All responses to the current financial and economic crisis must pay particular attention to the welfare of children, who were most vulnerable to its negative effects, Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, told correspondents at Headquarters today on the occasion of the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
“[We must] ensure their human rights as a long-term poverty eradication strategy,” she stressed, noting that the theme for the 2009 International Day, observed annually on 17 October, was “Children and Families Speak Out against Poverty”.
Joining Ms. Mayanja at the press conference were Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, Denzel Matthew from ChildFund International, and Thierry Viard, Executive-Secretary of the International Movement ATD Fourth World, an international non-governmental organization founded in France that represents people living in extreme poverty at international forums.
Ms. Mayanja said that during the crisis, as household incomes declined, more families were falling into poverty and more children — most often girls — were taken out of school to avoid fees, resulting in them entering the labour market or marrying early. Such measures robbed those children of critical opportunities of realizing their potential that could never be regained, contributing to an “insidious cycle of intergenerational poverty”, she stressed.
Mr. Matthew described his experiences as a poor child in Dominica, where some 40 per cent of the people lived below the poverty line and access to quality education was limited. Gangs and violence were rife in such a setting, he said, and children would fight over the smallest of slights.
He too, had “lashed out at life”, and had taken a violent path and would have continued if he had not taken a photography workshop sponsored by ChildFund International. That workshop had enabled him to see that there were much better things to do than fight, and he started to take his studies seriously and work on projects that benefited the environment and other children.
Improving access to education was one way to break the cycle of poverty in Dominica, along with other infusions of “hope and creativity”, he continued, adding: “No child should have to live without hope.”
Mr. Araud said it was fitting that the resolution on the rights of the child was being discussed in the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) at the same time as people around the world were reaffirming the duty to combat extreme poverty and ensure the participation of people who lived in poverty in all activities concerning their plight.
Paying tribute to ATD Fourth World and its network of non-governmental organizations around the world, he said that France had always prioritized the fight against poverty in its efforts at the United Nations and, together with partners in the European Community, was determined to help the entire international community attain the Millennium Development Goal on poverty reduction, through aid for development, trade and good governance.
“Extreme poverty is not just an economic or development problem, [but] an obstacle to the full and effective exercise of human rights,” he stressed. “But it is not inevitable,” he added.
Mr. Viard said that in the midst of the current crisis, the poorest and most vulnerable required special attention because they were the ones experiencing the harshest effects, as families were losing jobs and were forced to go begging. The International Day was an appeal to unite to achieve changes at the structural and personal levels, in an effort that should go on every day.
“Children are the future,” he said, and genuine mobilization of the international community was needed, calling for the poorest to become the centre of all development and policy considerations at the United Nations.
When correspondents pointed out that poverty seemed to have increased since the world summit of 2000, where the Millennium Development targets had been set, Mr. Araud said a summit had been proposed in 2010 to review that situation, which was not an easy one to deal with in a time of global economic crisis.
He said France, for its part, was increasing its development assistance, but he realized that Government efforts were insufficient. That was why, he added, the efforts of civil society were crucial, not just to do what Governments should be doing, but to mobilize citizens to shape policy.
The panel agreed that not enough aid was reaching those that needed it, and Mr. Araud stressed that innovative funding was needed, such as the tax on air tickets that had begun in France, and a proposed tax on financial transactions. Ms. Mayanja said that Governments needed to ensure that the poor were involved in decision-making related to the use of funds.
Asked how France’s policies enforced its will to reduce poverty, Mr. Araud said his country was behind the creation of peacekeeping forces in Chad to protect vulnerable people and humanitarian aid. He also said immigration was a complex problem that was faced by all industrialized countries. The challenge was ensuring that migration took place within the law, that it prevented immigrants from exploitation and that it took into account the possible anger of local residents.