Debt: Killer of Third World Children

UN Chronicle, September 1989 | Go to article overview

Debt: Killer of Third World Children


Debt: Killer of third world children

Children are paying the third world debt with their lives: that is the alarming news carried in the hard-hitting 1989 "State of the World's Children", issued, symbolically, for the first time in a third world capital--New Delhi, India.

More than war, flood or famine, the ravages of poverty have caused at least half a million children to die over the last 12 months, as families in developing countries slide back into poverty as a result of these nations' crushing external debt.

Two thirds of these deaths have been in Africa, the rest in Latin America, where higher average incomes mask "the grossest inequalities of any continent", UNICEF reports.

Average incomes have fallen by 10 to 25 per cent throughout Africa and Latin America, the report states. Child malnutrition is rising, while the proportion of 6 to 11-year-olds in school is falling.

The huge debt choking the developing world has forced cutbacks in crucial social programmes. Health budgets in the poorest 37 nations have been cut by as much as 50 per cent, education budgets by 25 per cent.

Despite spectacular advances in immunizations worldwide and in the battle against diarrhoeal disease, the 1980s may be remembered as "a decade of despair". And if the momentum in the UNICEF Child Survival and Development Revolution is not maintained, 18 million children under the age of 5 are expected to die each year by the year 2000.

A new Marshall Plan

A new "Marshall Plan"--the post-Second World War programme that helped rebuild a war-ravaged Europe--is needed, UNICEF states, as it calls for a new approach to development that unequivocally puts the poor first.

The Fund recommends a 30 per cent debt relief for developing countries, open trade and increased foreign aid--"real aid" earmarked for the poor. …

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