Are we Meeting our Responsibility to Children?

Co-Chaired by Malcolm Fraser
19-20 March 2004
Daiwa Research Institute
Tokyo, Japan

Children in poverty in the midst of great wealth

1.Already three years into the third millennium, humankind is able to explore into the furthermost reaches of the galaxy and see pictures of the creation of earth and our planetary system. But down on earth, more than a billion people don’t have the luxury of knowing where their next meal is coming from.

2. The hardest hit are the children. The figures alone cannot tell the whole sad picture, but they make for grim reading: 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are working and there are 70 million child laborers under the age of 10; 70 per cent of the world’s child laborers are in agriculture, according to the ILO; more than 120 million children do not get an education; an estimated 300,000 children are soldiers in 30 conflicts worldwide; about 20 million children have been forced to flee their homes because of conflicts and human rights violations; by 2010, 25 million children will be orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

3. The burden of a life of poverty, illiteracy, and disease falls heavily on girls – and ensures that the problems will be continued into the next generation because of the role of girls as future mothers and principal educators of the next generation. The plight of these children is something that whole world should be ashamed of. Children are the worst hit victims of the irresponsible behavior of adults. Children are the biggest silent majority in the world.

4. Yet almost 15 years ago, the General Assembly of the United Nations agreed to adopt a Convention on the Rights of the Child, which promised that no child would be at risk and that children would have the rights to grow to adulthood with full human rights. The fact that 192 countries have ratified the Convention – and two others have signed but not ratified – raises awkward questions about how it is that abuse and suffering of children is still so widespread.

The knowledge and resources exist

5. It is not because the knowledge and the techniques are lacking for giving an education, medicines and vaccines to cure most childhood diseases and the prospect of a fulfilled life to all the children of the world. The science and techniques are available – and are widely accepted both in the rich West and among the elite even in the very poorest countries.

6. It is also true that there have been improvements, especially in provision of safe drinking water, literacy and schooling, but these have been far too slow and too late for too many. At current rates, many of the major targets for the Millennium Goals will not be met, prolonging suffering of millions of children generations ahead.

Failure of political will

7. The basic reason for our failure towards the world’s poorest children is the lack of political will.

8. This failure reflects not only on political leaders of the rich and poor countries, but also on religious and social teachers for not being able to instill an ethical sense of how we are all bound up with the plight of the world’s children.

Giving teeth to the Convention

9. Clearly, experience suggests that neither signing the Convention nor its ratification alone is sufficient to give force to its provisions.. Measures should be put in place to ensure that the Convention will be effective. Enabling legislation, where necessary, by countries that have ratified the Convention would be an important first step.

10. Measures should be put in place to make sure that countries comply with the terms of the Convention so that every child can reach his/her full potential. The Committee on the Rights of the Child should be asked to monitor the progress and publish its reports more widely, specifically on the countries that have not incorporated the Convention into their domestic law.

A better spirit of cooperation globally

11. Rapid progress towards the goals will need a better spirit of international cooperation, including better aid flows from the developed countries as part of a more generous spirit. This requires a renewed sense of moral and ethical leadership.

12. After the Second World War there was a sense of shared humanity. The US showed great leadership in implementing the Marshall Plan and the Garioa Eroa Fund as the foundation for recovery from the devastation after the war. Its assistance in creating the United Nations also gave a powerful message that the world would be governed by law and not by brute power. All countries need to recapture more of that sense of purpose.

Aid and a sense of priorities

13. Since then, the biggest developed countries have become less generous – some would say mean – in providing development aid. Aid is quickly cut as part of tightening of government budgets or reduced as part of “burden sharing” when a government is worried about its budget deficit. Sometimes there is a marked contrast between the government, which is stingy with aid, and the people of the same country who give generously to NGOs for development purposes.

14. Aid should be critically re-examined and assessed alongside military spending. Countries pour billions of dollars into military spending, much of which is wasted. The world has the resources to overcome most of the problems confronting the world’s children. For example, the diversion of a mere four days of global military spending to provide the resources for universal education would see that every child got a chance to read and write. Major states must reassess their priorities.

Trade flows

15. Increased aid alone is not enough. Developing countries need fair access to international agricultural markets, so that they can sell their goods and provide jobs for their people. In many cases the international trading field is distorted by huge subsidies paid to vested interests in the developed world. Open trade to wealthy markets would do more for developing countries than all the official development assistants currently provided.

16. International organizations should also consider their programs carefully to make sure that in demanding fiscal probity of governments they do not demand cuts in social spending that further endanger the plight of children in developing countries.

Importance of sharing responsibilities

17. Unless there is a better sense of international equity, it is doubtful whether the world will ever be able to achieve real peace or be free of terrorists. Young people who have no hope in the future have proved fertile recruiting ground for terrorists. This is particularly relevant in the Middle East. Europe provides an example of the pressure of economic and political refugees causing social discord. If these fundamental issues are not tackled, armed conflict is likely to spread.

New imagination needed

18. New ideas and imagination are required to involve children in determining their own future and in creating a satisfactory place for themselves in a difficult and competitive world.

19. Humankind has been successful in exploring the limits of outer space. If a small part of that sense of adventure and determination and imagination can be put to devise policies ensuring that no child goes hungry or lacks shelter or the opportunity to read and write, the world will be both a richer and a safer place.

20. The InterAction Council has consistently pointed out that the acceptance of human responsibilities augments human rights. All countries, but particularly the developed ones, should consider their responsibilities to the wider world.

Therefore, we recommend:

That countries that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child should swiftly ensure that its provisions are part of their domestic law;

That the Committee on the Rights of the Child should publish more widely its reports on the progress of measures to protect children;
That all countries need to recapture the post World War Two sense of purpose and commitment as embodied in the Marshall Plan;

That major states reassess their priorities so as to release more funds to meet their responsibilities to the world’s children;

That wealthy countries should do more to open their agricultural markets;

That international organizations should safeguard social expenditure in imposing fiscal discipline on developing countries;

That governments should ask what needs to be done to enable children to meet their own requirements for the future to reach their full potential and to create a satisfactory place for themselves in a difficult and competitive world;

All countries, but particularly the developed ones, should reassess their responsibilities to the wider world.