The United Nations says that it will be the largest gathering of world leaders in history.
Today and Sunday, President Bush and 70 other heads of state will meet in New York for the World Summit for Children, the most publicized step so far in a five-year battle to draw attention to the issues of health and education for mothers and children.But Bush is not prepared to sign a treaty calling for basic rights for children, a senior U.S. official said Friday.
Conservatives in Congress have criticized the document because it forbids the death penalty for people under the age of 18 and because it does not define a fetus as a child and thus protected by the convention.
At the gathering, Bush will announce a U.S. program to wipe out measles, polio and other childhood diseases in America, and pledge more money for children suffering from AIDS, said the U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The United States, along with the rest of the nations represented at the meetings on Saturday and Sunday, will also announce new strategies to reduce infant mortality, illiteracy, and to make health care more available to mothers and children, among other goals.
Meanwhile, the World Bank and other regional development agencies and banks have promised to increase assistance to children in poor countries.
The promise of more aid was disclosed in an interview Friday by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada, a co-chairman of the World Summit for Children at the United Nations on Sunday.
He said that the president of the World Bank, Barber Conable, had pledged to increase lending for primary education and health care in the poor countries by about $500 million a year in the coming decade and added that this should save the lives of more than 1 million children annually.
The U.S. delegation will include Bush; Secretary of State James A. Baker III; Mother Hale, a Harlem grandmother who cares for babies with AIDS; and Louis Sullivan, secretary of health and human services.
UNICEF says that 20,000 children throughout the world die each day from preventable or treatable cases of whooping cough, measles, tetanus, pneumonia and dehydration. Overall, the World Health Organization estimates that 150 million children will die from preventable causes in the next decade, including 4 million in the United States.
The U.S. problems, which critics say have been exacerbated by budget cutbacks, include 270,000 babies a year born with low birth weight, several U.S. cities with infant death rates comparable to the Third World and hundreds of thousands of children damaged by narcotics addiction and malnutrition.
The most tangible result expected to emerge from the summit will be the declaration urging ratification of the Convention on the Rights of a Child, a plan adopted last year by the U.N. General Assembly after a decade of negotiations. Already, 110 countries, not including the United States, have signed the treaty. Of that number, 43 have normally ratified the document.
James Grant, the director of the U.N. Children's Fund, said he believes the United States will sign the convention next year.
On Sunday afternoon, the world leaders are expected to participate in a ceremonial signing of the treaty, which calls for a series of improvements to be realized by the year 2000. Among those improvements are the reduction of infant mortality by one-third and maternal mortality by one-half, the immunization of 90 percent of all children, the reduction of measles deaths by 95 percent and bringing the rate of low-weight births below 10 percent. The treaty also calls for access by all couples to family planning services.
Children's program advocates say that the greatest obstacle to the treaty goals is obtaining money. Ironically, the summit is being held on the same day as the deadline for congressional budget negotiators to hammer out a five-year, $500 billion cut in the federal deficit, which almost certainly will include cutbacks in all manner of social programs.
UNICEF contends that the programs outlined in the treaty to prevent child deaths and malnutrition in this decade would cost $2.5 billion a year.
``The payoff is so spectacular,' said UNICEF Executive Director James P. Grant. Health breakthroughs, such as the global immunization program, now save 10,000 children's lives a day and cost less than $1 billion a year, he said.
The Bush administration has been generally supportive of children's programs, as exemplified by last year's expansion of Medicaid funds from the coverage of 1-year-olds to all children under age 6 living in poverty. But the commitment to children has not been comprehensive or concrete enough, U.S. child advocates say.
``We can agree to do great things for kids, but one of the biggest elements is money,' said William Scarbrough, director of research at the National Center for Children in Poverty. ``We've seen tremendous cuts in these programs over the past 10 years. Why would we expect with a world summit that we will get money for these programs?'