Helping the world’s poorest children requires radical reform
April 22, 2013
By Gordon Brown, Published: April 18
Gordon Brown is the United Nations’ special envoy for global education. He was prime minister of the United Kingdom from 2007 to 2010, after 10 years as chancellor of the exchequer.
The world’s newest and youngest liberation movement will make its presence felt at a summit in Washington this week. The Common Forum for Kalmal Hari Freedom, the Nilphamari Child Marriage Free Zone, the Ugandan Child Protection Club, the Upper Manya Krobo Rights of the Child Club and Indonesia’s Grobogan Child Empowerment Group may not yet be household names outside their own countries, but schoolgirls demanding an end to child labor, child marriage and child trafficking — and inspired by the sacrifice of Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl shot for wanting to go to school — are borrowing the tactics of the U.S. civil rights movement.
Once cowed and silent, these young civil rights leaders in the making have become defiant and assertive, and they are linking up across the world to demand justice for the 32 million girls and 29 million boys still denied places at school.
In a sign that young campaigners will become as significant as the young bloggers of the Arab Spring, they plan to reassemble July 12 in New York, where, on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai will make her first public speech since her lifesaving treatment.
Every year 10 million girls marry between the ages of 11 and 13. Fifteen million children are condemned to working full time in mines and sweatshops, on farms and as domestic labor. No scientific discovery or technological breakthrough is needed to build the 4 million classrooms and employ the 2 million teachers necessary to achieve universal education — just cash. But global education spending — only $3 billion a year at its peak — has been frozen for three years and is being cut.
With progress stalled, young civil rights leaders who represent the world’s most marginalized children are questioning core assumptions that were the basis of our decade-long crusade against poverty. They are asking why the very people the Millennium Development Goals were designed to help most have become those most likely to be left behind. With fewer than 1,000 days left until the goals’ deadline, Adam Wagstaff of the World Bank has shown that, despite commitments to reduce infant and maternal mortality among the poorest, death rates for poor infants and their mothers are falling far slower than among the rest of the population. Even when we have the power to target donor resources directly to the most marginalized — with immunization and antenatal care, for example — the top 60 percent are making more progress than the bottom 40 percent.