The Department for International Development is consulting closely with UNICEF to ensure that the 2015 development targets can be met so that we can bring about the biggest improvement in life opportunities for the largest number of children in human history.
Thank you for inviting me to give your annual lecture. DFID values its long-standing and close relations with the UK Committee for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund). The Committee is unique among UK-UN committees in forming part of DFID’s delegation to an Annual Executive Board.
I am very pleased to join you in celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a good time to take stock of the Convention’s impact; to draw lessons from the Convention on how to approach the highly topical issue of child labour in the run up to the World Trade Organisation negotiations at Seattle; and to talk about how DFID is working with UNICEF to help increase its effectiveness.
Since it was adopted by the United Nations in 1989, the Convention has become the world’s most widely endorsed human rights treaty.
It sets out standards by which children should survive, grow, be protected and participate. The Convention is the yardstick we use to measure how today’s world treats its children.
Children’s rights are among the most important of all human rights, both because children are so vulnerable and because their position determines our common future. Disadvantage is passed from generation to generation. By tackling child poverty we can break that inter-generational cycle of deprivation. Focusing development on children brings potential transformation.
Two years ago in our White Paper on International Development, we made a commitment to support international efforts to enhance children’s well-being through implementation of the Convention. Our White Paper pledged specifically to work to secure the attainment of the international poverty eradication targets that derive from the great United Nations conferences of the past decade. These targets encapsulate an international commitment to a poverty-free future for the world’s children and therefore for their children. We have been working hard to mobilise the international system to a commitment to implement the targets. It is not good enough for governments worldwide to attend UN conferences, vote for great reforms and then go home and carry on as before.
Although we should be impatient for faster progress, we must not make the mistake of focusing so much on what is wrong in the world that it spreads despondency. Progress is being made. For example, over the last decade, most countries have seen an important decline in the mortality rate for children under five – in Bangladesh it has dropped from 205 to 109 per thousand, in Uganda from 185 to 137, and in Bolivia from 195 to 96.
The Convention has helped governments and donors to recognise that achievement of the international development targets requires a move away from isolated, vertical projects to a government-led commitment to systematic reform. We need reform that creates the improved economic growth essential for poverty reduction, and improvement in the effectiveness of government systems in order to create sustainable education and health services for all. Children cannot be separated from the wider communities in which they live. Projects that seek to supply services to children which are not part of a wider effort to improve economic performance or the provision of universal basic services will not generate sustainable development and real across the board improvements in the life of children.
The international community has now agreed that there needs to be a transformation in the way we work. In too many countries frail government administrative systems spend most of their time accounting to donors and have no time or energy left to administer their own services. Thus, too often in the areas where donors are not involved, public services crumble. Arid when donor interventions come to an end, their projects crumble. If we are to increase the effectiveness of international development efforts, countries and institutions have to put away their flags and labels and genuinely collaborate behind the leadership of the local government.
The transformation in our development practice required to improve our effectiveness is a major challenge to all agencies involved in development, including UNICEF and its national committee. I would like to repeat here what I said in a recent speech on increasing the effectiveness of the UN’s development effort through its various programmes and funds.
I have seen the UN’s work across the world. I know that there is an enormous potential in the expertise, commitment and energy of the over 30,000 UN staff involved in work on international development and the more than $20 billion they will have to spend over the first two years of the new century.
This is a large resource and I am convinced that the UN’s development impact is well below its potential. It needs to move ‘beyond projects’ to truly lead and drive forward the international development targets, with each agency focusing on its core role, and the whole working much more collaboratively.
I know that this will not be easy. But the time for vying between UN agencies is over. The UN has unrivalled authority and legitimacy in developing countries. Its role must be strengthened to help developing countries put in place the strategies needed to meet the targets and to share them widely with civil society. In this way governments and people in developing countries can give the lead, behind which the World Bank, IMF and donor governments collaborate.
It is obvious that no individual donor or agency can ensure that the development targets are met. But the co-ordinated efforts of the international system, working with developing country governments on the basis of a shared commitment to the targets, could do so.
This will mean a key role for the UN and its agencies. But the UN system has to embrace the targets and focus its efforts on them, if together we are to achieve them. The modernisation of policy and organisation which has restored the credibility, and begun to transform the effectiveness, of UN agencies such as the World l-Iealth Organisation needs to be carried through in all the specialised agencies. We are strongly committed to providing increasing support to those agencies which modernise their management and organisation to increase their effectiveness in helping meet the international development targets.
One of the ways to achieve this greater focus and co-ordination is to build quickly and positively on the pilot Common Country Assessments and UN Development Assistance Frameworks (UNDAF). The thinking behind this parallels that behind the World Bank’s Comprehensive Development Framework, and they should be taken forward together. For too long, developing countries have been faced with multiple donors, each with their individual projects, agendas and accounting systems which create an obstacle to improving governments’ own effectiveness. The Comprehensive Development Framework and UNDAF give us the chance to co-ordinate all our efforts behind developing country leadership – the only conditionality being a mutually agreed commitment to meet the targets in every country.
UNICEF has massive public recognition and sympathy because it exists to serve children. This creates a special responsibility on UNICEF to be a leading force in the UN system and the world of development in general, and to drive forward the changes needed to meet the international development targets and thus break the barrier of poverty that entraps succeeding generations of the children of the poor.
I want to concentrate today on one particular aspect of Child Rights, .that of child labour. This is an issue that is increasingly moving the people of the world. It is a reflection of the desperate poverty in which some of the world’s children live, a poverty which carries a lifelong blight. Working children who are deprived of education are deprived of their childhood; but their life opportunities are blighted, too, by their lack of education, and thus they pass on their poverty to their own children.
The scale of child labour is enormous. 250 million children work worldwide. 150 million live in South Asia, which has perhaps some of the worst child labour conditions. The proportion of African children who work is over 40%, twice that of Asia.
The worst forms of child labour involve children having to work long hours in poor conditions, doing dangerous, repetitive tasks which can endanger their health. This must be our first concern. One of the worst examples is the use of bonded labour in the South Asian carpet industry. Such conditions generate a deep sense of outrage amongst consumers worldwide.
This sense of outrage often turns to calls for boycotts or restrictions on goods using child labour. Such feelings are understandable. But it is important to understand why so many children have to work and to analyse the effects of any boycotts or trade restrictions. We must ensure that the consequence of our outrage at the gross exploitation of children does not lead to actions which inflict further suffering on the children concerned.
Parents do not let their children work in dangerous and exhausting industries by choice. They do so because they have to. It is the grinding poverty in which the families of child workers live which pushes the children into work. Their parents – the poorest children come from women-headed households – want a healthy, secure and prosperous future for their children, just like all parents. We must be careful not to allow our sense of outrage to be used in ways which punish them for their poverty.
As the Seattle Trade Round approaches, we are hearing increased calls for a ‘social clause’ to be introduced into the WTO Articles. It is argued that such a clause should be used to place restrictions on goods entering the international trading system which are produced using child labour. This argument sounds plausible but the experience of consumer boycotts has shown that the use of trade sanctions usually harms rather than helps the children concerned. The evidence from South Asia suggests that such actions do little to help the elimination of child labour. This is because trade measures only impact on the export sector, which is small in the countries employing most child workers. And it is also because the boycott does nothing to address the reasons why children work. Thrown out of work, children of poor families simply try to find employment elsewhere, often in much worse conditions – such as on building sites, in industrial foundries, or worst of all, in the thriving industry in sexual exploitation of children.
This is clearly illustrated by the case study of the Bangladesh textile sector. In 1993, consumer pressure following US television pictures of Bangladeshi children manufacturing clothes for Wal-Mart caused the company to cancel its contracts in Bangladesh. In the same year, a bill was proposed in the US Senate aimed at restricting imports of goods made with child labour. As a result, the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association announced the elimination of child labour in the industry by 31 October 1994. Thousands of children were promptly dismissed, many without pay. Subsequent tracking has revealed that many of these children had not gone back to school. Instead, they had gone into other employment which was more exploitative and they had become poorer.
Those who are committed to the elimination of child labour must instead look for policies which do not harm the interests of the children concerned. There are alternatives to trade boycotts. They mean lifting the families concerned out of poverty. For that we need strong economic growth based on policies which raise levels of income for everyone, especially the poorest. We need trade policies which help the poorest countries achieve economic growth. And we need a clear commitment not to use any trade sanctions which will simply marginalise the poorest countries from the wealth being generated by the globalising world economy. This is why the UK and EU approach at Seattle is explicitly and emphatically against any sanctions-based approaches to trade and labour.
We need to provide alternative income-earning opportunities for poor families through employment generation schemes and by giving them access to credit to enhance their livelihoods. Where income replacement is not possible, we must ensure that working children are protected from the worst forms of employment and given opportunities for education while they continue to work. For example, in Bangladesh we are working with UNICEF and the Bangladeshi Government to provide basic non-formal education for ‘hard to reach’ urban children currently working in exploited or dangerous conditions.
We need to keep up the pressure. The increased profile which concerned public opinion has given to the child labour issue is welcome. But there is a real danger that at Seattle this concern will be turned into demands which damage working children and are used as an excuse to impose trade sanctions, and therefore economic disadvantage, on the poorest countries. I am very concerned about this danger and I do appeal to UNICEF to make use of its worldwide moral authority to challenge the growing consensus that trade sanctions should be used in response to the problem of child labour.
I would like to end my remarks by outlining how I see the strong relationship that exists between DFID and UNICEF developing in the future.
In my speech on the future of the UN a few weeks ago, I called for the whole of the UN family to mobilise itself behind the international development targets. They are undoubtedly achievable, but will not be achieved unless we mobilise stronger international political will. The UN is vital to this. It is the world’s only genuinely global institution, whose inclusiveness and neutrality give it a special moral authority on the world stage. It is very puzzling that it is the UN system which gave us the worldwide agreement on the targets, yet it now seems to have so little interest in implementing them.
UNICEF is a vital part of the UN effort. I therefore warmly welcome UNICEF’s increasing commitment to the targets and to a rights-based approach to development which follows the Convention in seeking to integrate children’s concerns into all policies and programmes.
There are three key areas where DFID wishes to work with UNICEF in enhancing its effectiveness. To improve awareness in the developed world about the achievability of major improvement in the life of the world’s poorest children; to generate increased collaboration in international development efforts which are focused in improving children’s lives; and to improve the impact of UNICEF’s own programmes.
First, in developed countries like the UK, UNICEF and its national committees must do more than simply tug the heart strings of the public for money. Charity is a good thing but it will not produce sustainable development.
I believe that when the public understand that a relatively small increase in resources, a greater focus and effectiveness in international development efforts, and fairer trading and investment arrangements, could produce a massive advance in life opportunities for a generation of children, they would demand that it was done.
The UK Committee and the 30-plus other national committees throughout the developed world have a key role to place in this work. I am puzzled that there are not national committees in developing countries. This suggests that the inspiration for national committees is fundraising in the North. This is not enough. No amount of aid or charity will produce development without a strong commitment to the necessary reform in developing countries. I hope UNICEF will reflect on how it could do more to mobilise civil society in the South to force their governments to put in place the policies behind which increased resources can help produce transformation.
Second, I welcome UNICEF’s engagement in supporting Kofi Annan’s effort to make UN development efforts more effective.
To be successful in this mission, UNICEF will need to work more closely with other members of the United Nations system. I want to encourage UNICEF to develop its role as an active contributor to a single cohesive development system supporting individual countries through the UN Development Assistance Framework and through wider donor co¬ordination efforts, under the World Bank-led Comprehensive Development Framework. It is important that UNICEF has a more effective collaborative relationship with the World Bank.
Third, UNICEF is undertaking pioneering work, and in some of this you are working in co-operation with DFID.
We are working with UNICEF to help build its capacity to eliminate the use of children as soldiers. In a £3 million programme we have agreed to identify, jointly, the constraints affecting UNICEF’s capacity in this area, and help it to co-ordinate its policy and programmes for children in conflict. We all agree that this work is a major priority. But when we identify where most of the child soldiers are – Sudan, Afghanistan, Angola and other intractable conflicts – we have to face up to how difficult this work is and how, if we want to do better, we have to improve our capacity for conflict resolution.
We shall also work on the human rights approach with UNICEF, thereby taking forward implementation of the Convention. Pursuit of a rights-based approach means changing some of the long established ways of thought and practice in development. It means seeing the poor as actors in their own development, rather than as recipients of our compassion and charity. A human rights framework forces us to confront difficult issues.
I am pleased to announce tonight, in the spirit of our growing collaboration, DFID’s agreement to fund a short-term project aimed at strengthening the capacity of UNICEF to apply a human rights approach in its programming, and to increase its effectiveness to promote and monitor the fulfilment of the rights of children and women in the most excluded communities and groups. Experience with this initial project will enable further discussions between DFID and UNICEF regarding an expansion of our co-operation to a longer-term initiative in applying human rights principles in development work.
We are encouraging UNICEF to move forward quickly in developing the systems that contribute to better project monitoring and which enable us to see results on the ground. When I travel, too often I have heard that UNICEF’s impact on the ground is patchy. The agency needs a stronger capacity for project preparation and implementation, and to ensure that its average performance is nearer its best. It needs to learn lessons from its mistakes and introduce better systems for measuring impact. This includes the introduction of results-based budgeting, which I am pleased DFID have been able to support through the development of the programme management systems.
I am trying to ensure that my Department is a model of openness and transparency. I am convinced that good ideas can be powerful and help all of us improve our effectiveness and the effectiveness of the international development system. We are therefore consulting on, and in turn publishing, all the strategies which shape our work. We are currently in consultation with UNICEF, the National Committee and other interested groups, on our strategy for DFID’s work in partnership with UNICEF; We have common approaches on many issues. I hope that together we can scrutinise all we do and determine how we can do better to deliver the 2015 targets across the international system. In this way we can together help to bring about the biggest improvement in life opportunities for the largest number of children that has ever been achieved in human history.