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Although the decade of the 1980s is often referred to as the “lost decade for development” because of serious economic and social setbacks, significant advances were made in the global status of children. These were due in large measure to collaboration between Governments, NGOs and UN organizations, especially United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), in focused areas of child survival and health. The “child survival and development revolution”, launched by UNICEF, promoted low-cost, effective technologies such as oral rehydration therapy (ORT) and immunization against childhood diseases to improve the health of children, even as many developing countries faced economic crisis. Mobilization at national and local levels was crucial to making these technologies widely available. UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO) showed that global mobilization for concrete goals was possible by their campaign that raised childhood immunization levels from roughly 20 per cent in 1980 in developing countries to 80 per cent by 1990. The Children’s Summit was inspired in part by recognition that these successes formed a solid basis for broader mobilization on behalf of children.

Further progress was made in 1989, when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, building on the 1959 Declaration on the Rights of the Child. An international treaty carrying the weight of international law, the Convention entered into force in 1990. With the child survival and development revolution, it touched a highly responsive chord among Governments and the NGO community, becoming the world’s most rapidly and widely ratified human rights instrument.

The Convention provides Governments and international agencies with a framework for developing policies benefiting children and a platform for advocacy reinforcing the Summit’s Plan of Action. By October 1996, 187 Governments had ratified the Convention, covering 96 per cent of the world’s children. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) regularly reviews Government and NGO reports on progress for children and discusses with Governments how they can best fulfil their obligations under the Convention.

Major goals for children by the year 2000

The World Summit for Children endorsed the following seven goals and 20 other supporting goals for implementation by all countries, although it was emphasized that they should be adapted to the specific situation of each country in terms of phasing, standards, priorities and availability of resources.

Between 1990 and 2000, reduction of the infant and under-five child mortality rate by one third, or to 50 and 70 per 1,000 live births, respectively, whichever is less.
Between 1990 and 2000, reduction of the maternal mortality rate by half.
Between 1990 and 2000, reduction of severe and moderate malnutrition among under-five children by half.
Universal access to safe drinking water and to sanitary means of excreta disposal.
By the year 2000, universal access to basic education and completion of primary education by at least 80 per cent of primary-school-age children.
Reduction of the adult illiteracy rate (the appropriate age group to be determined in each country) to at least half its 1990 level, with emphasis on female literacy.
Protection of children in especially difficult circumstances, particularly in situations of armed conflict.


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© Copyright United Nations 23 May 1997 | Department of Public Information | Revised 23 May 1997