UN-abashed admiration

11 Dec

This weekend, the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard hosted a conference to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  To kick things off, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake (below) presented a plenary session entitled “The Social and Political Costs of Inaction on Adolescence.”  Looking back on the CRC, which is the most widely and quickly ratified UN treaty (The U.S. is one of only three countries that has yet to sign on), they highlighted the importance of considering children and adolescents in policymaking decisions.

Anthony Lake

Now, given what a sucker I am for the UN, it should come as no surprise that I was nearly enraptured by Lake’s remarks.  I was energized by his pragmatic idealism, and the fact that he remains optimistic even after a long career in International Relations.  His animated engagement defied the room’s stuffy walnut paneling, and he poked fun at the very institution hosting him by calling a Proust quote “the Harvard part” of his speech.

In the interest of blog-conditioned attention spans, I’ll briefly summarize Lake’s two main points.

1) Equity can be cost-effective.  As we work toward goals like reducing childhood mortality, it makes both economic and moral sense to move beyond the easy victories.  For instance, every $1 million spent on children’s health campaigns can be up to 60% or effective in resource-poor settings than in the most developed countries.

2) Investment in social sectors is essential.  In the developing world, an extra year of primary schooling can translate into 10-20% more income for an individual.  A special focus should be put on educating girls, who invest an average of 3X more of their income in their families than boys.  More evidence that social services are vital: countries with strong social safety net programs are weathering the economic crises relatively better than those without.

In the CRC’s 21 years much progress has been made. Looking back, the global community should be proud of these accomplishments.  And looking forward, it should use them to inform the many efforts that still need to be made.

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