THE RT HON JOHN DENHAM
MINISTER FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE
THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION ON CHILDREN
FRIDAY 10 MAY 2002
Poverty and disadvantage blight the lives of millions of children around the world, and prevent them from developing their potential. The statistics speak for themselves:
. 600 million children live in extreme poverty
. 113 million children do not attend primary school
. 10 million children die each year, many from preventable diseases.
Action to abolish child poverty is essential to improve children's lives today; to enable them to reach their full potential as adults; and to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage.
Achieving the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals is vital to eliminating child poverty. We have a real concern that the proposed 2010 interim targets in the outcomes document are not sufficiently ambitious to reach the Millennium Goals. We must aim to reduce infant and under 5 mortality by more than one third by 2010, if we are to succeed in reducing it by two thirds by 2015; and reduce maternal mortality by more than one third by 2010 if we are to succeed in reducing by three quarters by 2015.
As the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, proposed in New York today, we need a new development compact where no country genuinely committed to good governance, poverty reduction and economic development, should be denied the chance to achieve the 2015 goals through lack of resources.
There are four areas in which action is now urgent:
First, hunger is a fact of life for too many children. So the British Government proposes that we open up agriculture in all our countries to fair competition, in recognition of the importance of the trade round for long term food security, in addition to taking short term immediate action to help those countries currently affected by food shortages.
Second, we have been far too slow in advancing our education goals. Our Government's proposal today is that the richest countries back the new World Bank initiative with the funds it now needs to fast track our commitment to meeting the goal of primary education for all by 2015.
And that, out of the G8 summit in Canada, rhetoric on education is matched by resources - no developing country pursuing pro-stability, pro-investment policies should be prevented from achieving their education goals by debt or lack of resources nor have to charge for education, but instead should be able to offer schooling free of charge.
Third, recognising that half the child deaths are from four avoidable diseases, the British Government proposes today that just as we fast track investments in education for countries who have a plan, so too for health we should fast track support for helping to build universal and equitable health care systems.
Fourth, because we must build a virtuous circle of debt relief, poverty reduction and sustainable development for the long term, our Government also proposes today that we step up our commitment to making the HIPC initiative a success.
And recognising that meeting the Millenium Development Goals will require additional international assistance we ask Europe and America to maximise their development spending by examining as a matter of urgency how the extra $12 billion of aid a year promised at Monterrey can be made to go much further and its benefits maximised.
We also need to maintain the global consensus reached at the Cairo conference on population and development and the Beijing conference on women. These conferences highlighted the need for sustained action to achieve greater equality for women; the importance of ensuring access to quality reproductive and sexual health services; and the right of individuals, including young people, to enjoy the highest attainable standards of sexual and reproductive health, which is vital if we are to tackle HIV/AIDS. In this, and in all work towards the Millennium Development Goals, the Convention on the Rights of the Child serves as an inspiration. The way to ensure children's well-being is to take full account of their rights. We believe that the outcomes document for this UNGASS - still under negotiation - should recognise the importance of these issues.
Tackling child poverty is also a priority for domestic action. In the mid 1990s the UK had the highest rate of relative child poverty in Europe. Our commitment is to halve child poverty by 2010; and eradicate it within a generation. By tax and benefit changes, and by investing in services for children, we are on course to reach our targets. But there is much more to be done. We are targeting our efforts on improving the position of the most vulnerable families.
Young people's participation in this Assembly has brought both a sense of reality and ambition to the many debates. We must hear this voice at national as well as international levels.
We are restructuring the machinery of government in the UK to put the interests and voices of children and young people at the heart of policies and services. As Minister for Young People, my task is:
. to make sure children and young people's voices can shape the priorities and practices of government and
. to bring together government, the voluntary sector, business, local communities and families with a common vision for young people.
Our society, like a number of others in Europe, is increasingly racially, ethnically and culturally diverse as a result of planned and unplanned immigration, asylum and populations arriving as a result of poverty and conflict. For our whole society, and for young people in particular, we have to find ways of building societies which share a common vision and common values, yet respect diversity. This is essential if we are to resist, effectively, those who want to exploit racism and xenophobia.
The UK Government wants to work with others who have been successful in meeting these challenges in finding the most effective way we and other countries can respond. Nationally as well as internationally, young people must be at the centre of our efforts to bring communities together and to develop shared values which bind people together and which recognise the value of difference.