Honourable Gaston Browne

Minister of Planning, Implementation & Public Service Affairs
of Antigua and Barbuda

Twenty-seventh Special Session of the General Assembly on Children

May 9, 2002

Check against delivery

Mr. President,

On behalf of the Government and People of Antigua & Barbuda and in particular the children of our twin island state, I would like to congratulate her excellency, Patricia Durrant, the Distinguished Permanent Representative of Jamaica and the chairperson of the Special Session on Children, for her tireless and dedicated contribution to child development.

In 1990, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda signed a declaration at the World Summit for Children. By signing the declaration, my Government joined in promising the children of the world the following: an end to premature deaths and malnutrition; establishing universal primary education; expanding access to clean water and sanitation and providing basic protection for all children.

As a Party to the convention, my Government recognizes the importance of promoting and protecting the legitimate rights and interests of our children. Health and education are at the core of our developmental strategy to the extent that approximately 25% of our budgetary allocation goes towards funding education and health care. Our Government believes in the principle of education for all. To this end, we have provided free primary and secondary education for our youths as well as several hundred scholarships on an annual basis for our students to pursue tertiary education abroad. In addition, my Government is in the process of constructing a state-of-the-art hospital and has already constructed several poly-clinics at strategic locations throughout the island.

Despite our country's limited natural, human and financial resources, we have through our creativity, made significant progress in advancing the socio-economic development of our people especially our children. This has manifested itself in our high level of human development to the extent that Antigua & Barbuda consistently ranks within the first quartile of the United Nations Human Development Index.

Mr. President,

Notwithstanding the progress that we have made, we recognize that more needs to be done. Against this backdrop, we have ratified the two optional protocols of the Convention and have established a legal system protecting children's rights and interests. We believe that the international community now has the opportunity to achieve the goals of the Convention by mobilizing a global partnership dedicated to achieving a breakthrough in human development globally.

We know that a significant leap in human development is possible if we ensure that every child gets the best possible start in her/his early years, that every child receives a quality basic education, and that adolescents get every opportunity to develop their capacities and participate meaningfully in society. But this knowledge is not enough if we continue to fall short of achieving most of the goals of the World Summit for Children.
What we need now is definitive action at the global level to achieve the commitments that were made at the World Summit. But definitive action requires effective leadership and Antigua and Barbuda is prepared to do its part in providing such leadership, which we hope will inspire and broaden the partnership in realization of the basic needs and rights of our children.

Mr. Chairman,

During the past decade, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in the willingness to recognise and confront the problem of the sexual exploitation of children and of their abuse and neglect. The magnitude of this phenomenon has not, until recently, been given adequate attention. The trafficking of children, as well as women, for sexual exploitation, has reached alarming levels.

I call on this August Assembly to join me in providing leadership to end the problem of SEXUAL EXPLOITATION OF CHILDREN.

The global rates of infant and child mortality have been declining steadily for the past half-century, and many countries that achieved the goals enjoyed reasonable economic prosperity during much of the decade. In my own country, concrete measures were taken to save children's lives, and these measures made a difference. It is compulsory for all children to be fully immunized by age five to facilitate entry into school. Immunization coverage for the period 1995-1998 for DPT and Polio remains at 100% for infants 1 year old. Immunization against measles, mumps and rubella was approximately 100% of the target population in 1997.

Again, please join me in calling for renewed commitment and leadership to significantly reduce INFANT AND CHILD MORTALITY RATES.

Mr. Chairman:

The Secretary General's report, Education for All Assessment 2000, noted the most extensive assessment of educational development ever made, with increases in the net enrolment ratio in the 1990s in all major regions. Nevertheless, the World Summit goal of universal access to basic education has not been achieved. There are still more than 100 million children of school age who remain out of school, approximately 60 per cent of whom are girls. Antigua and Barbuda has a relatively young population and every effort is made to see that they are in school at the appropriate hours. My country is severe on truancy, and the majority of parents are most cooperative in this regard. It is estimated that 44% of the population is under 25 years of age. The nation has a free and compulsory system of education for children 5 - 16 years.

Join me in striving to provide leadership for EDUCATION FOR ALL CHILDREN irrespective of gender, race, ethnicity and religion.

The Plan of Action adopted by the World Summit for Children foresaw that HIV/AIDS could offset gains in child survival, protection and development in the most seriously affected societies. Many of the achievements in social and human development of the last half of the twentieth century are now at risk. By the end of 2000, the global HIV/AIDS catastrophe had claimed nearly 22 million lives. Health services have been overwhelmed by AIDS patients. Schools struggling to provide a decent education have had to face rising deaths among teachers and absenteeism among students who must stay home to care for AIDS-affected relatives.

Every minute, six young people under the age of 25 become infected with HIV. Children are faced with various threats from HIV/AIDS, becoming infected themselves, being affected by the consequences to their families and communities, and becoming orphaned. As HIV/AIDS spreads and more people become infected, the number of children affected by the disease increases. Since the beginning of the epidemic, over 13 million children have lost their mother or both parents to AIDS before reaching the age of 15. The impact on children is seen dramatically in the rising numbers of AIDS orphans. Faced with social stigma, isolation and discrimination, and deprived of basic care and financial resources, AIDS orphans are less likely to be immunized, more likely to be malnourished, less likely to go to school and more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

If ever an issue cries out for leadership this is it. Join me in providing leadership to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic among the most vulnerable of our society- our children.

Mr. Chairman,

Our children are the victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation. The magnitude of these phenomena has not been given adequate attention. Accidents, violence and suicide are the leading causes of death among adolescents. These are frequently related to alcohol and drug abuse, which often stem from alienation, social exclusion and the breakdown of the family, and the inadequacy of state protection mechanisms. Two hundred and fifty million children between the ages of five and fourteen are economically active, and the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that some 50 to 60 million are engaged in intolerable forms of labour. These children, who labour in homes, on plantation and in factories, are often among the millions who are deprived of contact with family, are both registered at birth and lack of access to education or live on the streets. My government views the protection of children's rights as a common cause of the international community, and calls for concerted efforts by countries around the world. In this regard, we are gratified to see the beneficial work done by the United Nations Children's Fund.

The international community needs to redouble its initiatives to protect children and adolescents during all phases of conflict. The Optional Protocol is an important first step in the effort to curb child soldering. However, the ratification of the Optional Protocol is only a starting point. Unless adherence to the Optional Protocol and other international norms and commitments made by parties to armed conflict is ensured, our efforts to adopt and bring the Optional Protocol into force will have been in vain.

Join me in providing leadership to PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF OUR CHILDREN.

Mr. Chairman,

Let me conclude by noting that the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides a touchstone and set of standards to guide all policies and actions in addressing the best interests of children. Creating or ensuring a world fit for children should be our imperative. Therefore, I hope that the outcome of this Special Session will provide the necessary leadership which will focus on the empowerment of our children to become successful adults.

I thank you.