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The world's broken promise to our children

Page 2 of 2 -- The answers do not come easily. But we can start by refusing to be outraged by one affront against children while ignoring others. If we decry the hostage-taking of children, we also must refuse to allow millions of children to wither away from diarrhea caused by a lack of clean water. If we are outraged when children are kidnapped by paramilitary groups, we must be more enraged that thousands of infants and young children are dying from AIDS because their families are too poor to afford medicine.

After 10 years with UNICEF it is clear to me that the world's sporadic outrage over the most grotesque violations of children -- targeting them in war, chasing them down to become slaves or soldiers -- reflects a broader acquiescence to a status quo that essentially says that, while awful, the daily and routine suffering of children is intrinsic to the human condition.

I don't believe that. The business of human and economic development goes on every day, with tens of billions of dollars at stake. These dollars can be invested in ways that help preserve and protect children's lives and well-being, or not. The power to ensure that childhood is the central priority of our investment is well within our command.

If children are going to survive and thrive, then we must we put them at the center of development policy and social spending decisions. When we adopt policies in any sphere of public or private enterprise, we should be asking ourselves how they will affect children.

We must work for greater investment in the services that mean the most to children, and ensure that national budgets are analyzed and monitored from the perspective of their impact on children. And when we do so, it should be with a full commitment to fulfilling the basic rights of every child, not just a statistical critical mass.

Only this kind of commitment will send the resounding message that no violation will go unpunished -- be it a violation against every child's right to survive, to be protected from exploitation, or to grow to adulthood in health and dignity. For 2.2 billion young human lives, childhood is unfolding now.

How it unfolds will be our shared legacy.

Carol Bellamy is executive director of UNICEF. 

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