Header image for news printout

UNICEF Global Forum for Children and Youth (CY21)
Spotlight session: Caring for Families, Caring for Economies


Video Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

7-9 December 2021

It is a pleasure to join this Forum.

Children have the right to a standard of living adequate for their physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. Making sure that every child has the best possible start in life and the means to develop their potential is a matter of justice.

As such, it should be a top priority for every society. It also our commitment under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, by protecting and including all children, especially those at greatest risk of being left behind, we can break intergenerational cycles of suffering.

Beyond that, investing in children's early development makes sense on a very practical level. It is an effective strategy to expand economic opportunities and advance peace, stability and sustainable development.

Rigorous studies have repeatedly demonstrated that stimulation, loving care and adequate nutrition in the early years of a child's life impact their lifelong growth and potential.

Tragically, the COVID-19 pandemic is reversing decades of progress in children's rights. When the crisis completed one year, an estimated 142 million additional children in developing countries were living below the poverty line. About 43% of children under 5 years of age in low and middle-income countries – as many as around 250 million children – may not achieve their potential because of poverty, poor health and nutrition.

We now stand at a critical moment. The policy decisions and investments made today will define how we recover from COVID-19.

To recover into more just, resilient and sustainable societies, we need to protect and advance the rights of children – especially during their formative years when it counts the most.

The pandemic has also thrown into stark relief the importance of family friendly policies. For many people, and especially women, the crisis has meant making a difficult choice between providing care and earning a living. No parents or caregivers should have to make that choice. Supporting them to strike the balance between work and family life is essential to children's wellbeing and development, and helps families and communities build resilience in times of crisis.

Family-friendly policies include parental leave, breastfeeding support, affordable, accessible quality childcare, child benefits and adequate wages. These measures, as well as overall social protection, are well-evidenced investments to reduce child poverty, address gender inequality, and increase access to food and school attendance.

Businesses large and small have a crucial role. Companies that commit to decent work and family-friendly policies for workers across their operations and supply chains can help to lift millions out of poverty.

Governments need to invest in quality early childhood development programmes to help support parents and caregivers to provide the nurturing care their young children need. These provisions can ensure time, resources and services for families – which are in turn good for children, good for women, and good for economies.

With that in mind, is it fundamental to invest in early development for children in situations of vulnerability. That is the only way to break down cycles of exclusion that otherwise will continue to repeat from one generation to the next.

When I was President of Chile we launched Chile Crece Contigo – "Chile Grows with You" – a social policy initiative to provide full support for all children in the country, from the moment they are born. Through this initiative, children from the poorest families could attend child-care centres and pre-schools for free. Health-care services were also available to children and their mothers and families.

As Head of State, and a Pediatrician, it was, to me, a personal priority to ensure that every child in Chile had access to primary health-care and a supportive and inspiring educational environment. To that effect, it also a priority to ensure that all families in my country could obtain the tools they needed to better support the development of our future generations.

We know that in practice, even the most compelling policy arguments can be challenging to implement. But this is no excuse.

My recommendation to world leaders and everyone in this Forum is to make early childhood the top priority that it should be. By fulfilling children's rights and answering their present needs, we can build a better future.

Thank you