Big Steps for World’s Children


“The State of the World’s Children: 2000,” a new UNICEF report, documents improvement in the quality of children’s lives over the last century. Through humanitarian aid from developed nations, smallpox has been eradicated. Widespread iodine supplements have eliminated a major cause of mental retardation. Most children receive basic education. Millions have been freed from child labor. And in a critical indicator of well-being, the mortality rate for children under 5 is declining in developing nations.

There’s plenty of bad news too. Approximately 540 million children are threatened by armed conflict, and 30,000 under the age of 5 die each day from preventable causes.

All in all, the report is hopeful. As expected, it calls on wealthy nations to give more money to poor nations, but it also shows how humanitarian policies like debt forgiveness are in everyone’s best interest.


In September, President Clinton promised that Washington would forgive the debts of three dozen poor countries, but so far Congress has appropriated only $33 million of the $370 million that the president wants to spend on debt relief in 2000. Many legislators base their opposition on the fact that some proposed recipients are not ideal democracies. But progress for children should come first.

The UNICEF report points out, for instance, that Uganda has a quasi-dictatorship but that it also has well-conceived plans to use debt-relief money for primary schooling--a huge factor in continued economic progress.

The state of the world’s children is, in the end, more likely to be improved by self-interest than moralizing.