johnson, Minister for International Development of Norway; Ebrahim Saloojee, Member of Parliament of South Africa; and Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. The briefing was moderated by Kul C. Gautam, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.
Countries could always find the necessary money in case of war,
Ms. Heptullah said. This was a war for children and parliamentarians from all over the world had promised today to get the money for them. Pressure groups had to force ministers for development, for education, and especially for finance to fulfil promises made. Two-hundred fifty members of parliaments from 75 countries, as well as representatives of regional parliaments, some 50 children and numerous NGO observers today had had a discussion on funding for children. The IPU had presented a resolution adopted during an earlier IPU conference, containing
13 critical points, covering every aspect of the development of the child, including education, health, potable water, and child abuse. All those issues needed funding. Parliamentarians wanted action now.
Mr. Gautam said in opening remarks that many goals set at the World Summit for Children in 1990 had not been achieved due to inadequate resources. Seven weeks ago, in Monterrey, leaders of the world had agreed to increase development cooperation substantially. Seventeen weeks from now in Johannesburg, the World Summit on Development would map out a strategy for implementing some of the goals set out in the Millennium Declaration. It was wonderful that the road from Monterrey to Johannesburg passed through New York at the special session for children via the G-8 Summit in Canada.
Mr. Chowdhury reported on this afternoon's panel on Financing a World Fit for Children, chaired by him, in which the Minister for International Development of Norway, the Foreign Minister of Zambia, the Minister for Education of Brazil, and the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) had participated. The panel had had a very engaged discussion. It was generally felt that children should be put at the heart of the political agenda of governments. There could be innovative ways to find resources, such as a tax on financial transactions dedicated to education and poverty reduction. It was felt strongly that partnerships, not only among countries but also with civil society and the private sector, were important. The necessity of an increase in official development assistance (ODA), a focus on Africa and least developed countries, monitoring of progress made, and capacity building had also been stressed.
Ms. Johnson said the financing for a world fit for children implied partnerships. It implied that developing countries had to mobilize resources and must put children at the centre of investments in education and health. The rich countries had to deliver as well in areas of trade, market access, investment,
debt relief and donor resources. The ODA levels were far too low. Children were at the heart of every Millennium Development Goal, and to finance reaching those goals, ODA resources had to be doubled. She urged other countries, including the G-7, to join the club of countries appropriating 0.7 per cent of their Gross Domestic Product for ODA. Rich countries had to invest in education, health and basic social services in their development partnerships. She wanted to dedicate 15 per cent of Norway's development assistance to education, particularly girl education. Moreover, it was necessary to get rid of the "donor circus", by which she meant the chaotic procedures every least developed country had to go through when applying for assistance, including writing thousands of reports and applying different accounting procedures for different donors. .
Mr. Saloojee said that after a long conflict, in 1994 a democratic transformation had taken place. The inherited policies for children had been designed for the white minority. During the last 45 years, only minor legislative changes had been made to accommodate the majority. Those laws had been deeply flawed. A parliamentary portfolio committee had pressured the executive branch to take those actions that would lead to the development of new laws and policies for children. Finally, after a few years, they had persuaded the Government to appoint a law commission to work on a new child act. After some 18 months of intense engagement with that law commission by the parliamentary group, there would now be a new child law.
Answering correspondents' question, Ms. Johnson said that Monterrey had been a turning point in pressuring donor countries to increase their ODA. That pressure had led the European Union and the United States to increase their pledges just before the beginning of the conference. Countries who did not increase their ODA were starting to feel awkward.
Ms. Heptullah said the Inter-Parliamentary Union, consisting of parliamentarians of 145 countries, including rich, developing and least developed countries had decided to create pressure groups in donor countries to prod them to give more money and in developing countries to get them to use the money in a proper way and to hold review meetings to monitor the process. She said that the amount needed to implement the outcome document of this session was different from country to country. Africa needed a lot of resources to invest in education and health, including the fight against HIV/AIDS. In countries with a lot of child abuse and trafficking, less money but strong legislation was needed. However, generally, more money was needed for education, health and development.
Mr. Gautam noted that the outcome document did not specify an amount necessary for implementation, but that in order to reach the Millennium goal of poverty reduction by 2015, an additional $50 billion was needed above the current $50 billion in ODA.
Asked what the contribution from poor countries plagued by war could be to the development goals, Mr. Gautam said all countries, rich or poor, needed to do their part. One of the guiding principles was that 20 per cent of national resources and 20 per cent of ODA should be dedicated to basic social services, the so-called "20/20 Initiative". Of course, countries in crisis, such as Afghanistan, needed additional resources.
Ms. Heptullah said funds should be found wherever possible, from governments, private sources or international institutions. Due to globalization, a lot of funding for development was being reduced. Without the funds, any promises made had not meaning. Promises had to be kept. That was what the children participating in the IPU conference had said.
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