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Critical inequalities at the root of 6 million child deaths each year

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19 September 2014 - Each year, 6 million children lose their lives before their fifth birthday. That is the equivalent to the entire population of Nicaragua, Norway or New Zealand, or the estimated number of Jews killed during the Holocaust.

“A harsh reality makes a calamity of this tragedy – the reality that, in our hands, we have the ways and means to prevent at least 50 percent of these deaths and more”, says UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein. “That we fail to take the steps necessary to protect our children from the devastating consequences of these conditions constitutes grave violations of the child’s rights to life, survival, development, and the highest attainable standard of health.”

Successor to Navi Pillay, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has begun his mandate as the Commission for Human Rights. Hitting the ground running, Zeid has spoken recently on the state’s duties to protect children from preventable diseases. In a statement he underlined the role of the state to take measures to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, preventable mortality and morbidity of children under the age of five.

UN Geneva2.0 Generic CC BY-NC-ND 2.0Any state not doing so is defaulting on its obligations, moral and legal, to its people. “State officials are answerable to the public when children die of preventable causes” said Al Hussein, and further noted that officials not doing all they can to protect children may amount to criminal negligence.

According to the new Human Rights Commissioner, critical inequalities are at the root of preventable child deaths. The issue thus must be addressed through its root causes such as: gender inequality; harmful traditional practices including genital mutilation; forced, early and child marriage; gender-based violence and more.

The Commissioner approaches these myriad issues through a “human rights lens”. This requires States to invest in the health, education and empowerment of women and children, particularly in the poorest and most marginalized communities. Furthermore, Zeid emphasized that parents are entitled to participate meaningfully as partners in prevention, along with a need for aggrieved individuals to have access to transparent processes to hold accountable public officials and private sector actors for the quality, accessilbity and acceptability of the services they provide.

“Children are our most valuable resource,” Al Hussein said. “We cannot accept that, through our commission and omission, they should be left to be our most vulnerable resource, too.”

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