DESPITE its scandals, the United Nations has scored some little noticed successes, reminders that the often-reviled international organization does more than try to maintain peace and security. Most notably is its progress toward ensuring that all children, especially girls, have a basic education, particularly in nations where enrolling and keeping girls in school is a low priority.
These developments do not excuse a recent spate of disgraces at the United Nations.
The U.N. oil-for-food program in Iraq has rocked the agency, as have charges that peacekeepers sexually abused girls in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Furthermore, the organization's inability to stem the government-supported ethnic murder in Darfur, Sudan, has raised questions about its usefulness.
Those immense shortcomings have overshadowed the positives at the United Nations, including attempts to relieve poverty throughout the globe and steps to improve the lives of children in the Third World.
However, Carol Bellamy, the outgoing U.N. executive director, is correct in pointing out that UNICEF, the U.N. children's fund agency, has successfully increased the number of primary age children in school. In 2001, 82 percent of the world's children were in school; so far this year, it's 86 percent. In raw numbers, four years ago 115 million children were not in school; that figure is down to 100 million now.
Not surprisingly, 57 percent of the children not in school are girls. Ms. Bellamy, whose 10-year term is ending, wonders whether the United Nations will be able to meet its goal of providing, by 2015, a primary education to every child.
That's a worthy effort, and one the skeptics will say is unachievable. In any case, the U.N. cannot pursue it in a vacuum. Educators and the international community need to step forward and make it a reality.