August 29, 2002: Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF discusses the world’s children with host Jamie Rubin.
Carol Bellamy: Thank you.
Jamie Rubin: You will be representing UNICEF at the upcoming Johannesburg meeting. Tell me, what will your report to the world leaders be about the state of the world’s children?
Carol Bellamy: Well, it will be that over the last decade, since the conference in Rio, conditions for children have improved, but less than had been expected. Around some of the issues, particularly, that will be focused on in this meeting — for example, access to clean water, better sanitation, health issues — there is some good news. For example, the number of children that die due to diarrhea has been cut almost in half, and that’s as a result of better interventions and more access to clean water. Guinea worm, which is something that nobody really knows about in the United States, but it really exists and it’s very bad, has been reduced dramatically. But far less has been accomplished than had been expected.
Jamie Rubin: So some progress, but not as much as been expected. How do you think these meetings shape up? Is it valuable to have the heads of state of the world sit down together, renegotiate issues they’ve talked about? Do we need these global summits anymore?
Carol Bellamy: Well, I’m of several minds on this. I think that these meetings were crucially important in the 90’s. I think they help set out some agendas, the environmental agenda, the children’s agenda, the population agenda, agenda on women, very important in really targeting specific goals and objectives, and I think that we would not have seen some of the movement that has taken place over the last decade. I’m not convinced that this mode is necessarily the appropriate mode into the future. I think that there are ways to review the progress and look at how you do course corrections. Further, I think that what has become clear as well is merely having a plan of action without really active, aggressive leadership, government leadership, private sector, civil society, you’re not going to get much. So to the extent to which there are heads of state there, I think the crucial element is to get the commitment of this leadership because another meeting with just another plan of action, I don’t think will do much as we head into the 21st century.
Jamie Rubin: We do know what we need to do in most of these areas now, do you think having the meetings makes it more likely that we’ll do what everybody seems to think we should do?
Carol Bellamy: I think we should look for a different mode now. The global meeting era, while very useful and important in the 90s, may have passed its usefulness. I think, looking regionally or sub-regionally, really monitoring what has been achieved against the agreements that had been made in the past, and these are very serious agreements, some of them had been binding agreements, others at least there was a moral obligation to pursue. I think we should look for alternative ways to review and see what success there has been and where there still needs to be work.
Jamie Rubin: Let’s talk for a minute about some of the dilemmas that came up in the film we just saw, starting with child labor. You’re the advocate for the world’s children. Do you find yourself on both sides of this issue, the child labor issue, in many parts of the world?
Carol Bellamy: Well, it’s a far more complicated issue then I think some people would recognize. We at UNICEF have never particularly been enthusiastic about boycotts. We think the boycott makes the boycotter feel better, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t child labor. Most of the basis of hazardous child labor is really deep, abiding, long-standing poverty, and you can’t just wave that away by passing a law saying “no more hazardous child labor.” That being said, really this is very detrimental to the development of children, and one has to look for ways to begin to make a change. One of the ways is to try and avoid the very youngest children of a family going into child labor, perhaps by assuring that they at least get some education. There are now programs in places like Brazil and Mexico and other places, where families receive a small income if their child is in school. The basic reason is not because parents want to send their children out to work in these terrible conditions, it’s that it is poverty, and they will not survive.
Jamie Rubin: So in some cases, the child laborers are the breadwinners for these families.
Carol Bellamy: They are the breadwinners. Now that is another interesting element. Often the exploiters of children in hazardous child labor, realize that they are better able to exploit children than adults. So very often we will also advocate that if you need workers, use the father, use the mother, not the child. But very often the mother and father will be more demanding of the conditions and more demanding of some improvement.
Jamie Rubin: One of the other dilemmas we saw in the child from Kenya is the desire for education and how some families are split up by the desire for education. What work have you done in this area of UNICEF, in Africa, and do you find that sometimes the battles between the mothers and the fathers that we saw in this film happen elsewhere?
Carol Bellamy: Well, I actually thought, if there was a positive element in the film, it was a recognition by so many that education is a very important key for any kind of advancement, any reduction of poverty. But you do run into conflict, you run into conflict with parents, mothers or fathers who think, particularly for girls, what’s the need for education, she’s just going to get married, or in an environment where the economy is so bad – is there a job after education? There are costs to education, particularly in poor countries, I think in the richer countries, people don’t always remember this, but even the cost of a uniform for the child, even the school fees that have to be paid, these can sometimes be beyond the budget. So parents need to make choices, and very often they will choose, in so many places of the world, that the boys will go to school instead of the girls going to school. So education is, I think, on balance still desired by parents for their children, but parents are put into this painful position of not always being able to support their children going to school, and very often only one child or two children, of many, will go to school. So it is still a divisive issue in families, although less divisive than so many others.
Jamie Rubin: You were recently in Afghanistan, opening schools there. Can you tell us a little bit about the enthusiasm that has accompanied the opening of school in Afghanistan?
Carol Bellamy: This was an extraordinarily wonderful environment, the back to school opening day. It was March 23rd, which is when Afghanistan schools open. This is a country that had been at war for more than 20 years, so the education system had virtually stopped functioning, and certainly during the Taliban era, when girls were prohibited from going to school, there were no girls in school, and teachers were limited because women were prohibited from working, and many of the teachers were women. So, opening day of school, there was a big effort made to try and get kids back into school. It was estimated that there were five million children eligible for primary school. On opening day about a million and a half kids, girls and boys, about 30 percent girls, came back to school, and since that time — unlike other countries, where very often you’ll have drop-off — with the refugees coming back, the fact is the school enrollment has gone up. So, if there is a hope in Afghanistan, and this is a country that is going to take a long, long time for there to be improvements, I think it is that there really is a very deep commitment being made and put into education. Again, a reflection I think of what we saw in the film, which is that the great hope of parents is that their children will have a better life than they had.
Jamie Rubin: Can you talk a little bit about the funds you needed in Afghanistan to open a school, how would you go about doing this? Sometimes people imagine that this is expensive, to start an education system, or build the infrastructure, how do you go about actually promoting education in Afghanistan or other places?
Carol Bellamy: First of all, I don’t always talk about schools. I think you have to talk about learning. Because if you talk about schools, then you think about a big building and it has all the facilities. Very seldom it does. We’re very happy if we can try and assure that there is even the basic sanitary availability there, and maybe access to clean water, that’s what we think is very important for a place where kids are going to learn. Clean water, some kind of sanitary facilities. But what we did, is we tried to help this Afghanistan interim government through the provision of materials. So every kid got a school bag, and you should have seen them walking with these school bags, it was quite wonderful. And in the bag they had a textbook and it was either in the Dory language or the Pashtun language, they had a little slate board, they had pencils, pen, very simple things, a little notebook to write in. We supported the provision of tents, where there was a total destruction of what had been the school or at least a building where�
Jamie Rubin: UNICEF distributed this?
Carol Bellamy: We did and we were supported by the United States government, the Japanese government. I would say they were the two governments with the biggest support. The Afghanistan administration made a commitment to do this. There were non-governmental organizations that helped because they had helped keep some of the informal schools going during the period of time. But the fact is the kids came to school and they actually, they weren’t just sitting in open areas, we tried to do school repair at that time. There’s still much to be done, but I think, if there is a sign of hope for Afghanistan, it is this real desire to get and continue education.
Jamie Rubin: These are hopeful observations, but you must have looked around the world and seen the kind of poverty, the poorest of the poor, that we saw in this film, and elsewhere, and you have a big, big challenge. Do you ever get frustrated by the enormity of trying to deal with a billion people living in poverty?
Carol Bellamy: Well, I don’t get frustrated because we work with kids, but it is extraordinary that we have entered the 21st century with one-sixth of the human population not able to read or write. We’re in the great world of technology, wherever the economic markets may be. Nevertheless, in the richer countries there’s just availability of virtually everything, and in the poorer countries, the elements of poverty, war and conflict in so many places, HIV/AIDS, devastating systems, gender discrimination, girls around the world still confronting problems, 120 million children who ought to be in primary school who are not in primary school – 60 percent are girls — the environmental deterioration that we’ve seen. . . I mean one of the reasons for greater instability in the world today as a result of natural disasters is that the environmental improvements that one had hoped for have not occurred in so many places. And then I could go on and on, corruption, inability of folks to really provide the leadership that should exist, so there’s still an enormous amount to do even as we enter this extraordinary 21st century.
Jamie Rubin: You’re an American. You’re the executive director of a UN organization. Do you ever feel difficulty in justifying the small size of America’s foreign aid budget when you’re working with your colleagues?
Carol Bellamy: Well, it’s a mixed picture. I think it is important to acknowledge that the United States is a major donor to humanitarian and development causes for the UN agencies. It’s the major donor of a number of UN agencies, including UNICEF, and yet if you take a look at the entire budget of the United States on a per capita basis, the United States ranks quite far down in the list.
Jamie Rubin: Isn’t the United States the lowest of all of the major industrialized countries?
Carol Bellamy: I don’t know if it’s the lowest, but it’s certainly one of the lowest. So, yes, it is certainly a contributor, but if you take a look, the Nordic countries, for example, are far more generous on a per capita basis. And yet, we know the studies that Americans think much too much gets spent in foreign aid, but when they are questioned, “Are they willing to put some money into foreign aid?” “Of course.” “Well, how much?” “Well, I don’t know, maybe five percent.” “Well, what would you think of if it was less than one percent?” “Well, we could do more than that.” So, I think Americans are at heart, quite generous, and willing to assist more, and understand that it makes a difference for them. I mean that polio case that exists in Pakistan could be — and I always hate to threaten — but that polio case could be in the United States, 17 hours later.
Jamie Rubin: So, you have a political background, you worked in New York City politics, tell us why if the American people are so supportive, of spending four, five, six times the current budget of foreign assistance, there is no political support for it in Washington?
Carol Bellamy: You know, I don’t think it is a hot button item, quite frankly. I do think Americans are generous. I think they’re willing to help. I think they’re willing to help beyond their cities and their communities, and their rural, suburban homes, but I don’t think it’s a major issue for them, and actually, I think they think that the US does actually more than it does.
Jamie Rubin: So let’s talk about a few of the critiques of foreign assistance, the ones that are made by the members of Congress who appropriate these funds. On one side there are those who say that somehow the foreign assistance that UNICEF might provide in a country like Burma, Myanmar, is somehow helping an anti-American government, do you find yourself often confronting this situation?
Carol Bellamy: Well, I think some of these arguments have merit in a sense that there are governments clearly where there are development programs where UNICEF works. We work in over 160 countries around the world. There are some that are governments that are not pro-American by any means. There are some where we know there is corruption. But what I can say from a UNICEF side, and I would say from other UN agencies, is we try and make sure that the money gets to where it should go. If there is an immunization campaign, a measles campaign, tetanus campaign, a polio campaign that the money doesn’t just sit over somewhere, but that the campaign actually takes place. If it’s supposed to go for schoolbooks, or something to support education, or for hand pumps for a water program, we have to identify that. But it goes to places that are not always the nicest, friendliest, cuddliest governments, I admit that right from the beginning.
Jamie Rubin: So when you’re over there, and you’re overseeing some project with an extremist government who’s responsible for half of the misery in their country, and your programs are operating, how as an American do you feel listening to the views of those governments – without being specific?
Carol Bellamy: Well, this probably sounds a little soppy, but it seems to me the people shouldn’t be penalized twice. First of all, they have a bad government, and then they’re penalized because they have a bad government because then nobody will try and provide any kind of assistance. Long ago when I was a Peace Corps volunteer, we had this big debate — do you create the revolution first so they can change the government, or do you try to make sure people eat first? Well, I always came down on the side of let’s try and make sure that people eat first, then maybe they’ll be healthy enough to create the revolution. I think our responsibility is to try and make sure the money is used for what it is aimed for, but I really think that penalizing people in countries for bad government is something that’s not in the interest of anybody.
Jamie Rubin: Another argument is that by giving assistance in situations like this, you’re locking in a corrupt and evil government’s permanent situation. That without the upheaval that comes with hunger and strife, they’re never going to change it, so that you’re locking in these corrupt governments.
Carol Bellamy: Well, actually, that one I would take on, because I actually believe that, and again I’m looking at our mandate. We work with kids. If kids get a basic education, that doesn’t mean every kid will be wonderful. It’s like every place else in the world, but if kids get a basic education, they will be better able to make choices about their lives. If they’re better able to make choices about their lives, then some of them will make choices to try and make improvements in their countries. If those children die before the age of five, if they continue to be malnourished, and stunted, if they’re not able to get an education, then you will create a population that will never really have the energy to challenge. That doesn’t mean every kid that grows up will be a wonderful leader in a great democratic society, but unless they get the education, unless they’re healthy enough to be able to get that education, then there’s no hope that they will be able to make choices about their life in the future.
Jamie Rubin: On the other side, you have those who in the context of sustainable development, the Johannesburg meeting you’re going to, want foreign assistance to meet very high standards of environmental and human rights. Do you ever find yourself frustrated by those who impose those kind of standards on aid that you’re trying to give?
Carol Bellamy: Well, we believe passionately in children’s rights, so we think that you can have a rights agenda that transcends just being a soap box finger waving, and really look at the basic right to health, the right to education. What I think is most important is that any kind of development assistance, try and be as realistic as possible. Achieve your objectives within a reasonable framework. For example, at Johannesburg, we are going to promote, it’s our message, clean water and sanitary facilities at every school. That’s something that is doable. It doesn’t exist right now, but it’s doable. It doesn’t say, make the world perfectly environmentally wonderful in the next five years, because it won’t be perfectly environmentally wonderful. But if you can focus on realistic things, and that’s what I would argue to some of those who approach, I think, with passion, and with idealism, but with sometimes an unrealistic agenda.
Jamie Rubin: So let’s talk about clean water dams. The great dam projects get a lot of negative publicity. You judge how many children have access to clean water around the world, do you believe that some of these large dams actually, are the dams that provide that clean water, and that people need to understand that?
Carol Bellamy: Well, they may, it’s harder for me to judge that. I actually think sometimes a well in a village will do more good, because it’s closer to where people are. I think you have to do some balancing. I think sometimes we get into a situation where those who are promoting the dam only see the good, and those that are against the dam only see the bad. Perhaps I’m a compromiser. I think you’ve got to look for how you reduce the environmental impact if you’re going to have a large project that would, let’s say take land because it’s a dam, but at the same time, recognize that there are some benefits that come from it.
Jamie Rubin: Again, as an American, I’m sure you get a lot of questions about American positions. The current one, you’re probably going to get in Johannesburg, is why hasn’t the United States ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. What do you say when people ask you that?
Carol Bellamy: Well, people are absolutely shocked, the average person here in the United States, when they find out that the only two countries in the world that haven’t ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child are Somalia and the United States. Now, obviously if one thinks about the world, and there are some pretty bad places in the world, it doesn’t mean that even a country that’s ratified the treaty is a great promoter of children’s rights. But to think that the US hasn’t done it is really quite shocking. My response is several. One, the US, as I think most Americans if they read the paper know, is very suspicious of any kind of international treaty. The idea is that some extraterrestrial body, in other words, the UN, will intervene and will conflict with state’s rights, or national decisions at the US level. That’s quite apart from the particular issue of children’s rights. It’s just, generally, if we agree to an international treaty, does that mean the UN will tell us what our business is.
Jamie Rubin: Let’s stay on that for a second. You’ve been a local politician, and now you work for the UN, do you think there’s any credence to these fears?
Carol Bellamy: Well, I don’t, and I’m also a lawyer, but it’s been a long time.
Jamie Rubin: And a lawyer!
Carol Bellamy: So I don’t make the legal argument. At least in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, I say, look, the convention has been around ten years, a number of the countries have ratified this for eight to ten years, so let’s take a look, is that happening out there, and look at some of the countries in the North. Let’s look at Germany. Let’s look at Canada. Germany is a federation, has very strong states, not unlike the US, it’s a little different but not unlike the US. Canada has very strong provinces, perhaps as strong as their national government. There’s no indication in either of these countries of the UN coming in and telling some province in Canada what they should do, or some state in Germany what they should do. So, take into account the legal argument, but let’s take a look at what the real experience is. There’s no indication, no experience whatsoever of the UN intervening in the internal matters of an individual state.
Jamie Rubin: But, in terms of the downside of the US not signing this treaty, you don’t think that signing it would make it more likely that American children would be better treated, do you?
Carol Bellamy: Well, no I don’t. But I think it is wrong to assume that because it’s the United States, and such a powerful and strong, and actually wealthy country, that everything is perfect here. There are challenges for children in the US. They may be different challenges, it may not be survival up to the age of five, but certainly the challenges of children in terms of violence against kids, kids dropping out of school, you can find child labor..
Jamie Rubin: But we have domestic laws for that, don’t we?
Carol Bellamy: Indeed, we do, but what the convention allows around the world is it really challenges countries to try to do their own domestic work.
Jamie Rubin: So it’s more the message it sends by not signing?
Carol Bellamy: Well, it’s the message but it also talks about every child, and even in this country we know that minority kids in communities, very often will be less able to take advantage of certain opportunities than non-minority kids. I don’t want to make an entire broadbrush�
Jamie Rubin: But is that going to be effected if there’s a treaty that we’ve signed? Will it be more likely that in that local district with all of the problems that have caused this problem, that this international treaty is going to change things in the United States?
Carol Bellamy: It adds additional encouragement. It adds an additional weapon, if you will, in the arsenal of advocacy to the national government. No, I don’t think that the Convention on the Rights of the Child will make the sun shine brighter in the United States tomorrow, but it is another opportunity for those advocates for really greater equity among children, in this country, as in other countries, to use.
Jamie Rubin: And where would it make a difference? Explain why you think if the United States signed this convention, or ratified it rather, that it would help our advocacy for children in other countries or would it just remove something from the list?
Carol Bellamy: Well, because it’s gone on so long, and the US has not ratified it. I think it is interesting to note that while, and you know this well too, the rest of the world looks at what the US does, even if the US is kind of going on its own it’s very much guided by the US. So I’m at least pleased to report that it doesn’t seem to have taken the air out of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in other countries in the world.
Jamie Rubin: The Johannesburg summit deals with environmental impact on children. Tell us a little bit about how UNICEF helps deal with these environmental issues.
Carol Bellamy: Well, if you think about it children are just that. They’re still developing, they’re still growing, and so they are very much a reflection of what the environment is like. Their bodies are still developing, their immune systems are not fully developed, and so if you are confronting significant environmental challenges, and that can be everything from lack of access to clean water or decent sanitation, air pollution, in richer countries lead paint, it gets reflected very much in children, not only, but certainly it’s reflected there. So, for us, environmental issues, whether we categorize them as simply environmental or health issues or more broadly, they’re very key issues. I think what Rio showed us was the connection of environment to human development, not just whether you have a good ocean, or flying birds, all of which are important, but that it’s totally related to human beings.
Jamie Rubin: When you set a goal about clean water, or safe sanitation for children in schools, how do you go about implementing such a goal? What will you, as the head of UNICEF do, to make sure that happens?
Carol Bellamy: Well, I’ll give you an example actually. A couple years before the Rio summit in 1992, in 1990 there was the World Summit for Children. Among others, it was a goal to say, of the three million people who die every year from diarrhea related effects, and diarrhea basically comes from bad water, you get diarrhea and get dehydrated and die, the goal was to reduce that by a half. And so, countries supposedly left from that meeting, that wasn’t the only goal, there were 27 goals, but that was one of them. How do you monitor? Well in the case of UNICEF, at least when it comes to children, we have over the last decade, working with governments, working with others, every year in conjunction with the government and others, we take a look at what the data shows in a particular country, are they achieving their goals, are they not.
Jamie Rubin: So a kind of name and shame report?
Carol Bellamy: Well, yes, it’s partly name and shame, it’s more peer pressure. It’s to say that okay, you say you’re poor, and you can’t do very much, but here’s another poor country that has done better. So it isn’t ranking in saying this country’s better than that, it’s where all of the countries are. So in fact one of the successes actually over the last ten years is that 50% reduction of diarrhea-related diseases was achieved over the ten years. On the other hand, it’s estimated that there is still over a billion people in the world who don’t have access to clean, potable, drinkable water, and almost three billion, that’s almost half of the public that exists in the world, that have bad sanitation. So, so some goals have been achieved, but others have not.
Jamie Rubin: Let’s talk a little bit about disease. Some experts in this area have suggested that if the United States were to increase the size of its budget and other industrialized countries as well, that one really could eradicate many of the diseases that still affect the developing world. UNICEF is in the vaccination business, when you look out there, do you believe that with more money we really could save millions of people’s lives?
Carol Bellamy: Well, I think money is part of it. But it isn’t only money. I think sometimes people think, well if you just throw huge amounts of money. Quite frankly, the world is on the brink of eradicating another disease, one has been eradicated, small pox, the next one’s going to be polio. And this makes an argument for investing money, because it’s made a difference. Ten years ago in 1990, or actually about 11 years ago, there were about 120 countries where polio still existed. By 1999, there were 33 countries, by the year 2000 there were 20 countries, by the year 2001, there were about 15 countries. Each year, because of massive polio immunization campaigns, the numbers have gone down, and polio is likely over the next couple years, to be eliminated. Now, it is clearly costs money. But it isn’t billions and billions and billions of dollars. And in fact, every year, the US and Western Europe have to spend close to a half a billion US dollars just to keep their population immunized, because they want to keep it clean while the rest of the work is going on. So sometimes the investing of the money, if it achieves its goal�
Jamie Rubin: So in the long term we could save money?
Carol Bellamy: It will allow you to save money. Now that doesn’t happen in all cases, so yes, more money is needed, but it’s targeting the use of that money to try and achieve specific kinds of goals.
Jamie Rubin: So what would be some of these diseases that would be next on our list after polio?
Carol Bellamy: Well, there clearly are things that are vaccine preventable. I mean, there are still eleven million children dying every year from totally preventable causes. That might be measles, that might be again, still diarrhea, a million and a half kids still die from diarrhea, even though that goal was reached, it may be other kinds of things that can at least improve the situation. For example, there is factual evidence that if a girl gets a basic education, that’s basically five to nine years, we’re not talking about university, when she grows to be an adult, she will be more healthy and there is a direct correlation between the fact that her children are less likely to die before the age of five. So investing so that girls and boys both get an education is something we know works. It requires the investment, but again I would argue, yes, more money is needed, but it really has to be targeted to the investments that work.
Jamie Rubin: Let’s talk a little bit about enforcement. You have these goals, you put out this name and shame report, but in the end, there is no enforcement of these goals, is there?
Carol Bellamy: In large measure, there isn’t. It really is a matter of leadership, and that’s why I say again, I think we probably have plenty of action plans out there. We have a lot of goals, I don’t think the world needs a whole new book of new objectives and new goals, there are plenty out there for the year 2010, and 2015, what’s needed is leadership, and, certainly starting with government leadership. Now, I would suggest, for example, some possible glimmerings of hope. This coming together of some of the African leaders around the new partnership, the NEPAD as they call it, the jury is still out, but it is actually African leaders taking their own initiative. We see similar kinds of activities coming in sub-regions, for example, some of the Asian countries. So what there really has to be is leadership at the local level, by governments, by the private sector, and others, because you’re never going to get penalties, you really need to have the initiative taken. Secondly, I think it’s very important, and I think that this is something that has happened over the ten years since Rio, the growth of Non-governmental organizations and other civil society organizations. They at least are much more vital today, and in many cases they are starting to put much more pressure and holding government leaders accountable.
Jamie Rubin: And so that, in your view, makes it more likely these goals can be achieved?
Carol Bellamy:More likely, but there’s no guarantee. You’re not brought before a court, you’re not penalized, you’re not thrown into jail, and I don’t think you should be. I’m not suggesting any of those things. It really is public pressure, but I think there’s greater capacity in the world today to bring that public pressure.
Jamie Rubin: You’ve played a prominent role in the most recent children’s summit here in New York, and one of the issues I gather was the role of children in this process, the children as decision making participants. Tell us about how you see that evolving.
Carol Bellamy: I’m saying what you would obviously expect me to say, but it was extraordinary. I think it even surpassed UNICEF’s expectation. First of all, of the 181 countries I think, or 179 countries that were present, 132 of them had young people, under the age of 18, as actually official delegates. They were different, but it was really wonderful, it actually brought a breath of fresh air into some of these kind of stuffy UN discussions. Secondly, it was really interesting, we saw in the lead up to the special session, and we’ve also seen in the leaving of this meeting much more activity of young people in many of these countries. And then the young people themselves came out with a declaration, took them three days to come up with, it took the UN about a year to come up with theirs. T hey were very clear, they said things like, we are not expenditures, we’re investments. They said politics and war are the games of adults, the children are the losers. I mean, quite clear in their views. I’m not saying every kid is right, I’m not saying everything they say is perfect, but I really think that the energy of young people back in their own countries is another factor that can add on to pushing these agendas forward.
Jamie Rubin: One of the other issues you’ve advocated is the whole issue of guns and urban violence and child soldiers. We saw in the film examples of the security dilemmas for children in Brazil, and in Africa. What role do you really think UNICEF ought to play in this area?
Carol Bellamy: First, I want people to think about war. When people think about war, I think they think about armies and troops and men in uniforms, maybe men and women now in uniforms, but that is not the face of war in the world today. The face of war in the world today is largely civilian, it’s largely wars within a country, not necessarily between countries, there are just limited numbers where it’s between countries. And, it’s massive disruption of communities, people move from their homes, much more availability of small arms, lighter weapons. Modern technology allows you to use plastic and other things that are so light, they still kill, but they’re light so kids can carry them. Very often, these kids are drugged, and so what you’ve seen around the world because of this increasing conflict in which there are no rules, is just this enormous proliferation of weapons, greater violence, greater instability, greater social unrest. We continue to call for – even if it is a war within a country – young people under the age of eighteen should not be called upon to fight, two much more restriction on the proliferation and distribution and sale of light weapons. It’s just really gotten out of hand, and it’s having enormous implications worldwide.
Jamie Rubin: When you look out over the last ten years for the state of the world’s children, how do you see developments?
Carol Bellamy: Well, kids are clearly better off today than they were ten years ago. They are healthier, there are more kids in school, we’re on the brink of eradicating polio. But if you go back ten years and you look at what the expectations were, they’ve fallen far short of what people thought would happen in this ten years. The fact is far less has happened than it should have.
Jamie Rubin: And when you at UNICEF work on the HIV/AIDS, the health issues, what role does UNICEF play in trying to deal with it?
Carol Bellamy: Well, I think it’s important to understand, again if you go back to Rio in 1992, AIDS existed, but I don’t think anybody understood how devastating the impact of HIV/AIDS would be. It’s not only an illness that kills people, it basically eats apart at societies. So in countries, you’re losing more teachers than you’re able to train. You’re losing health workers, you’re losing government workers – so it influences everything that’s going on. For UNICEF, our focus is largely on three areas: One, trying to prevent in the first place the transmission of AIDS from a mother who may be infected to the baby being born. Secondly, we focus-
Jamie Rubin: Through medical services, or through what?
Carol Bellamy:Well, through several things. One, through the mother understanding what her situation is and making choices about whether she will breast feed her child or how she will take care of her child. Or secondly, through- with the distribution of anti-retro virals, which can help reduce the transmission. So that’s number one. But the mother has to know what her status is and in many societies, the systems aren’t there to do that. Two orphans – there’s already, it’s estimated, while this is a global problem, the orphan problem is still largely an Africa problem. Estimated to be 13 million kids already orphaned – the loss of at least the mother if not both parents. They very often become outcasts in their own society. But you’re going to create entire generations of people who will be just acting out all the time. So, to try and support them going to school, having some kind of extended family help. And third, information and understanding by young people because half of all new cases are young people under the age of about 20, 21, 22. So if they can understand and change their behavior and young people, as compared with old folks like me, are willing generally to change behavior. So unless AIDS is taken on, and we’re just part of a large army trying to take it on, then we’re not going to see any improvements over the 21st century.
Jamie Rubin: What about in education over the last ten years? Have you seen more or less progress than people might have hoped?
Carol Bellamy: Well, it’s interesting. There are more kids in school today than at any time before, but the population growth has kept up with education. One of the disappointing areas is the gender gap, which means that there are still more girls who aren’t going to school than boys has only closed slightly. So, that of about the 120 million children of primary school age, 60% are girls. And we know what they’re doing. I mean, those are the kids in child labor. Those are the kids who are being exploited. Those are the kids who are child soldiers. So many of the problems that the world has to confront, in some ways a more costly way of investing could at least, initially be better confronted if somehow we could assure that they were going to school.
Jamie Rubin: Carol Bellamy, thank you for joining me.
Carol Bellamy: Thank you.