|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-second General Assembly
72nd & 73rd Meetings (AM & PM)
GENERAL ASSEMBLY URGES STEPPED UP EFFORT TO MEET ‘WORLD FIT FOR CHILDREN’ PLEDGES,
AS HIGH-LEVEL REVIEW OF 2002 SPECIAL SESSION CONCLUDES AT HEADQUARTERS
Assembly President: ‘Best Advocates for Children are the Children Themselves’;
Kenyan Youth Says Meeting ‘Our Final Chance to Urge You to Keep Your Promises’
Aware of the intractable challenges of poverty, exploitation and terrorism facing children today -– yet confident in their collective resolve to build a bright future for them -– delegations in the General Assembly this afternoon pledged to realize promises for a safer world for young people by scaling up their efforts through resource allocation and political action, increased cooperation, and more focused partnerships with the media and private sector.
With the adoption of a consensus Declaration, the Assembly marked the end of its high-level plenary on the follow-up to its 2002 special session on children, a seminal event which laid out time-bound goals for achieving children’s well-being in the areas of health, education, protection from abuse and violence, and combating HIV/AIDS. The commemorative meeting heard from more than 140 Heads of State, senior Government officials, representatives of non-governmental organizations and youth delegates, who spoke on varied economic and social issues, ranging from equitable trade to the importance of family.
Children’s active contributions had been the most remarkable feature of the session, said General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim, as he concluded the three-day event. It was essential to listen to them -- and take action. “Children have amazing appreciation for universal human values,” he remarked. “The best advocates for children are children themselves.”
Mr. Kerim, who is from the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, went on to say that during the commemorative session, child delegates had articulated a vision for the world in which they wished to live. Their message was simple: children wanted honesty, action, and to know that promises were kept.
He said it was clear that progress had been made since 2002, in that more children than ever before were attending school, more medicines were available for children infected by HIV/AIDS, and more laws were in place to protect children from violence. Nonetheless, malnutrition, pandemics and continued lack of access to education remained obstacles to progress, and child delegates were calling for a more coordinated response to such issues, including through stronger partnerships with the private sector and provision of cheaper drugs.
The Declaration called on States to renew and reaffirm their commitments, he said. It also urged them to promote the well-being and rights of children in the best interest of humanity, and to commit to increased international cooperation to fully achieve the goals of the 2002 special session. “Let us not just stay the course,” he said. “Let us accelerate and march ahead.”
To spur such action, 15-year-old delegate Millicent Orondo of Kenya, speaking on behalf of the Children’s Forum, took the floor to rousing applause to stress that children had always been ready and willing to move forward. As the halfway mark for achieving 2002 targets had passed, she said that the commemorative event was “our final chance to urge you to keep your promises”.
While Government officials often “considered” the best interests of the child, merely talking about them was not enough, she said. Their interests should guide all Government decisions and actions. She went on to describe the Forum’s recipe for change, which could start, for example, with preparing national budgets in line with children’s best interests. Moreover, as poverty was the main obstacle to building a world fit for children, creating partnerships among Government, civil society, the private sector and young people was the best way to end that scourge. Education was also needed: “Teach the child of today, so as not to punish the adult tomorrow,” she said.
She called on world leaders to work together, across national borders, to ensure children’s rights, saying that, in the last few days, youth delegates had seen that “friendship has no barriers”. Looking ahead, she said it was encouraging that, for the first time, annual global deaths of children under five had dropped to below 10 million. However, the world had three more years to save the lives of millions of other children still at risk. What mattered most were results, and children wanted solutions, not only resolutions. “We are ready,” she declared.
In that context, Deepali Khanna, speaking on behalf of Plan International, said delivering those results required recognition of both the successes and failures of the past five years. For every step forward, there had been similar and significant steps backward. Inequality and inconsistency continued to hinder progress in every country. In her organization’s conversations with young people, it had become clear that, while the situation of urban children was relatively promising, rural children often spoke of a lack of access to medical care, the high cost of food and meagre incomes.
Changing the world would require “all of us to leave our comfort zones”, she said. Governments and their partners needed to improve the lives of those who were the hardest to reach: girls, children living in rural areas, young people in war zones and those with disabilities.
However, helping the hard to reach would be expensive, and Governments owed it to themselves and their children to rise to that challenge. She particularly called on Governments to live up to their pledge to lead a “global movement for children that creates an unstoppable momentum for change”. In that pursuit, they could count on the support of non-governmental organizations and wider civil society to overcome barriers. It was critical that all stakeholders reflected seriously on what could be achieved if they indeed worked with children, instead of for them.
The representative of Denmark took up the needs of the girl child, saying that in 2007, she faced higher risks of malnutrition, disease and early death. She was less likely to be enrolled in primary school than her male peers, and practices such as genital mutilation continued to endanger her well-being. The representative from Afghanistan brought out the need to address terrorism, as children in his country were being used as suicide bombers.
In an appeal to give children the resources they needed to become the legitimate architects of their humanity, Joyce Bukuru, a youth delegate from France, borrowed a line from French writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”.
In other business, the Assembly agreed to extend the work of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) until Wednesday, 19 December. The Assembly will resume consideration of the Law of the Sea on Tuesday, 18 December.
Also addressing the plenary today were the representatives of France, Switzerland, Montenegro, Gabon, Kenya, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nicaragua, Eritrea, Jordan, Argentina, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Kyrgyzstan, Côte d’Ivoire, Mauritius, Uganda, Iraq, Mongolia, Bolivia and Ethiopia.
Also participating in today’s event were observers from the African Union, Holy See, Palestine, Inter-Parliamentary Union, International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the European Community.
The representative of the United States made a statement in explanation of position.
The General Assembly will reconvene at 3 p.m. Monday, 17 December, to take up the reports of the Fourth Committee.
The General Assembly met today to continue its high-level plenary meeting devoted to the follow-up to the outcome of the special session on children. (For background, see Press Releases GA/10672 of 11 December and GA/10674 12 December.)
JEAN-PIERRE LACROIX ( France) said five years ago, France presented its fundamental lines of action to create a world fit for children; the environment in which children developed would determine their future, well-being and conditions of their existence. With that in mind, fighting poverty must be part of the strategy. While the Secretary-General’s report stated that there had been progress in the global reduction in infant mortality, the rate of that progress, however, was too slow. And although progress had been made in access to primary education, disparities persisted in school attendance among boys and girls.
It was deplorable that the worst forms of child exploitation also continued, particularly pornography, trafficking and prostitution. He reiterated France’s pledge to protect children, based on the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the declaration adopted at the 2002 General Assembly special session on children. On child soldiers, France supported development of the Paris Commitments and Principles, and would continue to work with the Security Council Working Group, which had seen encouraging results with the release of children involved with armed groups.
On health issues, he said France had worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the management of childhood diseases, and had, through the launch of UNITAID (the international drug purchase facility), contributed to the purchase of paediatric formulas of drugs for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. On education, he said primary education was a priority in France’s cooperation with other countries. France would continue to implement its commitments.
Child representative JOYCE BUKURU then took the floor, also speaking on behalf of CLARA DESSAINT and MANUEL GUZMAN, students at the Lycee Francais de New York. She said children must have resources so they could become the legitimate architects of their humanity. Challenges were emerging, and the education of girls was essential for them to play their vital role in humanity’s future. Citing writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry, she said: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”.
PETER MAURER ( Switzerland) said the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols, which his country ratified in 2002 and 2006, were essential for ensuring every child the right to balanced development, as well as physical and mental integrity. The Secretary-General’s report showed major challenges remaining, and it was essential to intensify efforts to translate intentions into effective and coordinated action, on a multisectoral basis.
On exploitation of children and acts of violence against them, he said effective measures must be taken to determine the scale of the problem, identify and counter the causes, and take preventive action. Switzerland had strengthened legislation to protect children more effectively, notably by punishing anyone in possession of child pornographic material, and by introducing a national coordination service to counter Internet crime. Also, various campaigns were raising awareness of sex tourism, sexual abuse and violence against children.
On health issues, he stressed the importance of ensuring that all adolescents and young people had equal and unrestricted access to information, services, and the means to protect their sexual and reproductive health. Switzerland was focusing on such issues nationally and through international cooperation. On children’s participation, he said the creation of the Swiss Federation of Youth Parliaments was an example of his country’s efforts in that area. Further, Switzerland was working to improve the integration of children of other nationalities into all areas of society. To prevent violence against children, his country would work to ensure that more attention was given to children in emergency situations. He urged all States that had not yet done so to ratify the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflicts. In closing he paid tribute to constant appeals by UNICEF on behalf of children’s rights, and reiterated that it was essential to coordinate all actions to find sustainable solutions.
GOJKO CELEBIC ( Montenegro), aligning his statement with the one made by Portugal on behalf of the European Union, noted that his country belonged to the family of the world’s small nations. The birth of every child was therefore critical for the sustainable development of the State. Montenegro recognized the significance of investing in children and making their rights a priority. Having ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols, Montenegro had begun to strengthen its institutional environment for their implementation. Its overall reform processes were guided by the Convention’s basic principles: the best interest of the child, non-discrimination, survival, development and participation. In 2003, his country had created a national committee to protect and promote children’s rights, and in 2004 had adopted a National Plan of Action for Children, which served as a framework for its strategies, policies and programmes for children.
He said his country had also adopted a series of new laws, strategies and action plans to combat HIV and AIDS, to protect children’s social welfare, to combat trafficking in boys and girls, and to pursue a permanent solution to the status of refugees and internally displaced persons. Montenegro was also looking to provide good education choices for children and had carried out a number of reforms to its school network. Those had been undertaken through local partnerships with parents, schools and communities, as well as through activities aimed at including children from vulnerable families and children with special needs.
He said that programmes focused on preventing diseases and promoting health had also recently been implemented. Protecting children and young people from HIV and AIDS was also a high priority. A network of State institutions was working to prevent trafficking in children and other forms of violence and exploitation, by strengthening the existing system and introducing new protection mechanisms. Yet, while Montenegro had made substantial progress, challenges remained ahead. It would therefore implement numerous activities to strengthen its administrative capacities for reform, and to develop an institutional framework that prized children.
DENIS DANGUE REWAKA (Gabon), speaking on behalf of Angélique Ngoma, Minister for Family, Child Protection and the Advancement of Women, said his country had made strides in promoting and protecting child rights in the areas of health, education and combating violence against children. To safeguard children from becoming “collateral damage” in the fight against HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases, the Government had set up HIV and AIDS programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission, which had already seen 204 babies born to HIV-positive parents in the first trimester of 2006. A national nutrition centre had been set up to serve children affected by HIV and AIDS, and every year national vaccination campaigns targeted children aged three months to five years.
Education was among the Government’s priorities, and 15 per cent of the State budget was committed to that sector, he said. A day care programme for young low-income mothers had already enabled 1,800 women to complete their studies. Protection against the exploitation of children was another priority, and legislation was forthcoming on trafficking, sexual exploitation and child labour. A procedure would also be established for the reintegration of trafficking victims. Gabon subscribed to all international obligations to promote and protect children’s rights, but despite its own financial efforts, there were insufficient resources to fully implement the recommendations from the 2002 special session on children. There was a need for international cooperation and a significant mobilization of resources to improve the lives of children.
Z.D. MUBURI-MUITA ( Kenya) said that his Government was focused on improving the lives of Kenya’s children and youth, who made up 65 per cent of the population. Children were also a priority for policy decisions as Kenyan youth –- like others in many developing countries -- faced challenges such as poverty, hunger, discrimination, illiteracy and deprivation of acceptable standards of living. Kenya had been a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1990, and in 2006 had submitted its initial State party report on the implementation of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. That process had provided his Government with an excellent opportunity to take stock of the situation of the nation’s children and the progress on improving their lives.
He said the Kenyan Government had increased its budgetary allocation for education from $1.2 billion in 2004 to $1.6 billion in 2007. While that had a significant impact on children’s education, as well as health care, it was far from adequate, and Kenya urgently needed partners to step in to help boost resources for that sector. Children could not exercise all of their rights unless they were protected from violence, and the Government had therefore adopted the Children’s Act, which not only integrated the tenets of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into Kenyan law, but protected children’s broader fundamental rights. That Act had been praised as one of the best pieces of legislation put in place for children. It was now being reviewed to bolster its child-protection objectives.
He said Kenya’s Children’s Act established children’s courts across the country, and had led to the establishment of the National Council for Children’s Services, which had community-level branches that planned and coordinated activities for boys and girls. Among others, he said the Sexual Offences Act (2006) protected children from sexual abuse, especially incest, defilement, prostitution, child pornography, sexual tourism and exploitation. Last year, the Government had collaborated with UNICEF on a campaign against violence. It aimed to raise awareness about children’s rights and to mobilize public action on behalf of Kenyan children. Among other highlights, he said that his country was at the forefront of the global effort to tackle child labour practices; closer to home, it had launched an initiative to rehabilitate and reintegrate children living and working on the streets.
MILOS M. PRICA (Bosnia and Herzegovina) said today’s assessment would signal whether the world was moving in the right direction; if the situation could be improved more quickly; whether all possible tools were being used; and if every possible effort was being made to make children’s lives safer, healthier and more prosperous. During his country’s terrible war, children had suffered the most. Yet with the assistance of the international community, health care, and education, all social services had started to improve significantly, and Bosnia and Herzegovina was on track to achieve most of the Millennium Development Goals, as well as the targets set out by “A world fit for children”. He stressed, however, that fields of landmines continued to pose a huge threat to children.
He said his country had established a Council for Children, which would monitor the implementation of its National Action Plan for Children from 2002 to 2010. In addition, a number of domestic and international organizations, particularly UNICEF, had contributed to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s efforts. Noting his country’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and signing of its Optional Protocols, he said it fully supported the idea of establishing a department for the rights of the child within the Office of the Public Attorney, which had been proposed by the Independent Human Rights Institution for Children. His country’s medium-term developing strategy, defined in collaboration with the Bretton Woods institutions, provided action-oriented recommendations aimed at improving children’s health care, education and social protection, he added.
Noting that the Second Intergovernmental Conference on Making Europe and Central Asia Fit for Children had been held in Sarajevo in May 2004, he said regional consultations had proven to be a valuable contribution to the international dialogue, and provided the opportunity to share best practices and improve national plans and programmes. That Conference had produced the “Sarajevo Commitment” document as a follow-up to the previous “Berlin Commitment”. He noted, however, that while the world was producing more goods and services than ever before, it was still a “horrific fact” that over 50,000 children under five years of age had died during that two-day conference because of malnutrition and easily preventable diseases. That was a sufficient reason for the international community to redouble its efforts to fulfil the commitment to create a world fit for children.
MARIA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO ( Nicaragua) said her delegation was largely satisfied with implementation of some elements of the 2002 special session declaration. At the same time, much remained to be done to make the world more fit for children, especially in the area of poverty eradication. With so many children living in poverty around the world, it was incumbent upon the international community to urgently address that scourge, over and above its recommitment to ensuring improvements in health care and education. She added that her Government had especially targeted poverty eradication and had enacted polices to that end with a gender focus.
She said that it was also necessary for States to abandon neo-liberal policies, create a more equitable international trade regime, and pour more funds into the social sectors of countries struggling to meet globally agreed development goals. Nicaragua believed that primary education should be free for all children, without discrimination. It expected a significant jump in primary school enrolment next year, and was preparing and training its teachers accordingly. She added that some 10,000 teaching assistants were to be deployed throughout the country. Her country was also targeting illiteracy, and had launched a national literacy campaign that had been backed by major television campaigns.
On the health sector, she said that her Government remained focused on tackling HIV and AIDS, as well as malaria, and was keen to boost its programmes to distribute appropriate medicines. It was also launching a major initiative to destroy mosquitoes and their larvae nationwide. Among other things, she said her Government was also working hard to reduce infant and maternal mortality rates, as well as to strengthen families in general. She called on the United Nations and development partners to do more to assist developing countries in their efforts to achieve the broader Millennium Development Goals.
ARAYA DESTA ( Eritrea) said children deserved the utmost attention and care that could be provided. To this end, there were encouraging advancements in some of the goals the international community had set five years before. Mortality rates had been reduced, and progress towards creating a loving and caring environment that contributed to the emotional, mental, physical and social development of children was commendable. A great number of children continued to suffer from extreme poverty and hunger in many developing countries, however, and a growing number also continued to be impacted by armed conflict, violence and displacement. Nonetheless, most of these difficulties were not insurmountable, as long as efforts were made to meet commitments set out at the 2002 special session on children.
At the national level, his country was doing its part to ensure that the four major areas of the special session were met, he said. It was pursuing a strategy that allowed closer cooperation and collaboration among the various segments of its Government, civil society and partners. To promote healthy lives, more hospitals, clinics and health centres for children and mothers had been built. With UNICEF’s support, the Government of Eritrea had endeavoured to ensure full immunization coverage against childhood illnesses. To that end, it was moving towards the full elimination of measles, which had once been one of the country’s biggest childhood killers.
Eritrea was also improving the quality of children’s education, he said. Extensive work had been done to make early childhood development centres more responsive to the needs of orphans and vulnerable children. Projects to improve girls’ participation and performance in school had been designed. He stressed, however, that all of those efforts were taking place under a “no war, no peace” situation, which was a constraint. Still, other serious efforts were being made to protect children from abuse, exploitation and violence, and to that end the practice of female genital mutilation had been banned. The Government had also initiated a campaign to widen and deepen public awareness of children’s rights throughout the country. It was also combating HIV and AIDS, as well as other diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. It had exceeded the Roll Back Malaria goal, and was now ranking as one of the top five countries in Africa in fighting that disease.
SAMAR AL-ZIBDEH (Jordan) stressed that in her region, 72 million children did not go to school, millions of adults could not read or write, and one out of four women had not been schooled. In fact, gender equality had not been achieved in most of the region’s countries. In light of those facts, she said steps should be taken to ensure children’s education progressed in a positive environment. She welcomed the current meeting, which reminded the international community that in addition to the challenges faced, progress could be achieved if the necessary political will existed. Jordan therefore reiterated its commitment to the outcome document of the 2002 special session on children, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Cairo document. “A world fit for children” provided a solid framework for moving forward, and its goals had resulted in measurable progress.
She underlined the fact that Jordan’s Queen Rania had committed herself to those goals, and the country was endeavouring to further the various development needs of its children. One of its priorities was its education programme, and it was implementing policies that had already resulted in the construction of related centres throughout the country, increased school enrolment, and higher gender equality in learning institutions. Development indicators showed that Jordan was making progress in education towards the development of the “innovative child”, who had increased analytical abilities. Noting that 98 per cent of Jordan’s population received health care, she said the country also stressed proper nutrition and children’s health care. That emphasis had resulted in lower rates of child mortality. Meanwhile, the vaccination rate had risen.
Despite those efforts, more was needed to achieve the Millennium Development Goals before 2015, she said. In carrying out its obligations to children, Jordan had not forgotten the needs of children in other countries. It was aware of their daily trials and the need for their security. Thus, her country had taken part in policies aimed at providing nutrition and security to them. She called on the international community to make similar efforts, which should be made because, she said, “children are our future”.
ZAHIR TANIN ( Afghanistan) said protection of children’s rights was a high priority in his country, where the devastating consequences of three decades of war had particularly affected children and women. In that context, Afghanistan had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols in 2002, and was committed to the Millennium Development Goals through the Afghanistan Compact and interim national development strategy.
Further, Afghanistan had submitted its first progress report for the 2002-2006 period, and it counted on financial assistance from international partners. Describing various achievements, he said some 6 million children had returned to school, 35 per cent of whom were girls, and more than 3,500 schools had been built. The infant and maternal mortality rates had been reduced by 85,000 and 40,000 annually. On child protection, he said a national programme to demobilize child soldiers had been completed in 2006, and 7,444 under-age soldiers between the ages of 13 and 18 had been demobilized. Committees tasked with the social reintegration of those children had been created throughout the country. Afghanistan had created a national AIDS Control Programme in 2004 to collect data on prevalence of the disease, and had launched awareness campaigns.
Notwithstanding, there were insurmountable challenges, he continued, stressing that children were the prime victims of terrorism in his country and highlighting an event last month in the northern Baghlan Province that killed 50 children. The Taliban and Al-Qaida had resorted to new practices such as executing young children for possessing foreign currency, while terrorists were attacking students and burning schools. Other tactics included the deliberate targeting of female teachers and students, as well as the use of children as suicide bombers. He called on international partners to help Afghanistan implement its national strategic plan for education, stressing also the importance of developing accessible family planning services and emergency obstetric care. Poverty was the biggest obstacle to achieving the goals, and he highlighted the need for full partnership, especially through increased official development assistance for least developed countries, notably those emerging from conflict.
JORGE ARGÜELLO ( Argentina) said in 2003 his country saw that efforts to implement its public policy on infancy had not made the expected progress. President Nestor Kirchner had therefore called on citizens to participate in building a more equitable nation, and had defined human rights as a principal axis of his administration. The Act for Integral Protection of the Rights of the Child and Adolescents was passed in 2005, based on principles in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and was the best framework for guiding the national plan for children’s rights. He described various policies, saying that at the centre of social policies on children was a focus on the family. The national plan on families addressed the promotion of children, adolescents and the elderly, while development of the individual was promoted through the food security plan. Through that programme, Argentina had reduced poverty levels from 53 per cent in 2002 to 23.4 per cent in 2007, achieving the Millennium Development Goal on that issue; extreme poverty had dropped from 24.8 per cent to 8.2 per cent.
Addressing education, he said Argentina would soon meet the Millennium Development Goal of universal access to education. The Educational Financing Act and the Technical Education Act were fundamental. Reducing the child mortality rate and inequality among different provinces were priority challenges. Argentina had made progress in reducing the prevalence of HIV and AIDS in pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 24. He called for coordination among the various branches of Government, as well as with the trade unions, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. International cooperation, including South-South cooperation, was important for reinforcing national efforts to achieve a world fit for children, and he appreciated the technical assistance from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), among others. Argentina’s national policies to achieve a world fit for children were based on participatory and multidisciplinary approaches.
SAUL WEISLEDER ( Costa Rica), reaffirming his country’s commitments to creating a world fit for children, said the efforts of the international community in this regard had shown results. Costa Rica was specifically committed to moving forward in each of the four main areas of the outcome document of the 2002 special session on children, by focusing on children’s health and education, as well as the promotion and safeguarding of their rights.
Noting that his country would observe the tenth anniversary of its national code on the child and adolescents, he said it was working tirelessly to defeat poverty and combat inequality, both of which affected the lives and future of youths. Costa Rica hoped to implement its national policy for children through participatory, cross- and multisectoral actions. A variety of institutions would take part in those programmes to reduce malnutrition, prevent violence, combat sexual exploitation, universalize secondary education, and combat HIV and AIDS. Reform would include a means to give integral protection to the entire younger population, and would make it possible to ensure greater decentralization and give children with impeded access to services more access.
The international community should shoulder more and broader commitments, particularly in the financing of initiatives for children, he said. Boys and girls, especially those who were poor, should have a better future than their parents and grandparents. Withdrawal of international cooperation for middle-income countries like Costa Rica had a considerable impact on children’s programmes.
RAYMOND WOLFE ( Jamaica) said the creation of a world fit for children must be driven by strong political will and competent social actors. His Government was committed to being a lead agent of change in a world full of virulent challenges such as violence, crime and decay in family values. Partnerships were critical for building human resource capacity, improving service delivery, collecting data, and advocacy. Children were consulted on matters involving them. For example, a Safe Schools Programme had been introduced into the education transformation initiative, which would provide specially trained law enforcement officers as school resource officers in institutions identified as being at risk. Also, initiatives were being implemented to strengthen institutions and build capacity in such areas as curriculum development and use, reading, education, leadership, and school management, particularly at the early childhood level. In fact, Jamaica’s Early Childhood Commission had been chosen as the lead partner with the Netherlands’ Bernard Van Leer Foundation on early childhood. Lessons learned would be utilized worldwide to ensure that the very young would not be left behind.
Furthermore, he said, since the education transformation initiative depended on effective parenting, a parenting commission was being swiftly established, while the Ministry of Education had formulated a national parenting policy. Likewise, the child development agency was taking steps to upgrade child protection services for children at risk, by changing from the traditional “child rescue” model of response to a “family support” model, centred on primary prevention. The aim was to prevent children from entering traditional residential childcare systems by keeping them in families or in family-oriented environments. Child participation had also been introduced into the Jamaican justice system. Early intervention and prevention programmes were being implemented for families and communities affected by factors such as illness, social exclusion, poverty, violence, or any other condition that negatively impacted on the ability to sustain healthy families. Last but not least, the special needs of “developmentally vulnerable” adolescents and youths were being addressed by mechanisms such as youth information centres, the National Youth Service, the child and youth justice reform programme, and a healthy lifestyles project. In all of those, young people were involved at every level and stage of programme development, from design and implementation to evaluation.
NURBEK JEENBAEV ( Kyrgyzstan) said protecting children’s rights in his country had been backed by action, and he highlighted the conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. His Government was working with the ILO to eliminate child labour. Discussing national initiatives, he said in 2001, the “New Generation” programme had been created and had outlined actions to be carried out by 2010 to protect children. Moreover, a child code had been adopted, with the assistance of UNICEF and other international organizations, and President Kurmanbek Bakiyev had established a national council to address the provisions in that code.
Among other national initiatives, he said that in 2005, the Government had adopted a programme to prevent HIV and AIDS by 2010. Among health reform initiatives, he highlighted free health care for pregnant women and implementation of a programme in 2006 to prevent child abandonment. In 2007, the Government had announced several other programmes, some of which dealt with child offenders and their social rehabilitation.
Kyrgyzstan attached significance to cooperation with international organizations, he said, highlighting successes with UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Save the Children, and the Eurasian Fund, among others. In closing, he said his Government would continue to improve children’s status, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
BAILLY N. GUILLAUME ( Cote d’Ivoire) said that despite commitments made at the 1990 World Conference on Children and the 2002 special session, children were still seen in the mines, on the streets, in the kitchens, in the cocoa fields and on the fields of battle. His Government, therefore, welcomed all international efforts to reaffirm and renew global commitment to targets and objectives aimed at the full promotion and protection of child rights. The Ivorian Government had made strides in the areas of children’s overall well-being and health care, and it had also aggressively stepped up its vaccination programmes.
He said the crisis that had gripped the country for years had not deterred the Government’s efforts to ensure sustainable development, including the well-being of the country’s children, and the various ministries working on behalf of boys and girls were continuing their work. The Government had undertaken energetic steps, nationally and regionally, to address child labour and child trafficking issues. But given West Africa’s notoriously porous borders, Cote d’Ivoire, like all the countries of the region, needed the international community to support such efforts.
He went on to say that there were programmes in place to boost education and to strengthen the capacities of agencies dealing with children affected by war. Such rehabilitation would be needed to ensure the reintegration of some 400,000 young girls and boys into society. Thanks to the Ouagadougou Agreement, the country was calm, and the Ivorian Government was committed to making child welfare central to the peace process.
SOMDUTH SOBORUN (Mauritius), aligning himself with Ghana’s statement on behalf of the African Union, said that despite the strong commitments contained in the Millennium Declaration and the “A world fit for children” agenda, it was unfortunate that some 28 million African children had died since 2001. It was “high time” to redouble efforts to stop that trend. Mauritius was party to several international human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child.
Discussing national efforts to promote healthy lives, he said Mauritius provided free and accessible health care, and 35 per cent of the national health budget was devoted to children. Immunization coverage had hit almost 90 per cent, and infant mortality had dropped between 2002 and 2005. There was free pre-primary, primary, secondary and tertiary education, and it was compulsory for children to attend school until the age of 16. In line with the Convention, the Government had adopted the Early Childhood Care and Education Authority Bill to monitor education programmes. Mauritius was ranked first among developing countries in attaining Millennium Development Goal 2 on universal primary education.
He said the Child Protection Act was amended in 2005 to criminalize child trafficking, abandonment and abduction. He also drew attention to the Community Child Protection Programme, the National Parental Empowerment Programme, the Protection from Domestic Violence Act, the Code Civil Mauricien, and the Women and Children Solidarity Programme. To combat HIV and AIDS, he highlighted measures including the National Youth AIDS Network, provision of free antiretroviral drugs, and screening to prevent mother-to-child transmission. In closing, he said Mauritius had spared no efforts to orient resources, institutions and legislation towards children.
FRANCIS BUTAGIRA ( Uganda) said that about 41 per cent of the children in his country lived in poverty, and of the 9.5 million Ugandans living below the poverty line in 2003, some 60 per cent, or 5.7 million, were below the age of 18. Nearly 13 per cent of the country’s children were orphans. The Government also estimated that some 6.5 million women and children in the north of the country were being affected by the ongoing conflict there. He said that poverty eradication was the Government’s major development goal. Its efforts in that regard had been guided since 1997 by a poverty eradication action plan. The 1999-2002 Plan of Action for Children had incorporated some of the elements of the revised poverty strategy.
The combined plans now provided a framework to address the Millennium Development Goals, and most of the objectives of the “A world fit for children” action plan. He went on to say that the Government had also put in place policies aimed at creating an enabling environment for the protection and promotion of children’s rights. That commitment was embodied in goals for poverty eradication, and both the national gender and youth policies.
To bolster that legislation, the Government had approved related plans and programmes, notably the Education Sector Investment Plan and the Water, Sanitation and Social Development Sector Strategic Plan II (2005/6–2009/10). Despite all of that, he said Uganda still faced serious challenges in some sectors, especially increased ratios of infant and maternal mortality, lingering malnutrition, and increasing cases of malaria, which continued to be the cause of most child morbidity and mortality in the country. Moreover, because of a lack of resources, his country was also having trouble putting in place all of the plans and programmes that had been approved.
CARSTEN STAUR (Denmark), recalling that the 2002 special session on children had signalled a “turning point” by empowering children and young people, said States must now ensure their participation as stakeholders in the design, planning and implementation of policies that improved their lives. He called for their continued participation in “real dialogue”.
The yardstick for measuring success was simple, he said; however, the progress report left no room for complacency: States were not on track to attain goals to improve the health, education and protection of children. Taking up the HIV and AIDS issue, he said Africa was the hardest hit region, with the disease continuing to orphan millions of children. The global community must do more. Denmark had decided to contribute $12 million to the United Nations “Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS” campaign. On education, he said achieving complete gender parity must be a priority. In the area of protection, his delegation remained especially concerned at the plight of children in armed conflict.
Chronic poverty was still a key obstacle to meeting children’s needs, he continued, adding that Denmark had committed to allocating 0.8 per cent of its gross domestic product to official development assistance. Regarding the health of children, he said basic rights were not being upheld, and their sexual and reproductive rights must be safeguarded. “Too often, taboos cost lives”, and bigotry impeded action to reverse that trend. Gender-based discrimination was widespread, and the girl child in 2007 faced higher risks of malnutrition, disease and early death. She was less likely to be enrolled in primary school than her male peers, and abhorrent practices such as genital mutilation endangered her well-being. Recurrent humanitarian crises and armed conflicts led to conditions conducive to gender-based violence. All must collectively address those issues.
HAMID AL BAYATI ( Iraq) said the international community five years ago had committed itself to implementing the targets and objectives enshrined in the outcome of the Assembly’s twenty-seventh special session [on children]. He said that the previous Iraqi regime had done little to protect and promote the rights of children. The youth of his country had been the first and most severely affected victims of violence and of the negative impacts of decades of sanctions. Even after the fall of the regime, the children of Iraq were still suffering from the scourge of terrorism, and were exposed on a daily basis to violence that endangered their health and well-being, as well as their education. At the same time, those children were resilient and determined to participate in building a new Iraq.
The new Iraqi Government was doing its part to build a world fit for children, he declared. It had set up a committee to examine the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Iraq had ratified in 1994. That committee was in the process of studying those Protocols to see that they did not conflict in any way with national laws. Among other things, the Constitution prohibited all forms of child labour, and the Government was reacting to changing situations by enacting new legislation, or by strengthening existing, laws to protect and promote all children’s rights, especially in the area of exploitation and abuse. He then highlighted the important role that civil society organizations were playing, alongside the United Nations, working in the country to improve living conditions for Iraqi children and relieve their suffering.
ENKHTSETSEG OCHIR ( Mongolia) said achieving the goals of the Plan of Action of the 2002 special session on children would require genuine partnerships between all societal actors, including parents, Governments, parliamentarians, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, the mass media and religious, cultural, and indigenous groups. Particular importance should be placed on encouraging the active participation of children and young people in shaping their environment, societies, and the world they would inherit.
Mongolia attached great importance to the well-being of children and had taken actions to implement relevant principles and objectives, including the adoption of a national programme of action for the protection of children from 2002 to 2010; the implementation of child-related Millennium Development Goals; and the revision of existing laws to harmonize them with relevant international instruments, she said. Her country’s criminal code had been amended to include new provisions on the protection of children from sale, trafficking, slavery or exploitation, violence, abuse, and neglect, and new laws had been passed to protect their rights.
Efforts towards health-related targets had reduced infant mortality rates between 1990 and 2005, from 63.4 to 20.5 per thousand live births, and under-five mortality rates, from 87.5 to 26.1, for the same period. In 2005, immunization coverage of infants reached about 98 per cent. Education for all initiatives had increased the number of children enrolled in kindergartens and primary schools. The country was also undertaking a number of quick-impact initiatives, aimed at protecting and promoting children’s rights, including a provision for a monthly allowance for each child in Mongolia.
Review, however, had identified challenges, among them reduction in poverty. One third of Mongolia’s population lived below the poverty line, and single-headed households and migrant families were at a high risk of slipping into that category. Protecting children in difficult circumstances, including those with disabilities, and curtailing child labour were also persistent challenges, she said. Addressing such issues required more targeted policy action at the national level, and enhanced international cooperation in the years ahead.
BIENCE GAWANAS, Commissioner for Social Affairs for the African Union, said that at the 2005 African Union summit, Heads of State and Government had held a special debate on child survival and had adopted the Sirte Declaration on Child Survival. Among other initiatives, she said that the “Abuja Call” for universal access had placed children at the centre, and had highlighted actions for orphans and other vulnerable children. The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child remained the most important blueprint on the continent for child survival, development, protection and participation.
Aware of the vulnerability of girls, and in response to an appeal made by the First Lady of Egypt, she said that the African Union Commission was now organizing, with its partners, a conference on female genital mutilation for next year. That conference aimed to not only discuss the negative impacts of that practice, but to also celebrate important achievements in Africa’s combat against that harmful practice. She went on to say that at the Pan-African Forum, held in Egypt last month, African ministers and development partners had spoken honestly about progress achieved and shortcomings. They had committed themselves to ensure a more effective implementation.
She said African youth had held regional consultations in conjunction with the Forum, and had presented their inputs to Government delegations. The ministers had listened to the children, whose ultimate call had been for “no more resolutions without solutions”. They adopted a call for accelerated action, urging Governments to live up to their promises to end trafficking, malnutrition, poverty, child soldiering, and neglect. She said the priorities in that call were similar to the priorities set for the Assembly’s commemorative review, and she called on delegations in New York to use the African youth declaration as a reference during deliberations.
HUGO SILES ALVARADO ( Bolivia) said his Government’s national development plan was grounded in proper living, and laid out strategies to bring about change that would respect cultural diversity. It also took a cross-sectoral approach to children and adolescents. In 2005, 57 per cent of the population was under the age of 18; 19.2 per cent was aged 0-6 years; and 13.7 per cent was aged 13 to 18. Meanwhile, 61 per cent of the population lived in urban areas, while 39 per cent lived in rural areas. Against that backdrop, it was estimated that by 2015, 40 per cent of the population would consist of children and adolescents. Thus, childhood issues had become a priority. The socio-economic crisis that had hit his country over the last decade had pushed children under the age of 14 into the labour market, primarily to ensure a minimum household income. As they were often forced to enter the labour market, the situation was referred to as the “stolen childhood” phenomenon.
To improve their situation, the Government was evaluating public expenditures devoted to children, and allocating resources to guarantee sustainable results over time, he said. Intercultural education was being promoted, and research was being undertaken to enhance cultural diversity. The goal was to prevent indigenous people from being excluded and to harness traditional knowledge. Moreover, legal norms had been adopted, and national programmes worked to control child and maternal mortality. A new Constitution, which prohibited child exploitation, would soon be put to a national referendum. Referring to UNICEF programmes, he said Bolivia prioritized the “zero malnutrition” programme, underscoring the importance of the agency’s work. In closing, he said the United Nations must pay closer attention to ensure that future generations of children lived in a world free from the threat of wars, terrorism and climate change. Should it not take definitive steps in those directions, it would not be able to guarantee children a better future.
NEGASH KIBRET BOTORA ( Ethiopia) said legislative changes were being made in his country to fulfil obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For example, provisions against harmful traditional practices were being introduced, while those allowing corporal punishment were being removed. Other provisions now allowed for prosecution for crimes against children. Parliament was the overseer of children’s rights through the Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs, which also reported to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Furthermore, he said, mechanisms had been put in place to ensure that children’s rights were promoted, and that children themselves were involved in matters of concern to them. The Ministry of Education had enabled schools to establish child rights clubs managed by children themselves. Educational and health policies had been implemented to boost the enrolment rate of girls, and the national action plan included programmes to address issues involving child poverty, mother-to-child HIV transmission, and AIDS orphans. Child protection units had been established in the federal and regional police commissions. They consisted of specially trained police and social workers to address children’s needs, either as victims or accused. The judicial system now included juvenile benches, as part of the effort to establish child-friendly courts, with specially trained judges. Finally, programmes had been developed to ensure that children who were in prison with parents were treated properly.
CELESTINO MIGLIORE, Observer for the Holy See, recalling the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the “standard” for protecting children’s rights, said the 2002 special session reaffirmed the family as the basic unit of society, which provided the best environment for children to acquire knowledge and develop positive attitudes for becoming responsible citizens. It was in everyone’s interest to motivate parents to take responsibility for education.
Today, the Catholic Church ran more than 250,000 schools on all continents, staffed by 3.5 million teachers. Many of those schools were in some of the most challenging locations, where children would otherwise be completely left behind. As chronic poverty was the single biggest obstacle to meeting children’s needs, he urged States to find ways to offer working children free, basic education and training, and to integrate them into the formal education system. The Holy See was involved with protecting children from HIV and AIDS through its care for children orphaned by the disease and distribution of anti-retroviral drugs, among other efforts. He also urged enhanced health care policies for malaria and tuberculosis, and said the lack of focus on basic health care had been very costly. In closing, he hoped the pledges renewed during the plenary were not simply “declarations of good intentions”, but rather steadfast commitments that would be upheld.
RIYAD MANSOUR, Permanent Observer for Palestine, said that children all over the world awaited the fulfilment of the pledges made to protect, care and promote a brighter future for them. Unfortunately, in the case of war and occupation, a wide gap remained between international legal standards and the actual safeguarding of children’s rights. Serious violations and war crimes committed against children must become a priority issue, since they had a detrimental impact on prospects for future peace and development. Ending impunity for violations against children was paramount, as was rehabilitation to allow them to contribute to the advancement of their nations.
He said that four decades of hardship, pressure and fear had left a mark on the children who made up over half the population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Nearly 1,000 had been killed by the occupying forces since 2000, and most continued to suffer from inhumane detention, displacement, denial of humanitarian access, and a host of other ills. He hoped current diplomatic efforts would bring peace closer, but the rights and needs of children living amidst armed conflict must also not be ignored. For that reason, the Palestinian Authority had enacted a children’s rights law, and had worked on the issue with United Nations agencies. The international community, however, also had a responsibility to act to protect the rights of Palestinian children, in tandem with the struggle to end the conflict and occupation.
ANDA FILIP, Permanent Observer for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said that parliaments and their members had a particular responsibility towards the fulfilment of the rights of children. Parliaments ratified international conventions and agreements, legislated, adopted budgets, oversaw actions of Government, and helped build popular support for further action. In recognition of the parliaments’ unique role, IPU had developed numerous activities in the field of child protection, many in close cooperation with UNICEF. Activities carried out included the production of several handbooks for parliamentarians on child protection, violence against children and trafficking, and the provision of technical support to parliaments and their members to bring about change for children. The strategic partnership with UNICEF had been very effective. One of the most striking results was that child protection issues had gained ground at IPU and had become a recurrent theme of its annual assemblies.
Working in close cooperation with UNDP and the secretariat of UNAIDS, IPU had held the First Global Parliamentary Meeting on AIDS in Manila two weeks ago, she continued. Participants at that event had agreed, among other things, that special attention should be given to vulnerable populations, such as children. IPU’s commitment to the welfare of children and protection of their rights was long-standing. In April next year, the Union would be contributing to a global forum entitled “Countdown to 2015 –- Tackling Progress in Maternal, Newborn and Child Health”. The event would bring together a large coalition of actors, including WHO, UNICEF, academics, international non-governmental organizations, and representatives of the multilateral donor community. The Forum would aim to promote the achievement of two Millennium Development Goals that related to maternal and child health and add political content to the 118th IPU Assembly, which would be taking place at the same time. It would also mobilize parliaments in support of the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.
SUSAN JOHNSON, Observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the situation of children was of profound concern. As the Secretary-General’s report made clear, children all over the world were being bought and sold, exploited and abused, harmed and orphaned. The Secretary-General’s report also pointed to the progress being made through partnerships. Two weeks ago, her group had taken up the same issue. A declaration adopted at her group’s thirtieth conference committed to intensifying operational interaction and partnerships whenever there was a clear benefit for victims and the most vulnerable. It was also clear that Federation members were well placed with Governments as natural preferred partners.
She said the time had come to strengthen the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the international network to more effectively be drawn into action-focused local, national, and global partnerships to ensure children their legitimate rights. Areas of particular concern for Red Cross Societies were violence against children, child survivors of recent wars, and the situation of HIV/AIDS. The growing capacity of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies was encouraging, but it was not enough. The size of the threats posed by violence and HIV was such that no Government or organization could meet them alone. Partnerships were essential.
MARY REINER BARNES, Observer delegation of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said that children, who were at the heart of the Millennium Development Goals, often were unaware of the rights and duties owed them. The Order of Malta, therefore, made it a priority to increase awareness about those rights and ensure they were respected and promoted. Turning to the Secretary-General’s report, she said that immunization had been identified as one of the high impact interventions that could reduce under-five mortality. With that in mind, the Order of Malta incorporated immunization campaigns against measles, meningitis and polio, among others, into many of its child health related projects underway in Africa and elsewhere.
She went on to say that employing midwives and qualified health care professionals could drastically reduce the unacceptably high number of women across the developing world dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. The Order of Malta’s midwife programmes in Cambodia and elsewhere had been very successful, and had ensured an overall improvement of the lives of mothers and children by providing education on hygiene and nutrition, as well. On HIV/AIDS, she said the Order’s outreach programmes aimed at preventing mother-to-child-transmission of the disease in Argentina, Mexico, South Africa and Cambodia, to name only a few, were showing “great success”.
The Order of Malta was also committed to building a better world for children through education and encouraging life-skills training. Whether it was providing daily rides to school for children with disabilities, reconstructing village schools destroyed by weather anomalies like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, or providing educational support for children in Haiti, the Order recognized the importance of helping boys and girls to secure better lives for themselves. She added that it also remained vital for countries to continue working towards agreed objectives for eradicating child trafficking and pornography, as well as child soldiering and all other forms of violence.
FERNANDO VALENZUELA MARZO, head of the observer delegation of the European Commission to the United Nations, speaking on behalf of the European Community, said much progress had been achieved in the 18 years that the Convention had been in existence, but it was clear that much more needed to be done. Efforts must be redoubled in advancing the situation of children worldwide, since children were most affected in situations of crises and emergencies. The injustices they suffered affected global society as a whole, whether it was through child labour or through deprivation of services and opportunities. Violations of children’s rights were not only an affront to human dignity, but were a threat to human security and seriously undermined the economic and social development of the world.
With that in mind, he said, the European Commission mainstreamed children’s rights into all its key policies and programmes, both internally and in external activities. A policy initiative on the rights of the child had been adopted in 2006 to enhance internal coordination, consultation and communication, as well as to allow for thorough analysis in developing a long-term strategy to promote and protect children’s rights. A forum on the rights of the child would bring together actors involved in children’s rights both in the Union and globally. Children and children’s ombudspersons would be included.
He said children’s rights formed part of the human rights agenda that all Union candidate members must respect. Key areas requiring urgent action included children’s poverty, social exclusion, trafficking and health. The Commission would increase activities in the area of global health, according to a strategy adopted in October. HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment of diseases of poverty would be the focus. Health systems would be strengthened, with more targeted and predictable financial support linked with closer dialogue on health strategies and delivery of basic services. Additional resources would be allocated to key areas, such as malaria and immunization. Finally, the Commission would continue to support partner countries in the area of education, so that quality primary education was delivered to all boys and girls, even in situations of crises and emergencies.
Action on Draft
The Assembly then adopted the resolution (document A/62/L.31) by consensus.
The representative of the United States, speaking in explanation of position, said his delegation had joined consensus on the resolution, and he congratulated Member States on developing a document that addressed the real needs of children, including their protection from human trafficking. It also reflected the recognition that children needed the love and care of the family unit.
His delegation noted that in paragraph 2, the phrase “all the rights of the child” was synonymous with “all children’s rights”. In paragraph 3, the United States understood that “fulfilment of obligations” referred only to obligations of States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He asked that his delegation’s explanation of position be entered into the records of the meeting.
Delivering a statement on behalf of non-governmental organizations, DEEPALI KHANNA, of Plan International, said that, if the international community wanted to reach the goals set at the Assembly’s 2002 twenty-seventh special session, then it was vital that everyone recognize both the success and failures of the past five years. “Only by being honest with ourselves can we hope to overcome the remaining obstacles that stand in the way of a better life for all the world’s children,” she said.
Recalling that the “A world fit for children” declaration and action plan had called for targeted actions to tackle poverty and improve access to basic services, she said that it had also urged the international community to focus on promoting healthy lives, providing quality education for all, protecting against abuse and exploitation, and combating HIV/AIDS. There had been some shining examples of success in implementing a few of those commitments, including, among others, that for the first time in the modern era, the number of children who died annually before their fifth birthday had fallen below the 10 million mark.
In East Asia, the proportion of children under five who went hungry had been cut by nearly two thirds, and 19 out of every 20 primary school-age children in North Africa and Latin America were today enrolled in school. Millions more in sub-Saharan African and South Asia –- children who had never before even seen the inside of a classroom -– were now being educated. At the same time, however, she said that for every significant step forward, there had been similar and significant steps backward. Where there was progress in a particular area, there was dismal failure in another. “And inequality and inconsistency continues to hinder progress in every country,” she added.
The hard fact was that progress in many areas was not accelerating, but slowing, she continued. The most striking declines in child mortality had taken place between 1960 and 1990 –- before the current targets were even on the international agenda. During those three decades, the number of child deaths had fallen by 2.5 per cent annually. Since 1990, however, the annual average had fallen only 1.1 per cent. Moreover, despite the promise of universal access to primary education, there were still 72 million children for whom such education remained a “distant dream”. Globally, 4,000 children still died every day as a result of dirty water and poor sanitation. One in 20 children in sub-Saharan Africa slept under an insecticide treated bed net. And every minute, a child died from an AIDS-related illness.
She said that, in her organization’s conversations with young people, it had become clear that the world was failing the children that needed the most help. While the situation of urban children was relatively promising, rural children often talked of “being left behind”. They spoke of lack of access to basic services and medical care. They talked of the high cost of food due to inflation. They talked of poor health and meagre incomes. Further, while all children often spoke about being marginalized, those living with disabilities often missed out completely on access to education and life-saving services.
Even with all of that, an even more dangerous threat was looming that particularly effected children –- global warming. “Unchecked climate change has the potential to turn the development clock back 30 years by increasing children’s vulnerability to natural disasters, disease and famine”, she said, adding that, as the planet warmed, conflicts would break out over increasingly scarce resources, posing even more threats to children. “And as always, it is the poorest and the most vulnerable that will suffer most.”
She said that to achieve a world fit for children, the Governments and their partners needed to improve the lives of those who were the hardest to reach: girls, children living in rural areas, young people in war zones and those with disabilities. “This will require all of us to leave our comfort zones”, she said, urging Governments to understand that while helping the hard to reach would be expensive, they owed it to themselves and their children to “rise to this challenge”. She called on Governments in the Assembly Hall to live up to the promise they had made five years ago to lead a “global movement for children that creates and unstoppable momentum for change”, adding that Governments could count on the support of non-governmental organizations and wider civil society to help overcome the barriers that stood in the way.
It was critical that, in doing so, all stakeholders reflected seriously on what could be achieved if they listened to children and “worked with them instead of for them”. “If we are going to jumpstart the next generation, we need sustained and consistent commitment”, she said, stressing that the challenge was too great for any one Government, agency or organization. It would take real participation, real political will and real strategic alliances at every level. “We can’t solve the entire problem without involving everybody”, she said, urging the Assembly to “act now before our legacy to the next generation becomes a series of broken promises”.
Statement by Youth Forum
Presenting the statement prepared for the conference by the Children’s Forum, which had been meeting in New York since last weekend, MILLICENT ATIENO ORONDO, a 15-year-old delegate from Kenya, said that the path to a world fit for children had been, and still was, long and difficult. There was still much to achieve, and since the 2002 special session, the world’s children had been following that path. “We children have always been ready and willing to keep on moving forward. We have three more years to go. We have passed the halfway mark [and] this is our final chance to urge you to keep your promises, and your final warning that action needs to be taken,” she declared.
She said it was no longer a question of what to do or how to do it. What mattered now was what was given priority. “We call on all adult decision makers to renew their commitments towards us and make us the number one priority”, she said, adding that there should be no argument about the best interest of the child being the number one priority. Government officials often “considered” the best interest of the child, but merely talking about it was not enough. It should be the guiding principle that should steer all Government decisions and actions. “We recommend that when you are preparing your national budgets, for example, that every decision be consistent with ‘the best interest of the child’.”
Turning to other issues, she said that poverty was the main obstacle that prevented the building of a world fit for children, and creating partnerships between Governments, civil society, the private sector and young people was the main way to end that scourge. Education could also free the world’s children from the poverty trap, she said, and demanded, on behalf of the Children’s Forum, access to quality education for each and every child. “Teach the child of today, so as not to punish the adult tomorrow”, she said, adding that if adults committed to children for a better present, then children would commit to them a better future.
She went on to say that, in Kenya and many other countries across the globe, children and young people were being threatened by HIV and AIDS. Access to life-skills education was a priority in the fight against such diseases. Such education helped young people develop healthy lifestyles and, with that, they could protect themselves from the danger of deadly communicable diseases. “We call on you, Governments and your local authorities, to provide supportive environments for those children and young people living with HIV and AIDS,” she said.
She also called on world leaders to work together, across national borders, to ensure children’s rights. In the last few days, the youth delegates gathered in New York had seen that friendship had no barriers. Despite cultural differences and language barriers, they had all had the same goal -- to make the world a better place for children. “Together we are strong.” Looking ahead, she acknowledged some notable achievements highlighted in the relevant UNICEF and Secretary-General’s reports before the conference, notably, that for the first time, annual global deaths of children under five had dropped below 10 million, to 9.7 million.
That was a very encouraging sign, and the Children’s Forum hoped to see similar results in the future. At the same time, she stressed that the world had three more years to save the lives of children still at risk. Without action, if the current trend held and the numbers did not improve further, some 30 million more children would die by 2010. She said that discussions were essential to the process, and children wanted to be more involved. “Let our voices be heard in our local communities, in our schools and in our parliaments. Wherever people are making decision, we want to be involved,” she declared.
But what mattered most were results. Children didn’t just want resolutions. They wanted solutions. “We don’t want to hear any more good intentions, we want to see more actions. We are ready”, she said, calling on everyone, adults and children alike, to redouble their efforts and work together to make a reality of a world fit for children.
General Assembly President Statement
Concluding the high-level plenary, General Assembly President SRGJAN KERIM, of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, thanked all participants, especially the children who had helped to prepare for the event, and who had participated in the commemoration. The quantity and quality of speakers -- more than 140 -- demonstrated that the Assembly had accepted the shared responsibility to build a world fit for children.
“The best advocates for children are children themselves,” he said. In light of that, he said the Assembly had called for 20 children to participate in the plenary, and he noted that another 55 States had included a child in their official delegations.
Indeed, their active contributions had been the most remarkable feature of the session, and it was essential to listen and take action. “Children have an amazing appreciation for universal human values,” he remarked. They were not just beneficiaries, and States must involve them more as partners.
During the commemorative session, children had articulated a vision for the world in which they wished to live, he said. He recounted that Longeni Masti, the child representative of Namibia, in his statement on behalf of children from 51 countries, had described direct actions children had taken to address child trafficking, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, exploitation and abuse. Longeni’s message -- and that of Kenyan child representative Millicent Orondo -- was simple: children wanted honesty, action, and to know that promises were kept.
The Assembly’s key priorities of responding to climate change, financing for development, and achieving the Millennium Development Goals were closely tied to delivering on commitments to make the world fit for children. The many insightful points made by delegations, children and non-governmental organizations would be used at forthcoming Assembly events.
It was clear that progress had been made since 2002, he continued, noting that more children were in school than ever before, and more laws were in place to protect children from violence and abuse. Nonetheless, many challenges remained. Malnutrition, pandemics, and continued lack of access to education were obstacles to progress.
He said child delegates had called for a more coordinated response to such issues, including through stronger partnership with the private sector and provision of cheaper drugs. They also had stressed the empowering role of education and importance of meeting financing gaps to provide education for all. The positive tone of the debate was a sign of States’ collective resolve to make the world truly fit for children.
As the Assembly’s debate continued, Heads of Government were in Bali discussing climate change, which was among “the most defining challenges of our time”, he said. Adults had the responsibility to act as custodians of the planet, in order to pass on a safer, cleaner and more equal world to children.
The declaration reflected the priority given to children, he said. It called on States to renew and reaffirm political will and commitments; promote the well-being and rights of children in the best interest of humanity; recognize progress made since 2002, as well as challenges ahead; and commit to increased international cooperation to fully achieve the goals of the 2002 special session.
“Let us not just stay the course,” he said. “Let us accelerate and march ahead.” Delegations must ensure that the future children inherited would be realized through action now.
* *** *For information media • not an official record