Statement by Anthony Lake, UNICEF Executive Director, on the occasion of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People
NEW YORK, 9 August 2010 – Today UNICEF joins in celebrating the vibrant diversity, rich culture and remarkable contributions of the world’s indigenous peoples. This year’s celebration comes at a significant time, as world leaders prepare to gather next month in New York for the Summit on the Millennium Development Goals. These goals reflect a global recognition of the basic needs and human rights of all people, and the special duty we share to help those in greatest need, especially the children.
As the recent UN Department of Economic and Social Affair’s State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples report makes all too clear, despite our progress, indigenous peoples remain at increased risk of being left behind in the global push to achieve the MDGs. The report shows that indigenous peoples face glaring disparities across virtually every indicator of human development. These disparities are especially troubling when it comes to children.
In Latin America, for example, child mortality is significantly higher among indigenous children than non-indigenous children. The life expectancy of a native Aboriginal child born in Australia today is 20 years shorter than a non-indigenous child. In Guatemala, more than 53 per cent of indigenous young people between the ages of 15 and 19 have not completed primary education, compared to around 32 per cent of non-indigenous youth. Around the world, indigenous children are less likely than other children to be in school and more likely to drop out of school. Indigenous girls are at even greater risk of being excluded from school. And indigenous children often face a lifetime of discrimination and exclusion, deepening their disadvantages and perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
The best way to celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is to intensify our efforts to ensure that all children have an equal chance to fulfill their potential, and to encourage all societies to embrace the diversity which so greatly enriches the human family of which we are all part. That is the only way to make sustainable progress toward meeting the Millennium Development Goals, and to build a better future for all of the world’s people.