NEW YORK, 09. MAY 2002


Ladies and Gentlemen

I am very pleased to be here in New York today. It is a great honour for me to represent Estonia in the Second World General Assembly Special Session on Children that is to adopt a programme for the well being of all children in the world over the next decade.

In 1990, when the previous World Summit was held, Estonia was not yet an independent state. For now our dreams of restoring and building up our own state have come true. Today, we can speak with confidence about Estonia as one of the future Member States of the European Union.

Over relatively short period of time Estonia has experienced major political, economic and social changes that have touched everyone's life. Like many other countries, now we are facing new challenges, resulting among other things from declining and aging population.

Estonia., a country with a population of only 1.4 million, belongs to the family of small nations of the world. The birth of each and every child is, therefore, crucial for survival and sustainable development of our nation. However, it is even more important for each and every child to be brought up in a safe and child-friendly environment where the best possible quality of life is promoted.

I very much welcome the Summit's call upon the governments to invest in children. This is especially significant today as with the fewer babies born and more families determined not to have children in many of our societies, there will be also fewer people who are truly concerned for the well being of children. For limited financial resources there is always a danger that the interests and needs of children will be overshadowed by those of adult population in the competition for the governments' investments.

Similarly to other societies in transition, not all people in Estonia have been able to keep up with rapid changes and benefit from social development and economic growth. Neither have tensions and contradictions accompanying dramatic changes in the society left children untouched.

Difficulties the parents experience when adjusting to the rapid changes or when facing unemployment or other problems have a direct impact on the quality of life of children. Moreover, for children growing up in poverty and deprivation means often living with poverty and limited choices over their lifetime.

On the other hand, children whose parents are coping very well with their lives, are also often deprived of something very important, since the success of parents comes at its own price. The children in the so-called job rich, time poor families are likely to suffer from emotional loneliness and distress.

Drug abuse and the spread of HIV, increased usage of alcohol and tobacco or other kind of self-destructive behaviour - these are new problems emerging among children and adolescents, indicating weakening social bonds within family and society as a whole.

The role of the state in improving the quality of life of children and families with children cannot be limited only to granting traditional family benefits. Education is one of the areas where government's investment is more than crucial.

Today, in Estonia children, also children with special needs, have better opportunities than ever to acquire quality education that meets their interests and abilities. For example, ten years ago computer literacy was the privilege of few experts. Today every school has computers and Internet access - and it is the children who teach digital skills to their parents and grandparents.

However, the prospects of all children to acquire the desired level of education are not equal yet. Unfortunately, choices here depend far too often on where the child lives and on quality of his or her pre-school -education. Sadly enough, educational paths of children may sometimes depend on the social and economic status of their parents.

We have also seen the increasing number of dropouts - some children have only obtained basic level of education, some have even failed to do so, meaning that there are more young people unable to find a proper job.

We all know that the choice o€ the first school can determine all other life choices. To give all children a `sure start', from July this year every child of pre-school age in Estonia is entitled to kindergarten services. In order to prevent educational stratification and reduce the dropout rate, it is necessary to design programmes and methods to match with different needs and abilities. Enhancing social skills such as co-operation, communication and problem-solving skills that are crucial for successful entrance to the labour market must become an indispensable part of general education.

The well-being of a whole generation, their opportunities to obtain further education and finding good quality jobs - their "playground" in the society - depends on what and how is being taught at school. Therefore the best investment we can make in children is to guarantee equally good and diversified educational choices and opportunities for all the children in the world. This is also, as far as I am convinced, the best strategy we have in our hands to prevent poverty and social exclusion - for children and future adults.

Thank you very much for your attention.