11 December 1996

Press Release


19961211 Cites UNICEF's Successes on 'Humanitarian Front Line For Children', in Statement Marking Its Fiftieth Anniversary

Following is the statement made today by Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to the General Assembly, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF):

It gives me great pleasure to be a part of this UNICEF family celebration. Since 1946, UNICEF has been on the humanitarian front line for children. Its accomplishments are a source of pride that is shared throughout the international community.

The fiftieth anniversary of UNICEF offers us a unique opportunity. We can reflect on past progress. We can review lessons learned. And we can look forward boldly to the future.

The UNICEF and its many partners -- governments, National Committees for UNICEF, non-governmental organizations and the public at large -- have worked in every region of the world. They have given special attention to developing countries. They have brought astonishing improvement to the lives of millions of children.

They have also encouraged political responsibility, defined national and local strategies and priorities, mobilized grass-roots participation, provided technical assistance, and promoted the rights of women and children everywhere. On this anniversary, there is cause to celebrate its achievements in health, nutrition, education, water supply and sanitation, as well as in the care of children in crises.

Today, UNICEF remains on the front line of conflicts that are more numerous and complex than ever before. To meet changing needs, UNICEF's operations include psycho-social counselling and the rehabilitation of former child soldiers and child witnesses to atrocities.

The principle of "first call for children" affirms that the protection and development of children should be given priority at all times. The UNICEF has worked and encouraged others to make this principle a reality.

None of these advances would have been possible without the dedication and talent of UNICEF staff, and the resourceful leadership of four Executive

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Directors -- Maurice Pate, Henri Labouisse, Jim Grant, and Carol Bellamy. Above all, let us never forget the many staff members who have given their lives in the service of children.

Tragically, the situation of children in many parts of the world still remains critical. Inadequate social and economic conditions turn promise into peril. Armed conflicts, exploitation and intolerance turn hope into hatred.

Last month, Graca Machel and a group of experts reported to me on the findings of a two-year-long study on the impact of armed conflict on children. They described a "desolate moral vacuum" in which children are victimized, used as soldiers, and poisoned by hate and mistrust. We must break this cycle. If not, children will be much more likely to repeat the mistakes of their elders.

Children are the key to a better future, a better world. It is essential that children be offered an opportunity to reach their full potential and contribute to progress and development in their countries. Leaders are beginning to understand that the gross national product (GNP) is just one measure of growth. Nations that nurture, protect and invest in their children's potential are the nations that will tend to thrive.

What I have found most encouraging in my discussions with world leaders is that common ground can almost always be found when children's interests are at stake. This is evident in the "zones of peace" that UNICEF has been able to negotiate. It is manifested in the first-ever World Summit for Children convened in 1990. And it is expressed in the near-universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The UNICEF's leadership, credibility and insistence on "zones of peace" for the protection of children have paved neutral paths through political and cultural minefields. This has enabled the delivery of vaccines and other essential items to children caught up in adult hostilities. More than 150 countries have drafted national programmes of action. Ninety-eight per cent of the world's children live in countries that are now committed to providing them with adequate resources and services.

More than 50 governments have so far reported to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on steps they have taken to fulfil their obligations; 14 have written provisions of the Convention into their constitutions; and 35 have amended their laws or passed new child-friendly legislation. Some have created special units to monitor violations of children's rights; others have appointed ombudspersons to speak out on behalf of children. The UNICEF continues to provide technical support to the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

It was the suffering of children in war that prompted the founding of UNICEF 50 years ago. It is the continuing suffering of children that reminds us of how much more we need to do, and how enormous is the task before UNICEF. Let us draw strength from the successes of the past to forge ahead with vigour. Let us bring a better future to the children of the world -- our collective future.

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For information media. Not an official record.