H.E. Mrs. Askalu Menkerios
Minister of Labour and Human Welfare of the State of Eritrea

at the

Twenty-seventh Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Children

New York, 9 May 2002

Mr. President,
Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies,
Beloved Children and the Youth, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Allow me first to express, on behalf of the President of the State of Eritrea, Mr. Isaias Afwerki, and on my own behalf, the gratitude of my Government to the organizers of this Special Session of the General Assembly. I wish to congratulate the members of the Preparatory Committee and the entire Bureau for a job well done under the chairmanship of Ambassador Patricia Durrant of Jamaica and the indispensable guidance of Ms. Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF, and her team. My President regrets his absence from this important session due to other pressing commitments and I feel honoured to address the General Assembly on his behalf.

Mr. President,

Humanity's commitment to the welfare and protection of children cannot be an issue of debate as, indeed, the children are the bearers of our collective heritage and civilization as well as the prospective fulfillers of our unrealized hopes and dreams. My Government recognizes, however, that the fulfillment of these platitudes would not come by easily. It is especially true in the impoverished and war-torn societies where children, along with other vulnerable groups such as women and the elderly, often bear the brunt of the burden. There is, thus, a need for special measures, both legal and practical, to mitigate their precarious situation.

I say this from Eritrea's long experience in dealing with the plight of children during the decades of its armed struggle for national independence. These were also the reasons that prompted my Government to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1994 and articulate, soon after, a comprehensive action programme in the form of the "Initial Report on the Implementation of CRC in Eritrea".

At this special session, we have the opportunity to review our commitments made twelve years ago and to redraw further plan of action for the good of the children of the world.

Mr. President,

Eritreaas commitment to the well being of children has been sustained, even at most difficult times.of war. I am proud to say the investment on children has been one of the top national priorities. Eritrea has achieved some progress in several aspects related to care, protection and overall development of children, especially for those in need of special protection measures (CNSPM).

A National Committee, Regional Committees and a Task Force consisting of experts have been put in place to oversee the implementation of CRC provisions for care, protection and development of children in Eritrea. Commendable efforts have been put into effect to educate and disseminate information concerning the rights of children throughout the nation in different local languages. Nation-wide and regional campaigns and workshops have been regularly conducted and the outcomes disseminated through the national media. The CRC booklet was translated into local languages and widely circulated to all segments of our society.

Several programmes, such as the reunification and adoption of orphans and strengthening of community coping-mechanisms, through the provision of micro-credit, have been some of the remarkable endeavors. Thanks to our dedicated civil servants, UN organizations, NGOs and the people of Eritrea for their relentless efforts in this regard.

Mr. President,

The `Say Yes for Children' campaign was a step forward in mobilizing the participation of citizens of all walks of life in Eritrea. Indeed, the campaign was a great success. The Eritrean people supported, through nationally conducted opinion polls, the following three fundamental priorities out of the ten rallying points of the Global Movement for Children (GMC):

1. Education for all children (62%);

2. Combating HIV/AIDS (58%); and

3. Caring for all children (43%).

The Government of Eritrea, thus, acting in accordance with the priorities set by the general public, has made the necessary arrangements to disseminate the results of the polls throughout the country in a special magazine published for this purpose. This magazine was translated into three local languages for wider circulation.

The following concrete steps have been taken to implement the above expressed programmes:

.    Awareness campaigns have been conducted in all regions on `HAMSET' project aiming at prevention of HIV/AIDS, malaria and T.B.;

.    Sex education has been introduced in schools and religious places;

.    HIV/AIDS Positive Citizens Association, HIV/AIDS youth clubs and community support groups have been organized, in order to ensure their rights, exchange ideas and expertise through public campaigns;

.    Socio-psychological support and counseling have been provided by trained social workers in communities and in camps of internally displaced people (IDP);

.    Orphans, including those from AIDS and war, have been reunified with host families by providing financial support to ensure their economic sustainability;

.    In the area of education, steps to construct new schools in remote villages have been initiated; teacher population has been increased; the enrollment and retention of girls has considerably increased; and the gender gap has been reduced; and

.    In the health front, significant improvement has been made in the Expanded Immunization Programme (EIP). Infant and maternal mortality rates have been reduced.

In as much as they are the principal stakeholders, efforts have been made to involve children and the youth as active partners in this process through special activities like, children parliaments, education, skill training and youth-to-youth programmes.

Despite all these efforts, however, some of the promises still remain unfulfilled. There is a greater need to strengthen capacities of national institutions and civil society organizations. There is a dearth of human resources and funds to meet the on going and emerging undertakings such as, refugee children, orphans, deportees and war-affected children, which hold high priority in my country.

Mr. President,

The agenda for the next decade is clear. It should include, inter-alias

.    Universalization of basic education;

.    Removal of all gender-based disparities;

.    Universal immunization against vaccine preventable diseases;

.    Controlling spread of HIV/AIDS infections;

.    Dealing with all categories of children in need of special protection measures;

.    Restoring traditional coping mechanisms and instilling responsibility among community members;

.    Setting-up separate fund for tackling war-affected children;

.    Providing flexibility of regular procedures of fund disbursement in dealing with emergencies; and

.    Making increased efforts in sharing information across public institutions, civil society organizations and communities to promote coordinated and effective response to all problems of children affected by armed conflicts.

These efforts require funds, leadership, partnership and extended support from the international community. It is time for the governments, UN agencies, the private sector, NGOs, the youth and the children to act together towards the implementation of all the provisions of the CRC and the Plan of Action this august Assembly is about to adopt.

Meanwhile, governments must commit to take groundbreaking steps and mobilize nation-wide support to ensure that the targeted goals and the rallying ten points of the Global Movement for Children become realities. Our commitments must be translated into action in order to create 'A World fit for Children' now and the generations to come.

Thank you, Mr. President.