Children's Voice September/October 2008

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One on One
Questions and Answers with CWLA Staff

David Roth, Senior Fellow, Mid-Atlantic Region

What is the origin and what are the goals of the United Nations?

As a consequence of World War II, 50 countries met in San Francisco in 1945 to draft and sign the UN Charter as a binding treaty, which came into force in October 1945. UN membership has expanded to the current 193 nations in the world.

The United Nations has six main bodies: General Assembly, Security Council, Economic and Social Council, Trusteeship Council, International Court of Justice, and Secretariat. In addition, there are an important group of specialized intergovernmental agencies such as the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), the UN Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The goals of the UN, as delineated in the charter, are to maintain international peace and security; to achieve international cooperation in solving development and humanitarian problems; to promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and to be a center for helping nations achieve these goals. The UN is funded by assessments and dues from each member as determined by the General Assembly. The United States pays for 22% of the basic UN budget--the largest portion. In addition, the members make voluntary contributions to the substantial budgets of the specialized agencies.

What role and responsibilities does CWLA have at the UN?

As a major child-centered national organization, CWLA applied for and was granted accreditation to the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) more than 10 years ago. More specifically, at that time CWLA had a functioning International Affairs Committee with membership drawn from its member agencies. These agencies operated in international adoption or had a significant minority immigrant (some refugee) clientele. In being accredited, CWLA joined 3,000 other civil society organizations as a non-governmental organization (NGO) with interest in the broad worldwide operations of the UN. With CWLA's concerns for children and families, our focus has been in serving on several NGO committees on the family, youth, and child rights.

Since I serve CWLA as a senior fellow in the mid-Atlantic region and was already a member of the International Federation of Social Workers team at the UN for many years, I was designated as the main representative for CWLA at the UN. As a member and officer of the NGO Committee on Child Rights and in accord with CWLA's board endorsement of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, I have advocated for the long-overdue U.S. ratification of this basic children's treaty.

Since the family is the basic unit in all societies, the NGO Committee on the Family has worked to strengthen the protection of children, whether that be by reducing poverty, providing adequate housing, accessing health and sanitation services, offering educational opportunities, or eliminating any form of discrimination. For the NGO Committee on Youth, emphasis has been on free secondary and college education and promoting the voice of youth in all matters and decisions affecting youth. In addition, I have added CWLA's interest in many subjects of Weekly Briefings by DPI. Also, as permitted by ECOSOC status, CWLA has been a frequent cosponsor of statements of social significance submitted to the annual meetings of the Commission on Social Develop-ment and the Commission on the Status of Women. Even as a national--rather than international--body, CWLA has been a positive active force in the NGO community of the UN.

What is the significance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child?

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most significant and far-reaching international human rights treaty concerning the 2 billion children under 18 throughout the world. Adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 1989, it has been ratified by a record 191 nationals and commits each country to ensure that each child enjoy the rights of survival, health, and education; to have a caring family environment, play, and culture; to have protection from exploitation and abuse; and to have his or her voice heard on significant issues. Two World Summits for Children in 1990 and 2000 have reaffirmed Plans of Action and taken note of progress to better the lives of children, especially those in the developing nations wracked by extreme poverty, armed conflict, inadequate health care, HIV/AIDS, poor sanitation, and gender discrimination.

The 54 Articles of the Convention is unique in that it is comprehensive, the only one to ensure children their civil, political, economic, and social rights; it is universal, applying to all children in all situations; it is unconditional, requiring even governments with scarce resources to take action to protect children; and it is holistic, asserting that all rights are essential, interdependent, and equal. Implement- ation of this convention is advanced by a two-year report of progress after ratification by each nation and then reports after each five years. Such reports are made to the UN Secretariat and to the General Assembly. In addition to government accountability, many active NGOs in each nation may monitor progress and submit their own reports.

What are the Millennium Development Goals and their current central role in the UN?

In 2000, all UN members adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which have become a universal framework for developing countries and the developed countries to work together in pursuit of eight significant goals by 2015.

Goal 1 is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by cutting in half the proportion of 1.2 billion people whose income is less than $1 a day, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. By 2004, the number fell to 980 million living on less than $1 a day. Goal 2 is to achieve universal primary education for boys and girls equally. But in 2005, more than 70 million children of primary school age were not in school, especially girls from poorer or rural families. Goal 3 is to promote gender equality and empower women. The target is to eliminate gender disparity in all levels of education, wage and labor employment, and in the political arena. Goal 4 is to reduce by two-thirds the mortality of children under the age of 5. Though rehydration therapy and vaccinations for measles and polio have saved many children, estimates for 2005 indicate that 10 million children under age 5 died from preventable diseases. Goal 5 is to reduce by three-quarters the maternal mortality rate and improve general maternal health. Half a million women continue to die each year during pregnancy and childbirth, almost all of them in Africa and Asia. Prenatal care at least four times during pregnancy is the key to saving most women. Goal 6 is to combat HIV/ AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. The goal is to halt the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015 and reverse the infection and death rate. By the beginning of 2007, 40 million people were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, with 2.9 million deaths and 15 million children orphaned by this pandemic. Goal 7 is to ensure environmental sustainability by integrating the principles and programs of sustainable development into each country's policies. Despite increased awareness and efforts, deforestation continues and biodiversity continues to decline. Goal 8 is to develop a global partnership for development. The target is to greatly increase development aid by the richer Western and European countries for the special needs of the least-developed nations and to promote open, rule-based, nondiscriminatory trading and financial systems.

Finally, as the current Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has stated: "The MDGs are a blueprint to ensure that in a technology-rich and prosperous 21st Century, no human being should be dying of malnutrition or preventable diseases, or be deprived of education or access to basic health care."


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