Miguel Angel Rodriguez Echeverria,
Former President of Costa Rica
Head of Delegation

at the
Special Session of the
General Assembly on Children

New York
10 May 2002

Mr. Secretary General, 
Ladies and Gentlemen Heads of State and Government 
Mr. President,

   A common desire brings us together at this Special Session: that our children and adolescents fully enjoy their rights and fulfill their dreams. Much has been achieved since the 1990 World Summit on Children. However, much remains to be done. Mankind has not yet paid its debt to the younger generations.

Mr. President,

   Millions of adolescents become parents without being prepared. To prevent it, we must teach them the responsibility that parenthood entails. We must instruct the adolescent mothers allowing them to progress and provide better opportunities for their offspring. In Costa Rica, we have undertaken these tasks through the "Young Love" and "Building Opportunities" programs. Our nations' adolescents, as well as their children, demand our help.

   How can we be remiss in not congratulating the seventy three states that have reduce the rate of mortality in children under 5 by a third and the hundred other that have reduce it by a fifth. Nevertheless, 10 million children still die annually due, more often than not, to easily preventable diseases: In Costa Rica we have been able to reduce child mortality by a fourth, attaining a rate of 10.8 by thousand. Together we can save the lives of millions of kids more.

   Millions of children under five years old do not receive early stimulation to develop their intellectual abilities, personality and their capacity to socialize. Through the program "Holding Hands", we have furnished our families with simple tools that assist in their offspring's fuller development. However, my country is rather small. Similar programs should be promoted worldwide.

   We should be gratified that, at this moment, there are more children in school that at any other time in history. However, 120 million, mostly girls, do not attend school. In Costa Rica we have only a 4.4% rate of analphabetism and we are please to note that this rate is even lower among women. During the last four years we have increased the extension of secondary education to an 83.8% of the population, the highest in Latin America, thanks to an increase of a 40.2%. The percentage of children with disabilities that receive education in regular schools, instead of segregated ones, is also increasing. Furthermore we have established a National Center for Resources for the Educative lntegration, the only one of its kind in Latin America, that assists parents, instructors and children with special needs in the educative process. However, the creation of a society that provides opportunities for all through better and greater education requires the joint effort of all our nations.

   It has been estimated that 30 million children are victims of trade, which frequently goes unpunished. In 1999, we adopted legislation that penalizes severely all conducts linked to this despicable crime. To protect all the children from such offenses we must joint efforts.

Mr. President,

   There is no substitute to the warmth of a family. Still, millions of children are not recognized by their fathers. This was the case with a third of the Costa Rican children. Realizing that this situation was putting in jeopardy the basic rights of our children, we were adopted an innovative reform to our family legislation: the Law of Responsible Fatherhood, the first of its kind in the whole world.

   We broke away from the system of filiations inherited from Roman law. The new legislation guarantees to all children their fundamental right to know his parents and to be provided by them with a minimum of spiritual, emotional and, at least, material support. We are thus redefining parenthood in an integral and broad manner. Parenthood in this sense has a cultural and not just in a biological a biological meaning, and is that which the parents have by which they must comply with the joys and obligations of nurturing and instructing their offspring. To address the suffering of the millions of children that still endure the rejection and neglect of their parents, we must take action as soon as possible.

   The mother have the right to inscribe administratively the name of the of her offspring's father, even when the child is born out of wedlock. The father could object to the relation that he is being assigned but then he must then summit himself to a DNA test to prove it. Last year, a 29.3% of the births register in Costa Rica had not father register. A 30.8% of the mothers declared the identity of the father administratively. After a year of the law being in force, the 91.8% of the men notified due to those claims have acknowledged the paternity voluntarily while only the 8.2% have objected and choose to undergo the DNA exam.

Mr. President,

   All the efforts just mentioned are part of the integral commitment by Costa Ricans to our childhood and youth that is embodied in the National Agenda for Childhood. and Adolescents. This agenda represents our country's decision to grant its unquestionable priority to the needs, rights and opportunities of children. It is an ambitious plan with clear targets along a decade to substantially improve the quality of life of the younger Costa Ricans.

   We are aware that there still is much, very much more to do. While any baby dies for preventable causes, while a child does not receive stimuli that enable him to break free of the cycle of poverty, while a youngster or a boy is victim to sexual abuse, while a girl cannot attend school or high school, while an adolescent becomes a mother through ignorance or deception ... while there are sad little faces, we cannot stop our efforts.

   We must take action. There is no excuse to fail to do so. Lets do it with enthusiasm to ensure that the best of our nations is given to our children and adolescents. They constitute the promise and the evidence of all the good that is to come. Because they are our. present and because they represent our future, it is high time to open our hands to them and walk together towards a better mankind.

Thank you