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Britain urged to change the world

Outgoing Unicef head says UK should take decisive action to help children. Brendan O'Malley reports.

British leadership could deliver a breakthrough on the worldwide drive to give a every child a place in school, says the United Nations' top children's official.

But only if its presidencies of the G8 group of wealthy nations and the European Union this year manage to pull down trade barriers to developing countries' products and reduce their international debt.

In an interview with The TES, Carol Bellamy, who steps down tomorrow after 10 years as head of the United Nations' Children's Fund, said a road map for global development is in place with the eight Millennium Goals agreed by the world's nations in 2000, including that of education for all. But so far there has not been enough momentum.

"I think the UK in the EU and the G8 has potential. If there can be a good (focus on) everything from governance to specific actions in Sub-Saharan Africa, that would be very important. It does require money but it's also other actions on trade and debt."

She warned that the G8 meeting and the UN's summit on progress towards the goals in September must look hard at what is needed to improve children's health and education, from providing bed nets against malaria to abolishing school fees.

"Making a real commitment to break through in specific areas will create an incentive," she said.

Ms Bellamy's proudest achievement is the higher priority given in UN country programmes to children's rights. "This is about approaching development as a matter of obligation rather than charity. It's a stronger approach."

But she warned that political leaders are failing children - half of whom live in poverty - by not doing enough to prevent war and bring economic development. HIVAids has made 15 million children orphans and millions more are affected by the deaths of teachers.

Ms Bellamy praised The TES's Make the Link campaign. "I definitely support connecting one school with another."

And she thanked all the British pupils who contributed to The TES's 2002 campaign to get children back into school in Afghanistan.

In 10 years of criss-crossing the world she said the sight that has moved her most was seeing girls in Afghanistan turning up to school after years of being kept prisoners in their own homes.

Her saddest experience was seeing children being locked behind gates at night in northern Uganda, so they would not be taken hostage by the cult Lord's Resistance Army and forced to fight.

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