The following article which appeared in theISLAND 03/24/05 was sent in by Ananda
These mind-numbing statistics form the core of UNICEF’s annual "State of the World’s Children" report, released at the end of last year and debated in a Feb. 17 panel discussion moderated by Elizabeth Gibbons, UNICEF’s chief of global policy. The agencyExecutive Director Carol Bellamy summed up childhood poverty, its causes and its effects - AIDS, armed conflict, child labour, lack of consistent international interest and funding, environmental instability, child trafficking - as a "global tsunami" that threatens to engulf our descendants. The discussion balanced economic theory with conventional wisdom. It included luminaries like Nobel Prize-winner and Columbia University Professor Joseph Stiglitz, and Rebecca Grynspan-Mayufis, Mexico director of the Economic Commission on Latin America and former vice president of Costa Rica.
Unicef defines poverty as ‘deprivation of the material, spiritual and emotional resources needed to survive, develop and thrive, and outlines the seven deprivations that constitute such a condition - lack of shelter, sanitation, clean water, information, nutrition, health and education.
According to the 2005 report, half the world’s children experience these deprivations, concentrated mainly in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East. Childhood poverty should be considered differently from adult poverty, Stiglitz argued, because "children are voiceless. We need to identify their concerns." Lack of services for children in 2005 is a sure indicator of poverty levels among adults in 2025, and Stiglitz maintained that society determines debt inheritance, leaving an undue burden on the present generation of children.
According to UNICEF, the first three years of life are essential to child development. During this time, portions of a child’s brain can double in size, and lack of a strong maternal presence, mental stimulation and play can severely stymie growth. As this generation reaches adulthood and procreates, raising children without the necessary components for a physically and mentally healthy offspring, the cycle restarts. Raising children under the shadow of the seven deprivations leaves them especially open to abuse, which is subsequently passed down to their children like a tragic birthright.
The solution, the panelists maintained, is relatively affordable. Dr. Sanjay Reddy, an economics professor at Princeton and Barnard Universities, said that even small investments can break the cycle of poverty and end the frustrating stagnation many developing countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, continue to suffer. Some of the panelists championed progressive taxation, which would provide health and education for poor children by taxing the wealthy. All agreed that peace is instrumental in economic recovery, because conflict brings a breakdown of markets and health, populating refugee camps and eroding social structures.
E. Valpay K. Fitzgerald, director of the Finance and Trade Policy Research Centre at Queen Elizabeth House, lamented the evaporation of rural financing, pointing to "capital flight" in danger zones, whereby investors pull up their roots, leaving a financial gap that takes decades to bridge. One solution would be to provide incentives to firms and countries to invest on a local level in remote rural areas.
On the topic of child labour, a cruel phenomenon in which 280 million children either voluntarily or forcibly take part, Kaushik Basu, a development economist at Cornell University, gave a particularly impassioned plea to the United Nations delegates in attendance to search for solutions to the crisis. Acknowledging that supplemental income from child labour keeps some families above the poverty line, he urged governments to adopt programmes that provide financial incentives to poor families to keep their children in school and out of the labour force. This strategy has proven successful in countries like Bangladesh, which has employed a food-for-education programme.
A major concern for UNICEF and the United Nations as a whole is the ability of its 191 member states to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), eight objectives with a deadline of 2015. The MDGs include a 50 percent reduction in poverty and hunger; universal primary education; reduction of child mortality by two-thirds; cutbacks in maternal mortality by three-quarters; the promotion of gender equality; and the reversal of the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
A 2004 report found some progress in girls’ enrollment in primary schools, but areas such as women’s rights, youth unemployment, HIV/AIDS and environmental stability continue to stagnate and even worsen in some regions. Of the 15 key donors involved in the global partnership, the United States is second to last in terms of social expenditure, at 2.5 percent of its GDP - a paltry sum considering that 22 percent of its children live in poverty. Only Mexico had a higher child poverty rate among the donor countries.