For the past 20 years, economic, social and cultural progress in Latin America and the Caribbean has had a positive impact on children’s well-being, creating better institutional conditions and making it possible for children and adolescents to enjoy their rights.
The region reduced mortality among children under 5 by 67 per cent during this period, and 94 per cent of children are now registered at birth. In all the region’s countries, more boys and girls are attending school today than 10 years ago.
Still, 3.6 million children of primary school age do not attend school; they have not been given the opportunity to do so.
The many challenges that remain, and the many tasks still undone, motivate us to continue working tirelessly to create more just, inclusive and dignified societies. Here, in the world’s most unequal region, childhood is in danger. We must change.
We must forge a committed, broad and democratic social movement to overcome inequality.
We must understand that inequality is not inevitable, just as it is not inevitable that 7 out of 10 children with disabilities in Latin America and the Caribbean will not attend school.
We must work together to get at the roots of the diverse manifestations of inequality.
We must act, together – and starting from a child’s earliest years – to prevent inequality from destroying the right to a dignified life and perpetuating disparities.
Overcoming inequality demands that we all become trailblazers of change. It is the duty of States, the responsibility of the private sector, and an increasingly urgent aspiration of societies as a whole. Children and adolescents have the right to have their voices heard and their wishes taken into account.
We all, without exception, deserve to live in a world that can overcome inequality.
We must take the first step, and join together to eradicate child poverty without delay or excuses. We must embark on this task honestly, creatively and with a sense of solidarity.
We must take the first step in the most unequal region of the world, where 70 million children and adolescents, out of 195 million, currently live in poverty – 28.3 million in extreme poverty.
We must take the first step because the brutality of poverty marks the faces of almost half of our region’s children and adolescents. Hardest hit are indigenous and Afro-descendant children, migrants, children with disabilities, those affected by natural disasters and climate change, those living in rural areas or violent peri-urban environments, those born into poor households – and those who, simply because they are children, are exposed to the many forms of exclusion, violence or discrimination.
This is ethically unacceptable, and it should be politically, economically, culturally and socially unacceptable as well. It is a blatant violation of the human rights of thousands of children and adolescents in our region, where all Member States have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We have, thereby, assumed the sovereign responsibility to ensure that – progressively, universally and without discrimination, or excuses – the rights of all children are honored, fulfilled, protected and guaranteed.
At UNICEF, as we celebrate our first 70 years and work to advance the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, we call for action – to overcome inequality by eradicating child poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean.
We can and must achieve this goal.
To do so, we must change, innovate, work together and, above all, act.
We need to move beyond fragmented, sector-specific attitudes, and take concerted and efficient action. We need to design and implement universal and inclusive policies, and create or strengthen comprehensive social protection systems, so that no boy or girl is left behind.
Governments need to invest more in childhood. We will not be able to end child poverty if public investment in children remains on average 5 per cent of GDP, as is the case today.
Action cannot be limited to governments. Society as a whole must take part in a dynamic, vibrant movement that recognizes that children’s rights are indeed a priority – not because the Convention requires it, but because our children deserve it.
A more equal Latin America and the Caribbean, where no child or adolescent lives in poverty, will spare us the shame of having the highest infanticide rate on the planet, currently 25,000 every year.
At UNICEF, we are convinced that a more equal region, free from child poverty, is indeed possible.
We call upon everyone to envision a transformed Latin America and the Caribbean – and work to make it a reality. When we look back from the year 2030, let us have achieved:
- improved living conditions for the 34 million people who in 2016 used unimproved drinking water sources,
- adequate sanitation services for the 106 million who lacked access,
- education for the 14 million children and adolescents previously excluded from the educational system,
- an end to the chronic malnutrition that affected 6 million children, and
- an end to the sexual violence that 1.1 million adolescent girls between the ages of 15 and 19 suffered.
UNICEF dreams of a more equal Latin America and the Caribbean, where no child lives in poverty – and we strive to make a dignified, free and non-violent life a reality for every child in the region.
For the work we have done together these 70 years, thank you!
For what remains to be done, we are here!
Maria Cristina Perceval is the UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean.