Are UNICEF and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) on target for providing a better future for children?
Assuming the post of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) sixth Executive Director on 1 May 2010, Mr. Anthony Lake ‘reassuringly’ pledged on his first day in office to help the world’s children “inherit a better tomorrow”. Words however are always easier than actions, promises easier than proceedings, and one cannot help but wonder, somewhat dubiously, exactly how Mr. Lake and UNICEF intend to accomplish such an audacious but imperative pledge. Being an avid supporter of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), which were conceived in 2000 to slash a swarm of social ills by the years 2015, in which giving the world’s most vulnerable children a better chance for the future is at the core, reaffirms my doubts to whether, as we shoot towards the year 2015, goals regarding social ills, particularly with regards to impoverished and destitute children, will actually be accomplished.
Mr. Anthony Lake is no stranger to UNICEF, as he served on the board for the US fund for the organization for nine years. Prior to his role within UNICEF, Mr. Lake, a Harvard graduate, had a long and distinguished career with the US government, including serving as national security advisor to President Bill Clinton. Throughout his career, Mr. Lake has always maintained a commitment to achieving worldwide peace and security, which is according to UNICEF’s new executive director, is “the foundation of a world fit for children”. This dedication to eradicating poverty and suffering and enhancing development has meant Mr. Lake has continued to work with non-governmental organizations for more than forty years. Due to this broad experience and intense loyalty to improve the lives of the vulnerable, it is little wonder that Mr. Lake, at the not so ripe age of 70, has been appointed as UNICEF’s new Executive Director.
Talking about UNICEF’s commitment to achieving the MDG’s, Mr. Lake recognized the urgency and need for universal collaboration if the objectives are to be met by 2015. “We’ve got a lot of urgent work ahead, leading up to, and beyond, the 2015 MDG targets we’ve set for ourselves. And I believe we can do it – with political commitment, sound strategies, adequate investment and the engagement of a global community” said Mr. Lake.
Although Mr. Lake’s statement is positive and upbeat with activist intentions, there are some underlying drawbacks within his words. Whilst achieving the MDG’s aims to “improve maternal and child health, increase gender parity in education, and eradicate hunger”, is a desire of politicians and governments worldwide, gaining global ‘political commitment’ and an ‘engagement of the global community’ to such agendas is a less attainable task. One analysis of the MDG’s is that they were set at a “global level” and they need to be adopted and adapted for local relevance in order to become meaningful. According to the UN Chronicle, goals should not be a “one-size-fits-all” “cookie-clutter solution”, but instead should be more localized and adapted to each countries unique circumstances. There is no blueprint for development and deterring social ills need to be representative of countries individual requirements and preferences, and perhaps governments at a local level need to have a greater input if social ills are to be improved. This thesis can be placed onto UNICEF’s and Mr. Lake’s pledge to help the world’s children “inherit a better tomorrow”. Sounds great on paper, but in reality instead of UNICEF’s and the MDG’s promises to such universal assurances and working within a global level, they need to focus and assert different strategies and policies to each individual nation, and even the different communities within each nation, where children are needing aid and assistance to attain a “better tomorrow”.
Furthering this critique, is the notion that the UN MDG’s are too reductionist. According to Lawrence Haddad, the Director of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, and President of the UK and Ireland’s Development Association, MDG’s need to be replaced by “redistributive institutions and structures that specify the kind of global society we wish to live in”. Again this view can be consigned to combating child poverty as universal strategies mapped out by UNICEF and the MDG’s that determine how children can inherit a more stable and better future, are an arguably reductionist approach and should be replaced by more self-regulating structures, whereby communities decide for themselves how to give their children more fruitful and productive futures.
Deepening the pessimism of the dubious likelihood of the MDG’s achieving their 2015 deadline, an exploit which collaborates with UNICEF’s mandate in securing a better future for the children of the world, is the fact that Mr. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary-General, has called on world leaders to attend a summit in September 2010 to advance efforts to accomplish the MDG’s. Admitting they only had “six years left”, Mr. Ki-moon has called the summit to “redouble our efforts to meet the Goals”. Pessimists could regard the forthcoming meeting as panic that the swiftly advancing deadline will not be met.
Helping children secure more stable futures is intrinsically connected with gender equality and women’s rights, as well as being the most renowned child rights organization in the world, UNICEF has increasingly become focused on gender parity, a feat which could arguably be suggested as being inevitable. UNICEF’s mandate in decreasing maternal and infant mortality by improving health services, and providing greater access to education has been criticized for being too “female focused”. Particularly discernible is UNICEF’s ‘Go Girls’ program, in which the ultimate goal is to encourage more girls into schools in 25 priority countries. Once criticism of UNICEF’s dedication to ‘gender equality’, is that whilst girls and boys do have their ‘unique problems’, UNICEF provides no equivalent ‘Go Boys’ program devoted to the ‘unique’ needs of vulnerable boys. The UN’s proposal for “a more robust promotion of women’s rights”, by merging the UN Development Fund for Women, the Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues, the Division for the Advancement for Women and the Training Institute for the Advancement of Women, could be said to be influencing UNICEF’s arguably unfair devotion to girls and failure to address or offer a single program to combat ‘boy related’ problems.
According to the new Executive Director of UNICEF, peace and security are the “foundation for a world fit for children”, and “real peace cannot be found on a piece of diplomatic paper”. If Mr. Lake’s ‘words of wisdom’ and the UN MDG’s are to be converted from paper and projected and sustained onto the lives of children, in the words of Mr. Ban Ki-moon, “we can and must do more.”
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