UN Children's Fund has been big boost to child survival, outgoing chief says
In a farewell news conference at UN Headquarters in New York, she summed up UNICEF's work in recent years, saying global child mortality had dropped by 16 per cent in the last 15 years – and by 34 per cent if AIDS-devastated sub-Saharan Africa's data were excluded.
Measles had dropped by half since 1999 and the number of children not attending school had dropped below 100 million for the first time in years, while more countries were taking legislative and other steps to protect children from the worst abuses and exploitation, Ms. Bellamy said.
A UNICEF programme called Accelerated Child Survival and Development that bundles critical life-saving services and delivers them to the poorest, most remote, most service-starved districts, where most child deaths occur, had decreased child deaths in remote areas of Mali by around 20 per cent over a two-year period, she said.
"These results are striking. And we are having them thoroughly studied before formal publication. But I draw on these examples, among many other exciting developments, to highlight the fact that on the ground, UNICEF has been innovating and experimenting with what works," she added.
She also said she believed UNICEF had played a pivotal role in putting the exploitation of children on the map. "This is another area where there is much work to be done, be it on child soldiers, sexual abuse of children, trafficking, or child labour. But I can say with certainty that governments are no longer free to ignore these abuses as they were just 10 years ago."
Noting UNICEF's "State of the World's Children 2005" report that told of more than a billion children being robbed of their childhood by the triple threat of HIV/AIDS, poverty and conflict, however, she said, "I am the first to say that I wish we had accomplished more for children over the past 10 years."
More work was needed to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), she said, referring to a set of proposals issued at the UN in 2000 to reduce a host of socio-economic ills, including extreme poverty, by at least half by 2015.
"It is my most central conviction from 10 years at UNICEF that nothing will turn the tide against poverty the way that education can, especially for girls," Ms. Bellamy said. "There is no more sure an investment for nations than investment in a quality basic education for all boys and girls. With girls especially, the returns, with respect to the next generation of children, are striking."
Despite the continuing problems, it was a testament to the Fund's pragmatic optimism that its 10,000 staffers in 158 countries were helping to look for solutions to the local and international problems of children every day, she said.
UNICEF "was created with hope and optimism and is continually renewed by the hope and optimism that children bring into the world," she added.
The agency said, in a release on her departure, that Ms. Bellamy made restoring schooling during emergencies a hallmark of UNICEF's work, "recognizing that getting children back into a learning environment as soon as possible allows children to be children again and gives them a friendly space to escape from the hardship and chaos they have endured."
A series of UNICEF news releases covering earthquakes and other natural disasters, as well as peacekeeping and peacebuilding situations, had told of schools installed in hastily cleared buildings or quickly erected tents, as well as training in psychotherapy for teachers who had to work with the traumatized children.
Ms. Bellamy had also confronted leaders who failed to protect children, going to Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka and Sudan to advocate demobilizing child soldiers and meeting Taliban leaders in Afghanistan about their refusal to educate girls, UNICEF said.
Ms. Bellamy leaves UNICEF to take up a post as CEO and President of World Learning, a private, non-profit international educational organization.
Her successor at UNICEF will be Ann Veneman, most recently United States Secretary of Agriculture.