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UN Reform: Working For Children

Time (GMT +00) 10:00 11:15

Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF


Tony Worthington, MP

The fifth meeting in the series was held on Wednesday the 3rd of March 2005. The meeting was chaired by Tony Worthington. The speaker was Carol Bellamy.

1. Carol Bellamy began by stressing that the issue at stake was literally one of life and death. This year's State of the World's Children indicated that half of all children in the world today suffered from some form of extreme deprivation and that more than one billion children were robbed of their childhood.

2. She summarised the three major forces that disrupted these childhoods as poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS:

a) Poverty meant that one child in three had no access to clean water, sanitation or basic health care
b) Conflicts had occurred in 59 countries since 1990 with 55 of these having been civil in nature. Wars within countries had meant that most casualties had been non-combatants and nearly half of those killed since 1990 had been children
c) AIDS had orphaned more than 15 million children - with millions more affected by the deaths of teachers and other key adults in their lives

3. Carol Bellamy stressed that these realities were not the result of natural calamities or beyond the control of societies. Deprivation of services, conflict and the spread of AIDS were also related and disrupted childhoods lead to another generation of adults who failed to reach their full potential thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of inter-generational poverty.

4. Carol Bellamy, indicated that fundamentally, the issue was a failure in leadership and that the continuation of these threats to childhood was a result of deliberate choices made by governments and others in positions of power. Choices were for example made on priorities and how resources were allocated. It was however possible for these threats to be curtailed and stopped once a decision was made in favour of children.

5. Carol Bellamy noted that it had been 15 years since the (until then) largest gather of heads of state and government, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by all but two countries) set out a basic universal standard for a healthy, protected and decent childhood for every human being. It had also been five years since the world adopted the Millennium Declaration that put children at the core of the development agenda, dedicating 6 of 8 MDGs to their well being. While progress had been made towards these standards and targets, half of all children were still deprived of childhood and the world was thus still massively failing to meet its commitments.

6. Carol Bellamy stated that she was pleased that UNICEF and the UN system had acted decisively in recent years to improve the way in which the challenges were addressed. She also noted that the reforms in the UN system had been part of a larger paradigm shift in which all development partners at country level were working more closely together. Further she stressed that although totally obscured by a recent and unfortunate focus on scandal and sensationalism, the UN system had gone and continued to go through a process of internal reform and governance changes that were making it a more effective institution for addressing the threats facing the children of the world.

7. Carol Bellamy explained that as with all major innovations, the UN was going through changes in both process and culture. The mechanics of reform initiated by the Secretary General and driven by the General Assembly resolutions were in place. There had also been dramatic progress in this area over the last few years. There had for example been the creation of a single UN system wide development ethic, embodied in the UN Development Group. The system had also seen the coming together of UN humanitarian agencies in the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs and joined by NGOs in the Inter-Agency Steering Committee to offer a collective response in crisis situations. Furthermore, the system had seen the closer integration of development, humanitarian, human rights and political actors in complex emergencies and in the prevention of armed conflict.

8. There had also been the creation of a framework of instruments at the country level - the World Bank and IMF Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and the UN's Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAF). There had also been a focus of the world community on poverty eradication and the Millennium Development Goals and the recognition of the leading role played by governments of developing countries and their need for appropriate capacities; the need to increase the role of civil society and recognition of the importance of the private sector in many areas of endeavour. Moreover, as a result of the Monterrey meeting, new resources had been pledged, which were now being realised, in addition to the acceptance of new instruments and the concept of partnership with obligations upon both recipients and donors.

9. In continuing, Carol Bellamy noted that the changes proposed by the High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change were also relevant. The Panel proposed an enlargement of the Security Council and a revision of the criteria for membership; a greater consideration of conflict prevention issues in the design of development programmes as well as the consideration - in a more integrated manner - of the issues of crisis, conflict and development. She also noted that the Security Council was already addressing issues such as HIV/AIDS, children in armed conflict, the effect of armed conflict on women and civilians in general, the role of the private sector in conflict, as well as calling for the Secretary-General to 'name and shame' violators of child rights in armed conflict situations.

10. Carol Bellamy stressed that within this broad sweep of change and revival, there was an extraordinary opportunity for the world community to achieve unprecedented progress for children. UNICEF and the UN system had changed dramatically in terms of the way that they operated and would continue to do so. However, she noted that it would not be possible for them to act alone and that they needed the support of governments and others to complete the job in hand through more than a reaffirmation of a report but action and commitment to sustained future action.

11. Carol Bellamy emphasised that this would require resources and while the MDGs were better funded than any other initiative of recent times, supporting all low-income countries in filling their MDG financing gap would require donors to double today's ODA to GNP ratio for the period up to 2015. She stressed that this global level of GNP was 'doable', was well below past agreed targets, and had already been accomplished by an increasing number of donors.

12. She also indicated that this would also require action on a group of Quick Win actions, for example those identified by the Report of the Millennium Project team and the 16 life-saving steps identified by The Lancet public health panel. Among these key actions were free mass distribution of bed nets and anti-malarials, ending user fees for primary schools, expansion of school meals programmes, universal tetanus vaccination and others. Carol Bellamy indicated that these quick wins could serve as entry points for on-going sustainable development.

13. There was however a need for more emphasis on conflict prevention and transition which was always less costly than crisis response and less destructive on human lives and property. To be effective there was also the need to recognise that most existing conflict prevention mechanisms developed over the years assumed conflict between states, while most conflict today was within states. It was therefore necessary to make appropriate adjustments.

14. In closing, Carol Bellamy stressed that for the first time in history, the world had the practical means, the resources and the institutions to end extreme poverty. The political and operational frameworks were also in place. She argued that all that was needed was action which would follow the exercise of political will. This, she said, would require governments at all levels, civil society, the private sector, the UN system and Bretton Woods Institutions to work even more closely together in order to save tens of millions of lives and enable billons more to enjoy the benefits of the rapidly growing global economy.

15. In the discussion that followed, Carol Bellamy addressed several very interesting points For example in response to a question on the viability of completely removing user fees from education, Carol Bellamy stressed that user fees sometimes cost as much to collect as the amount collected and that in many countries, they presented a significant barrier to education and growth. On a related theme, Carol Bellamy agreed with a question posed to her that there was a need to think beyond quantitative measures of education to consider more qualitative aspects. In doing this, she argued that it was necessary to increase attention on school completion and not just enrolment.

16. In response to the suggestion by many development actors that all UN agencies should be merged into one entity, Carol Bellamy pointed out that only 4 were under the direct control of the Secretary General and therefore, only these could be merged. It would mean that there would still be several agencies outside of the larger umbrella and this called into question the added value of such efforts, especially as merging the agencies would have had the potential to make them more faceless.

17. In responding to what she felt the main challenges were of her leadership of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy summarised these as a) competing with the 'political side of the house' for attention and resources, this could be addressed through increased integration between the different agencies; b) legitimacy c) security and d) funding constraints.

18. An argument was presented that voices for less ODA also came from developed countries where ODA was seen by some to be used as a crutch for public finance and reduced government accountability. These voices also often also argued that more should be done to increase tax revenue where possible. In response to this, Carol Bellamy stressed that the issue of development effectiveness was not just about ODA, but that trade and debt needed also to be considered. While she would not argue for less ODA, she felt that other issues such as trade, aid and better governance required serious attention. In this vein, she argued that the world need to 'stop patting Uganda on the back' and using it as an example of a good performer owing to the conflict in the North, and resultant child crisis that had ensued for over 18 years.

Nambusi Kyegombe
March 2005


Carol Bellamy's speech centers around the situation of children around the world today, U.N. Reform and how the UN and the international community can by focusing on priorities for children make a significant difference.

Committee Room 10