The World Health Organisation recently issued a study on ‘mortality among children under five years of age as a human rights concern’ and the Human Rights Council will, during its current 24th session, debate a resolution on the issue. In this context an important side event on ‘Preventable Child Mortality and Morbidity and Human Rights’, took place on Tuesday 10 th September.
Ms Bernadette Daelmans of the World Health Organisation (WHO) presented an outline of the WHO report on under 5 mortality and told the meeting that Just under 7 million under-five children died in 2011; nearly 800 children every hour but that this represented substantial progress towards achieving MDG4 in that about 14 000 fewer children died every day in 2011 than in 1990, the baseline year for measuring progress. Ms Daelmans told the meeting that globally, under-five mortality has decreased by 41%, from an estimated rate of 87 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990 to 51 deaths per 1000 live births in 2011. This decline translates into an average annual decrease in child mortality of 2.5%, which remains insufficient to achieve the MDG4 target of reducing under-five mortality rates by two-thirds between 1990 and 2015. Numbers of under-five deaths have declined from nearly 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011.
Ambassador Yvette Stevens of Sierra Leone told the meeting that significant progress has been made in her country resulting in under 5 mortality being reduced by 50 %. The improvement according to Ambassador Stevens related to improvement in Public health issues such as access to medicines, clean water and hospital delivery of newborn babies.
Dr David Olayemi explained that there are 6 geopoitical zones in Nigeria and that conditions vary in the different zones. He told the meeting that malnutrition is a major health and development issue that contributes to as much as 53% of the under 5 mortality.
Professor Paul Hunt of the University of Essex told the meeting the UN had done an incredible job in drafting and agreeing a large number of International human rights instruments but that the right to health needed to be mainstreamed. He also called for technical guidance to help in the mainstreaming. He said technical guidance on child mortality would be a terrific way forward but it is a two way street and the various actors needed to listen to one another.
Following the formal presentations when the chairman opened the floor for questions. The panel were thanked for their contributions and reminded that the preamble of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) tells us that the Child by reason of his mental and physical immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth which raised some critical questions.
1. Why is the largest and most vulnerable group of children, the approximately 45 million unborn babies who are slaughtered every year, ignored when preventable child mortality is under discussion? Surely, they were told, this is contrary to the provisions of the CRC and in point of fact represents a double standard.
2. The panel were also asked to explain how legislating for abortion improves child mortality the whole point of which is to terminate babies’ lives resulting in a direct increase in child mortality? In this context the panel were asked if this is not also contrary to the whole concept of prevention of child mortality.
The chair on hearing the questions decided to wait for a number of additional questions, before any answers were attempted, by the panel and a number of questions ensued on issues such as communicative and non communicative diseases.
The two questions remained unanswered except for a reference by the WHO representative, who referred to the problem of maternal mortality instead of dealing with the issues raised.