Speech at Melbourne University

Monday 12 June 2017

I am delighted to be here at Melbourne University. And to be here in Australia. It is my first ever visit.

I have enjoyed what I’ve seen so far. And I am looking forward to seeing much more over the next week. Including visiting some of the extraordinary work that Save the Children is doing with Indigenous communities in regional South Australia.

We have been at this a long time, working for Children. In fact, it all stared for us around 100 years ago, in the shadow of the First World War.

Europe was suffering a severe humanitarian crisis. 4 to 5 million children were starving in Central and Eastern Europe. The rates of infant and child mortality were at record highs.

That same year, a British woman called Eglantyne Jebb proclaimed, “All wars are waged against children”. And began handing out leaflets with pictures of Europe’s starving children to encourage action to lift the allied blockade.

She faced enormous resistance. Many believed that Britain should help its own, rather than the enemy’s children. But despite this, she set up the first-ever children’s charity that had an international focus. And yes, that charity she founded is called Save the Children.

Eglantyne did not stop there. At a time when women were not entitled to vote, she travelled through Europe winning heads of state and even the Pope to her cause.

Not satisfied with humanitarian support to children alone, Eglantyne developed her five principles on the rights of the child, known as the Geneva Declaration. These principles were agreed by the League of Nations in 1924 and later became the foundation for the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The most widely adopted convention in the UN’s history.

From it’s very beginning, Australia has also had a strong commitment to social justice. This is no more clearly illustrated than by the great Australian opera singer, feminist, and peace activist, Cecilia John. Angered by the fact that we lived in a world where millions of innocent children were growing up without even the most basic necessities of life, Cecilia stood up and took action. She founded the first international branch of Save the Children here in Melbourne; just six months after Eglantyne founded Save the Children in London.

Today, Save the Children operates in over 120 countries, employing around 26,000 people, and last year had a budget of more than $2b. Each year, we help more than 60 million children and their families.

Our scale is big, but our strategy is very simple. We focus on just three things. Making sure that every last child: survives past their 5th birthday; learns from a quality education; and is protected from harm. We also concentrate our efforts on the most disadvantaged children. Those who suffer from more than poverty alone. And who have been left behind by economic progress because of where they were born, their social group, or simply because they are girls.

Over the last few decades, the world has made unprecedented progress for children. The number of children dying before their fifth birthday has halved, as has the number of out-of-school children. This has also coincided with a dramatic fall in extreme poverty.

It is important to celebrate these achievements, but there is no room for complacency. Millions of children are still being left behind.

This is why world leaders came together, about 18 month ago, to do something about it. To commit to end poverty, fix climate change, and tackle inequalities by 2030. To agree the Sustainable Development Goals. Goals built on the promise to “leave no one behind”. Which for Save the Children translates as reaching “every last child”.

It is amazing that we could come together as a global community and say yes to something of this magnitude. A plan to help the most disadvantaged among us, that the whole world has agreed.

Now, with the goals finally agreed, comes the hard work of actually achieving them. And we have a long way still to go.

Our urgent starting point, in working towards the global goals, has to be addressing the global refugee crisis. There are 65 million displaced people in the world right now. We are facing the biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Imagining these 65 million people as citizens of one country is a good way to understand the scale of this challenge. This is a country three times bigger than Australia in terms of population.

However, unlike Australia, this country would be one of the poorest in the world. It would lose far too many children to preventable diseases and have high rates of child marriage. Its citizens would not be secure or educated and they would have little chance of working their way towards a better life.

I recognise that this sounds a bit overwhelming. Especially when you consider there is a growing notion out there that these children are not ‘our children’. That they are somehow ‘beyond saving’, and not our responsibility. But this is dangerous thinking, which we have to change. For three clear reasons. And not just for the future of those children but for the very future of the world itself.

First, by neglecting their obligations to the vulnerable, developed nations risk damaging the international norms and principles that have taken decades to build up. If we do not adhere to the agreed norms and standards, why should others?

Second, these children will be a part of the world’s future. Whether it is in the countries where they were born or in new homes. What do we think their future attitude towards society will be if their experience tells them they don’t matter? There is no single reason why individuals commit acts of violence and terrorism. However, key factors that can lead a person down this path include a sense of injustice, discrimination, and a lack of social purpose and self-worth. Making sure that is this globalised world, we treat the next generation of children with dignity and respect, is therefore not only a moral imperative but also a strategic one.

Third, it is simply the right thing to do. If you are a parent, you will tell your children that the value of beliefs is not in holding them, but in practicing them — especially when it is hard.

This is why we must achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for these children.

And, when I look back to 1919 when Eglantyne raised funds in Allied Countries to support German and Austrian children, I believe we can. These were the ‘children of the enemy’, but she managed not only to provide for them, but also to found a global child rights movement.

We can follow in Eglantyne’s footsteps. We can break the cycle of poverty, exclusion and depravation. We can transform the experiences, perspectives and prospects of those who are children today and will shape the world in the future.

To do so, we have to start by living up to our international obligations to protect them.

This doesn’t mean that countries have to give up the right to control own their borders. But it does meant that we have to work even harder, through structured resettlement programs, and humanitarian and development assistance, to make sure displaced children have the chance at a better life.

The scale of today’s crises, and their increasing duration, means that things like education and social-emotional support for children, should now also be considered emergency interventions.

Save the Children, and other civil society organisations, are having some success in calling for a step-change in children’s education during crisis. The global commitment by UN member states to get displaced kids back in school ‘within a few months’ is one example. As is the creation of the Education Cannot Wait Fund, which your former Prime Minister Julia Gillard had a big hand in setting up, which is designed to finance this commitment.

Save the Children also recently published the largest ever study on the mental health of children in Syria, conducted since the war began. After more than six years of war, the lasting damage to children’s mental health could be one of the most devastating and long lasting of its consequences.

This report was well covered in the media and read at the highest levels in the UN. I think we have started to change the conversation here and are building momentum for a global commitment to support the mental health of children in conflict.

But we know that we also cannot achieve the goals alone. Success requires partnerships between governments, the private sector, and civil society.

There are a number of examples of this out there.

I have already mentioned Education Cannot wait, which joins up governments and humanitarian actors to respond rapidly to the education needs of children in crisis.

Save the Children also has amazing private sector partnerships. Including working with companies like Pearson to bring digital mobile education solutions to refugee children.

But we need many more.

Partnerships that inspire governments to pursue choices that drive sustainable development at home and support global efforts to deliver the goals as well.

Partnerships that unlock the vast resources of our global economy, to spark private investment in the goals.

Partnerships that disrupt old ways of thinking and push us to think outside of the box.

Only then will we move faster and closer to our ambition of achieving the sustainable development goals.

It is possible.

We can do it.

I want to talk directly to the students in the room now.

Even though at times the problems of the world look daunting.

You must not lose hope.

It is possible to change the world for the better.

In witnessing the work of Save the Children around the world, I have met incredible children — who inspire us with their resilience and the hope in their eyes.

The question we always ask ourselves is “how long do we have until that light of hope is turned off and what can we do to keep it there, to help it grow?

These children are my — are our — urgent inspiration. The conditions they live in and the threats they face drive us to work with urgency.

Their dreams and hopes inspire us to create a better life and world for them — and if we succeed, they will create a better world in the future. Thank you.

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