Norway, development and marginalized children

SOS-barnebyer Norges 50-årsjubileum, 28. august 2014

- Your commitment to ensuring that children grow up in families with love, respect and security is much needed. We all know, too well, the many challenges we face in our world today: poverty, conflicts and humanitarian crisis, sa statssekretær Hans Brattskar i sitt innlegg ved markeringen av SOS-barnebyers 50-årsjubileum.

Sjekkes mot fremføring

President Siddhartha Kaul, Secretary-General Svein Grønnern, dear participants, friends and colleagues. First of all: Thank you for inviting me to your 50th anniversary celebration.

Your commitment to ensuring that children grow up in families with love, respect and security is much needed. We all know, too well, the many challenges we face in our world today: poverty, conflicts and humanitarian crisis. You take these challenges, on behalf of our children, head-on. And your popular support in Norway is nothing short of impressive. For half a century you have contributed to raising people’s awareness and commitment to children’s rights and development.

You work on issues that are close to the heart of our Government: Children’s right to education. Children’s right to health. Protection of children in armed conflicts and crises. And at the macro level – supporting efforts to put in place policies and practises - to protect and care for vulnerable children. Especially girls, and children with disabilities.

Significant progress has been made in several of these areas. Child mortality rates have gone down. Access to education has improved. Legal frameworks have been strengthened. Improved knowledge has resulted in better responses. This is encouraging. We take some credit for the positive changes. But, we are far from where we want to be. And that is why our Government is ambitious and forward-leaning. We will fight for a better future for our children. 

Violation of children's rights
Children all over the world continue to be victims of abuse. It is, of course, absolutely unacceptable. Children continue to experience serious violations of their rights. We as adults have the responsibility to change this state of affairs. It is the duty of every single state, to promote and protect children’s rights. Norway will continue the work to fulfil our commitments under The Convention on the Rights of the Child, as we mark the 25th anniversary of the Convention. And we will encourage and urge others to do the same.

This is first and foremost a moral imperative. But it is also sound economic policy. I wonder if you have any idea what it costs the Norwegian society - when one marginalized child drops out of school; when one individual ends up outside the structures, drops out of the “system”? Estimates indicate that the cost - of one drop-out - is close to 2 million dollars. Failing to implement child rights from early childhood, not investing in children, carries a high price for any society. Therefore - children’s rights are closely linked to the global challenges of sustainable growth and poverty eradication.

14 years ago, when the UN Millennium Development Goals were adopted, there were many sceptics. They claimed that it was unrealistic to half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. But the target has already been met! The percentage has been reduced from 47 to 22 since 1990, despite the fact that the world population has increased by 1.7 billion during the same period.

Now we are in the process of negotiating a new set of goals and targets. The first objective of the new Sustainable Development Goals should be “to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030”. In practice this implies - that the children and youth must have a prominent place on the post-2015 development agenda.

Education for all and global health are two of our Government’s priorities.  First - education. Because we are doing something new and exciting in education: Scaling up our political and financial support - becoming a world leader in this field. Lending our professional expertise and political commitment to the cause. Working with other countries, with civil society, the private sector and multilateral organizations. We want to do what we can in order to see education on the top of everyone’s agenda in the years to come. We have an important job to do.

The world has come a long way since the Millennium Development Goals were adopted. An additional 40 million children and 50 million teenagers are attending school. But the development goals promised to deliver primary education to all. We are not yet there. 58 million children lack access to primary education. And 250 out of 650 million children who do attend school, do not learn to read and write. We have to focus on quantity and quality at the same time. Children should not only have the right to attend school, but also have the right to actually learn something while in school.

Many action points
In the government’s recent White Paper on Education for Development a number of action points have been identified, many focusing in particular on marginalised groups. The poorest. Girls. Persons with disabilities. But one of the focus areas that I am particularly proud of, is “education in emergencies”.

The UN Special Representative on Violence against Children recently reminded us that, for countless children, life is defined by one word: fear. International Humanitarian Law is being violated on a daily basis in a number of armed conflicts – and children are hardest hit. 

Sadly, Syria has become a case in point. For far too long, we have witnessed serious violations of the rights of children in Syria. The UN reports that close to 9000 children have died. Around one and a half million children have fled the country. More than five million have been internally displaced. These numbers are so horrific that they are difficult to comprehend.
In conflict affected countries around the world, a total of 28.5 million children in primary school age are not attending school: 12.6 million in sub-Saharan Africa; 5.3 million in South and West Asia; 4 million in Arab countries. Armed conflict destroys education opportunities for millions of children and young people. In some fragile states, there is a real risk of “lost generations”.
Regrettably, many of the on-going humanitarian crisis in the world are unlikely to end anytime soon. They are complex and long lasting. But we cannot afford to lose generations to conflict. Without education there is no development. And without development, - peace and reconciliation are harder to achieve. Education is an imperative, for all sorts of reasons. But it is also a right for the individual child.  As Malala Yousafzi puts it: “Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human”.

We will do our utmost to ensure that schools – in the midst of conflict and crisis - are safe. Norway is actively involved in the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery. We have taken the lead in the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. And recently we allocated NOK 10 million to the UNICEF "Safe Schools Initiative” in Nigeria, aimed at the three states in the North-East, particularly hard hit by Boko Haram and their horrific attacks on schools, teachers and students.

Education is often far down the list of priorities in humanitarian crises. Food, water and health are immediate life-saving measures. Education is regarded as a more long-term need. But education is also vital for life-saving. It contributes to knowledge and protection. It provides the gateway to other life-saving measures. We must do more to build bridges between humanitarian assistance and long-term development aid.

Norway's support
Only six countries in the world highlight education as part of their humanitarian policy. I am proud to say that Norway is amongst these six countries. We want others to follow suit. We are going to step up our support through multilateral channels. We will partner with Norwegian and international humanitarian organizations, and initiatives such as the International Network for Education in Emergencies. Our goal is that one million more children get access to quality education in crisis and conflict situations.

Now, another area where Norway plays a significant role: global health. We will develop our engagement further, with a strong focus on equity. All children should have access to vaccines. We will provide medicines to treat HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. This year we have increased our support to polio eradication by 140 million NOK. (About 23 mill. USD)

And significant progress has been made in many areas! Child mortality has decreased from 12,6 million in 1990 to 6,55 million in 2012. We are close to ridding the world of mother to child-transmission of HIV.

A great challenge now is to reach the most marginalized children. Our main partners, such as GAVI, are increasingly focusing on equity in order to reach every child.

We want to build on synergies between the health and education sectors. We want to target young girls, who are amongst the most vulnerable groups in society. And they are often disadvantaged in relation to both education and health. Keeping girls in school not only empowers girls and gives them opportunities. It also provides some protection from early marriages, early pregnancies and sexual exploitation.

I have used my time here with you, listing not one – but several - tall orders. I am proud of what we do. But we certainly cannot solve every problem alone. We recognize that we need to cooperate closely with other countries, with civil society, private sector and multilateral organizations. There are enough challenges for each and every one of us. You have been faithful to this agenda for 50 years, and we trust you to keep up your good work! I am inspired by what you do, and I promise that we will do our part.

Thank you - and once again: congratulations!