30th anniversary of World Summit for Children – Today Children Need a New Initiative

Today when children are under serious threat from Covid-19, the 30th anniversary of the Children’s Summit is a highly appropriate time for countries to renew and update the vows they made then. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Richard Jolly
BRIGHTON, United Kingdom, Sep 28 2020 (IPS)

On the eve of the UN’s 75th anniversary, Antonio Guterres, the UN’s Secretary-General has declared that the coronavirus pandemic is the world’s top security threat. He has called for action – for greater international co-operation in controlling outbreaks and developing an affordable vaccine, available to all. Such action is needed and possible -even in the absence of a large gathering of world leaders in New York to celebrate the anniversary.  But children today in every country need more.

Richard Jolly

Thirty years ago, on 29/30 September 1990, the largest gathering of world leaders that had ever taken place, met at UN Headquarters under the auspices of the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF. This was The World Summit for Children. It was an enormous success, gathering headlines around the world-and leading to worldwide action for children.

The Summit set goals for improving the situation of children everywhere, in health, education and their needs in especially difficult circumstances. Every country in the world adopted and agreed to these goals and, since then, all but the United States has– ratified the International Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The World Summit for Children was the brainchild of the American James P. Grant, the charismatic head of UNICEF. After initial doubts about whether more than a handful of presidents or prime ministers would come for a high -level meeting on children – as opposed to one on trade or the economy – The World Summit for Children took place with 71 heads of State, including President Bush and Prime Minister Thatcher.

Though children are much less likely to suffer direct effects from the virus, the indirect effects are already serious -in disrupted education, in neglect of essential medical care, in disturbed relations with family, relatives and friends

Such was the success of the event that the idea of holding Summit meetings soon caught on – the Earth Summit in 1992, the World Summit for Social Development in 1995, the Millennium Summit in 2000, and the Summit for Sustain able Development in 2015.  agreed at the Summit for children.

More importantly, following the goals, child survival has improved dramatically: the number of children dying under five has been reduced by 60%, from 12 million in 1990 to well under 6 million today. Immunization, growth monitoring and other actions have improved the health and life expectancy of millions of children in the developing world, and all countries have accepted that “the best interests of a child shall be a primary consideration.”

Today when children are under serious threat from Covid-19, the 30th anniversary of the Children’s Summit is a highly appropriate time for countries to renew and update the vows they made then.

Though children are much less likely to suffer direct effects from the virus, the indirect effects are already serious -in disrupted education, in neglect of essential medical care, in disturbed relations with family, relatives and friends.

Many are also suffering the consequences of domestic violence and child abuse. Countries are turning away from collective national and international action just when it is needed most.

Today’s COVID crisis could be an opportunity -for a new impetus to invest in our children and in the next generation of doctors, nurses, scientists, statisticians and carers, who will need to be well prepared to deal with future crises and emergencies.

Though a collective meeting is not possible, every country needs to consider and plan for its children, both to recover from the immediate effects of the virus and to set new paths for the next five and ten years.

Prime ministers and heads of state should take the lead, citizen’s assemblies should add to the specifics and communities and governments should make the commitments. A World Summit is not possible nor necessary, -but every country needs to consider the new priorities for its children and make serious plans and policies to respond to them.

 

Richard Jolly is Honorary Professor at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. From 1982-95 he was Deputy-Executive Director of UNICEF when Jim Grant was Executive Director. Among the books he has written are “UNICEF- Global Governance that works” and “UN Ideas that Changed the World”, which he co-wrote with Tom Weiss and Louis Emmerij.

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