A State of Emergency for Children

Since the end of the 1970s, and in particular during the Year of the Child in 1979, the (ATD) Fourth World Movement has developed links with UNICEF. A very strong relationship was forged between the Executive Director of UNICEF, James Grant, and Father Joseph Wresinski. For the latter, it was essential that UNICEF’s mandate be extended to all the children of the world, in the North as well as in the South, and that a special effort be made to reach out to the poorest children and not leave them by the wayside. Against this background he enthusiastically welcomed the creation by UNICEF, in 1987, of a Grand Alliance for Children, as described in the UNICEF Director’s report E/ICEF/1988/2 (Part II) to the United Nations General Assembly: “This Grand Alliance was born out of the broad movement of solidarity that took place during the year commemorating the fortieth anniversary of UNICEF. In developing this ‘Grand Alliance’, UNICEF has focused on strengthening links with policy makers and thinkers, deepening dialogue with parliamentarians, cooperating with a growing number of influential NGOs, and assisting the media in addressing issues of concern and priority to children”. In parallel to those established at UNICEF headquarters in New York, links have been developed in several countries, including France, with National Committees for UNICEF. As a result of this partnership (that) Father Joseph Wresinski was invited by the French Committee for UNICEF to speak at the press conference for the release of the State of the World’s Children Report 1988.

I would like to share a few thoughts with you, without distinguishing between families in developing countries and those living in industrialised countries. Indeed, the families in New York or Chicago who take refuge in the streets of their cities, the families who in France are holed up in discarded trucks between a rubbish dump, a motorway and a cemetery, send us the same message as those who cling to the slopes of a hill, to the steep sides of a ravine or to the marshy land on the shores of a bay in developing countries.

All these families are not only repeatedly turned away from decent residential areas. Worse, they do not even find their place in low-cost housing communities, slums or shanty towns. In fact, they are pushed out beyond these zones of poverty, exiled into a life of human misery because of their extreme situation of poverty. This is why no town knows exactly how many of them there are. Worse still, in most cases they appear neither in the local authorities’ registers, nor in national statistics. They have no place in the political leaders’ priorities. In short, they exist for no one. Consequently, with no recognised existence in industrialised and developing countries alike, the children of the poorest families have one thing in common: they are all denied a future.

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