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1999 | 55th Regular Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights (22 March - 30 April 1999)

Economic policies of international financial institutions and children's rights

March 22 – April 28, 1999
Palais des Nations, Geneva

Franciscans International in collaboration with the Dominicans and the Lutheran World Federation would like to draw the attention of the Commission to the connection between economic policies of international financial institutions and the full realization and protection of children’s rights.

International foreign debt payments are a serious obstacle to human development, forcing the world’s most impoverished countries to use scarce resources to pay their debt rather than invest in the well being of their children. International debt is a complex policy issue that carries with it profound moral challenges.

Heavily indebted poor countries have higher rates of infant mortality, disease, illiteracy, and malnutrition than other countries in the developing world, according to the UN Development Program (UNDP). Six out of seven heavily indebted poor countries in Africa pay more in debt service (i.e. interest) than the total amount of t~ R,, money needed to achieve major progress against malnutrition, preventable disease, illiteracy and child mortality before the year 2000. If governments were free to invest in human development rather than in debt repayments, an estimated three million children would live beyond their fifth birthday and a million cases of malnutrition would be avoided. The UNDP estimates that sub-Saharan Africa governments transfer to Northern creditors four times what they spend on the health of their people. (Human Development Report, 1997).

Ten years ago Zambia had one of the highest primary school attendance rates in Africa. Due to the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP) in place by agreement with the Zambian government and UN agencies (World Bank and IMF) fewer than half the children now attend school. Because families cannot afford the fees for all of their children, girls stay at home, marry earlier, have more children, and are less likely to send their children to school than if they would have received/acquired one or two years of school.

Also, SAP’s can create an environment which values global competition above all else, resulting in lower wages and worsening labour conditions for workers. Frequently profits are maximized by sweatshops. Women and children, the majority of sweatshop workers, are hurt the most by starvation wages, long hours, and unsafe or unsanitary conditions.

The World Bank and IMF’s debt reduction plan the Heavily Indebted Poor Country (HIPQ Initiative is a good idea but it is not enough. It is too difficult for a country to qualify for this program and it provides too little relief, which is often too late.

It is inadmissible that most HIPC governments spend over 20% of their revenues on debt servicing while they are confronted by pressing human needs. Long-term development programs that address education, hunger and public health stabilize families, enhance people’s security and empower them to construct a stronger civil society.

  • We call on interested governments to join Franciscans International, the Dominicans and the Lutheran World Federation in an ongoing conversation with other governments, civil society (NGOs) and international financial institutions about the impact of foreign debt on the implementation of human rights.
  • In the name of the children we appeal specifically to the governments of the G8, at their 1999 meeting in Cologne, to take bold initiatives to alleviate the burdens of foreign debt.
  • We urge that financial policies of the UN mechanisms link debt cancellation to a country’s investment in the primary education of its children.
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