New York 8-10 May 2002


I am honored to be here today in this United Nations Special Session on Children in representation of my country, Bolivia. I was not born in Bolivia but my heart and my four children are Bolivians. My children were all born in Bolivia but unlike the 52 out of every thousand that die each year my children are doing well. I am here for those children who need your help, my dedication, and our wholehearted effort.

It is a great honor for me for two reasons. The first because it is a special session on children, a subject very close to my own heart, and secondly because children have participated in the making of the decisions and plans that will come from it. True development can only take place and be sustained when participation is broad and the consensus wide as to how to get there.

From this important initiative of the United Nations concerning children have come many concrete actions and legislation that will continue to make a difference in the lives of many children and for that I would like to thank you.

During the last decade in Bolivia, we have been true to our commitments with the UN and our children and have seen our infant and maternal mortality rates drop significantly. We have in the last few years begun to make the transformation from being a country focused on survival, to being a country that promotes the rights and protection of the child. Bolivia is beginning to focus on the quality of life that these children will have, after survival is ensured.
The arrival of free health insurance has not only saved the lives of many children under five, it also ensures that their mothers will die in fewer numbers. Our immunization programs financed by the government, have completely eradicated polio and covers 90% of other very common diseases.

Our successful educational reform program has reduced primary age desertion and repetition. There has been a change in the style of teaching that increases participation and insures a better quality of education. Bilingual education, often developed with the input of the indigenous populations, many of whom did not have the possibility of formal education themselves, has brought a cultural awareness that had been slipping away. Lessons are taught in Aymara, Quechua, Guarani, as well as Spanish. Many children attend school for the first time participating actively because they are learning in a language that is theirs, about things that are important to them.

We are very proud of the Legislative advances in the name of children. In 1999 the Code for Children and Adolescents was signed into law, which strictly governs their rights. Just recently a supreme decree was signed giving all newborns in Bolivia the right to receive a free birth certificate. Presently we are looking for financial support so that we can assure all children have that same right. This week we are awaiting approval of several new bills that will allow international adoptions to take place, that will help prevent child abuse, give attention to the abused children and sanction offenders, and put a stop to the trafficking of children.

Bolivia will benefit over the next fifteen years with 1.6 billion dollars in debt relief through the HIPC program. These funds will flow through municipalities, assigning more money to rural communities because they have more needs. Civil society will have an active role in determining where the funds go and overseeing the social programs implemented with these funds. Parents will be able to make decisions involving their own children.

It would be unjust to speak of the advances we have made without mentioning the many areas in which we still need to improve. Our insurance programs are not being utilized as they should be. We do not have enough schools, nor enough teachers to attend them. And the laws many times do not protect the people who most need them.

Also there are several important areas, addressing children's specific needs, that require immediate attention beginning with government policy so that we can insure the completion of and respect for the rights of children. Among these issues are child labor, early childhood development, children with disabilities, the growing phenomenon of children living in the streets, neonatal deaths and HIV/AIDS. We can do better in providing access to children's basic needs and basic rights.
For these reasons and many more worldwide, we need to continue to work together between countries, international organizations, non-government organizations, and civil society to fight for the children of this world. Therefore, let us together, commit ourselves to promoting the rights of the child, demand children's participation and access, and resolutely stand to prevent all forms of child abuse. In the name of Bolivia, I offer our complete support to the United Nations and our commitment to the plans and decisions made during this special session for the children, because nothing is sadder then the despair in the eyes of a child without a future and nothing brings greater joy then the eyes of a child that has been vaccinated, fed, and educated. It is up to us to light up the eyes of every child in Bolivia, of every child in the world.

Thank you.