09/05/2002
Press Briefing



PRESS CONFERENCE BY PRESIDENTS OF FINLAND AND MEXICO


ON SPECIAL SESSION ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION


The presidents of Finland and Mexico, co-chairs of round table 2 of the special session on children, briefed correspondents at Headquarters this morning on their debate on the theme, "Renewal of commitment and future action for children in the next decade".


Interim Head of the Department of Public Information Shashi Tharoor introduced Presidents Tarja Halonen (Finland) and Vicente Fox (Mexico).  President Fox was joined by two children from Mexico, Maricela and Emmanuel, while President Halonen was joined by Miica Laakso of Finland.


President Fox said that more than 50 speakers had participated in the morning's rich three-hour meeting.  The debate had been excellent, and many ideas had been presented.  Marie-Claire, who had lived through the Rwandan experience, had stressed the obligation that everyone had to prevent the recurrence of that type of event.  She had made a dramatic appeal for non-violence, peace, harmony and love -– a climate in which all of society could live together. 


He said that as other children spoke of their life experiences, he had derived some lessons, including that human and economic development went hand-in-hand.  Everyone spoke of the need for resources to confront the challenge of providing a favourable atmosphere for boys and girls around the world.  Economic development was a lever that generated jobs for parents, thereby enabling them to prevent a host of problems.  For example, if the parents had jobs, the children did not have to work.


Human development, several delegates had said, had depended on education, he went on.  That was why fair access to education was indispensable, not only primary education, but also university education.  Most countries had free public primary education, but that did not guarantee that a child would be able to stay in school.  He or she might have to work to support the family.  So, in addition to free education, scholarships should be awarded to support the child's studies.


He said that health was another critical factor, one that could inhibit the development of boys and girls.  Thus, total health coverage for every member of the family, indeed every citizen, was indispensable.  The availability of quality, accessible health services was also key.  Another essential point raised had been the reminder of the commitments made in 1990.  Those must be implemented.  Other challenges, such as drug addiction, had not been covered in 1990.  Security and non-violence, as well as problems encountered by migrants, had also been discussed.


Those problems had to be solved jointly, he said, adding "we have to work as a team; one government, by itself, could not resolve all these problems".  Solid linkages should be created within society, in order to confront the great challenges.  He congratulated the United Nations and, in particular, Secretary-General Kofi Annan, whose vision had made it possible to set the whole process in motion. 


He said the special session was the heart of the entire process -- the goal around which all the other conferences should converge in terms of bringing about a better quality of life, respect for children, and, ultimately, sustainable and holistic development for all countries.


President Halonen said some very good remarks had been made at the meeting by the youth delegates.  One had said that the most important, most difficult part of the work would be when the delegations returned home.  Hopefully, the good spirit from the Millennium Summit, which had continued in Monterrey, Mexico and Doha, Qatar, could continue here in New York and transform words into actions. 


Mr. Laakso added that the implementation of the rights of the child was up to the adults.  President Halonen noted that Mr. Laakso had passed her that message on paper during the meeting.


Asked how it was possible to limit children's freedoms in today’s world, President Halonen said that freedom, or rights, and responsibility were two sides of the same issue.  Children had special rights in international agreements because they needed special protection.  Negotiating with children was a learning process for both children and adults.  That also worked well for mothers; she was one.  Concerning sexual behaviour, she said children should be helped in understanding that it took time to become adults.


Asked what she thought about the United States Government's position on the question of reproductive health, which had become a "sticking point" in the conference document, she said she thought that was a very, very difficult issue.  Agreements made thus far between governments should be respected.  If they did not find a consensus for new steps, "then we leave the subject" and keep language already agreed at previous summits.  The present summit was supposed to elaborate steps forward.  She hoped the balance would be kept.


She added that she had "an eye" for both opinions, but women had the right to decide.  Hopefully, that dignity of deciding one's future would apply also to girls and young women.


* *** *