Foreign Policy News Stories
Children are Paying the Third World Debt With Their Lives
SYNOPSIS: A key finding in the UNICEF report, "The State
of the World's Children," issued late in 1988 revealed that
nine hundred million people, mostly women and children, suffered
because their nations used essential resources to repay debts
to bankers in industrialized nations. UNICEF Executive Director
James Grant called for a world summit to save an estimated three
million children who he said die each year from easily preventable
diseases. More than half a million of those children died in 16
developing nations in 1987 because their debt-burdened governments
had to cut back on social spending.
Previously, deaths among the young had been falling. A decade
of immunization against basic diseases was saving 1.5 million
lives a year. How ever, due to economic hardship, the 40 poorest
countries in the developing world halved health spending over
the course of several years and cut education budgets by a quarter.
UNICEF cited the two major causes of the worsening conditions:
rising debt repayments and falling commodity prices. In 1988 Third
World debt stood at more than $1 trillion, while debt repayment
took almost a quarter of the developing world's export revenues.
Lawrence E. Bruce, Jr., president of the UN Children's Fund, charged
the "mounting debt payments of so many of these developing
countries to Western institutions are quite literally snatching
food and medicine out of the mouths of millions of children."
UPDATE: On September 28, 1996, the world's seven wealthiest
industrial nations, the so-called Group of Seven (G-7), renamed
the Group of Eight (G-8) in 1997, approved a plan to relieve up
to $7.7 billion in debts of about 20 of the world's most heavily
indebted countries, many of them in Africa. The plan will cover
up to 80 percent of the debt the debtor nations hold individually
(Associated Press, 9/29/96). Apparently the plan didn't include
Haiti, where violent anti-government strikes broke out on January
16, 1997. The strikers were protesting the government's austerity
program inaugurated in response to pressure from international
lending institutions (Associated Press, 1/17/97).
However, the continuing problem of worldwide hunger among children
was reflected in data released by the U.N. Food and Agriculture
Organization (Knight-Ridder Tribune, 10/27/96): 200 million children
are malnourished; 11 million children under age five die as a
result of hunger and malnutrition; and millions more have diseases
related to vitamin and mineral deficiencies, bad food, and water.
The 1996 UNICEF report, "The State of the World's Children,"
changed the focus from the impact of poverty to that of war. In
the past ten years, the report says, wars have left two million
children dead, four million to five million disabled, and 12 million
homeless. Further, as reported in World Press Review (January
1996), "The 1990s have brought a vicious new breed of warfare"
as guerrilla and government armies have resorted to the use of
children to fill the role of combatants. A report by Save the
Children in late 1996 revealed that an estimated 250,000 soldiers
under 18-both boys and girls and some as young as five years old-are
serving in some 33 armed conflicts around the world (Associated
U.S. Refuses to Abide by International Court of Justice
SYNOPSIS: The World Court of the United Nations, otherwise
known as the International Court of Justice, passed down a ruling
finding the United States in violation of international law as
a result of the Reagan Administration's support of the contra
As a result, the U.S. may have to pay billions of dollars
in reparations for damages caused in Nicaragua. At the same time,
it is suffering the loss of international credibility because
of its non-compliance with third party adjudication by the World
New York Congressman Ted Weiss, speaking in the House of Representatives
on October 21, 1988, tried to warn the nation of the danger of
ignoring the court's ruling when he said, "Mr. Speaker, the
Reagan Administration's decision to withdraw from the World Court's
compulsory jurisdiction violated a solid policy of support over
the past four decades."
In full view of the world, the U.S. is facing charges of hypocrisy
for its failure to uphold its own most cherished values of adherence
to the rule of law. The stubborn refusal of Washington to deal
constructively with the World Court can only lead our foreign
allies and enemies alike to conclude that America submits itself
to decisions of the World Court only when the decisions are in
favor of its own national interest.
UPDATE: Shortly after Violeta de Chamorro was elected president
of Nicaragua in 1990, with generous campaign funding from the
Bush Administration, she withdrew Nicaragua's World Court claim
against the United States (Newsday "Viewpoints," 11/8/93).
But while the United States was not forced to pay reparations
for the damages caused in Nicaragua, it did suffer the loss of
international credibility because of its non-compliance with the
In November 1994, in a discussion of the role of the UN's
International Court of Justice in cases such as Yugoslavia and
Rwanda, international law expert Benjamin B. Ferencz was asked,
"Does the United States support the idea of international
law?" He responded, "The United States plays games with
the idea. It's a hypocritical, deceitful game that's being played.
We say we are not against it in principle, but we'll find enough
problems to make sure it never moves." Ferencz pointed out
that in the 1980s, the Court found the U.S. mining of harbors
in Nicaragua to be an unlawful act but the United States ignored
the finding (National Catholic Reporter, 11/11/94).
In 1996, in a close decision by the World Court concerning
the use of nuclear weapons, critics pointed out that the Court
didn't have any power to enforce its decisions. They noted how
the U.S. ignored the court's ruling in the Nicaragua case (Washington