Madame Marie-Thérèse Hermange 
Chairperson of the delegation

New York,
le 9 mai 2002

Mr. President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The President of the French Republic had long planned to participate personally in this special session on children to which he attaches the utmost importance, being convinced there is a change in the air here, a movement of generosity and hope for the world's children. Owing to the electoral timetable in France, he is unable to be here. It is as his personal representative in the preparatory process of this session that I address you and that I would like to pay tribute, in his name, to the Secretary-General and Ms Bellamy for their exemplary action on behalf of children. In France, the preparation for this session has given rise to a great many initiatives and resulted in one hundred proposals for a new policy on children which I have presented to the President of the Republic.

We must use this special session to unify and consolidate in a common process the course planned in 1990 at the first World Summit for Children and that in 1989, the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This session must reflect our commitment to redouble our efforts on behalf of children.

Redoubling our efforts first to reaffirm the approach based on the rights of the child. The implementation of the November 20, 1989 convention, which is fundamental and has been almost universally ratified, has played a major role this past decade in the mobilization on behalf of children the world over. For that reason, there would be every justification in having November 20 declared an international day for the rights of the child. Children's rights have now been clearly defined. If I had to single out just two, it would be the right to education, especially for girls, because this is one of the keys to progress in the world; and the right to health care in the face of the terrible challenges from such pandemics as AIDS.

Yet the recognition of these rights must not result in children being prematurely transformed into adults, or in confusing these rights with the absence of rules. Children need to be guided, informed and taken in charge by an authority-figure in their development towards adulthood. Similarly, we must insist, perhaps more than we do, on the duties incumbent on parents, families and public institutions in their authority-function with regard to children. One of the keys to improving the lot of children probably lies in strengthening support and help for adults to enable them to fulfill their role better vis-a-vis children, beginning with the role of being responsible parents.

Redoubling our efforts also to implement in practical ways and with determination the array of ambitious legal measures that has been built up over the last ten years, based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. France calls for the universal ratification of the Convention and its optional protocols relating to two of the worst forms of violence against children, protocols that my country recently ratified. France is pleased that under the Secretary-General's authority, a report on violence against children has been prepared and is due out soon. It also welcomes the increased attention that the Security Council has decided to give to the serious problem of children in armed conflicts. Judge from this: two million children killed in conflicts since 1990, six million wounded or left handicapped, ten million traumatized by the loss of their parents or by sexual abuse.

Sexual violence against children, child pornography, the criminal role that the new technologies, such as the Internet, play in these activities, are new challenges facing in the first place our so-called developed societies. No country, no institution is exemplary. Protection of children is an ongoing duty, and a duty that concerns us all.
To fulfill it, we must make sure that texts are effectively implemented, by monitoring their application, in particular by giving the Committee on the Rights of the Child the resources it needs--and by coordinating international actions in this context.

For example, in combating child pornography on the Internet and the sexual exploitation of children, joint and concerted action among several countries, acting on a common basis, is needed in order to be truly effective. In combating genital mutilation and the use of child soldiers, in our efforts to combat every kind of violence, it is also attitudes that have to be changed. That requires a determined commitment on the part of governments and international institutions.

Redoubling our efforts also to bequeath our children a clean and sustainable planet. In the perspective of the upcoming summit in Johannesburg, which is to address environmental protection and the duty of solidarity between generations, shouldn't there be a duty of "intergenerational justice" leading us not only to ensure conditions today in which children grow up free from contamination and environment-linked illnesses, but also to bequeath to future generations a protected world and a sound ecosystem? Our actions in the national environment should not degrade and compromise biological diversity and ecosystems to the point that in the future our children would no longer be able in turn to profit from them. In this connection, I would recommend enhancing the awareness of children about these issues. I would also like to recall here the wish of the President of the Republic to establish a world environment organization.

Lastly, redoubling our efforts means above all doing more to combat poverty and extreme poverty. If we have failed to fully achieve the goals of the 1990 summit, it is in large part because we have not done better in combating poverty. For our children to live and live better, we must go further in our action against poverty--along the lines indicated at the Millenium Summit and confirmed at the recent Monterrey Summit--primarily in the direction of Africa. Economic and social development, including in the developed countries where the extremely poor are marginalized, is critical to improving the lot of children. For proof, I need cite only the difficult and complex issue of child labor. The transition from a domestic economy to a profit-based economy, urbanization, the dislocation of the family, the search for comparative advantages on the world market have shattered the old system and resulted today in veritable networks of child exploitation. We must condemn and fight them with determination, and not just in regard to what the ILO has identified as the worst forms of such exploitation.

This must lead us to recognize that the fight against poverty is a needed and essential contribution to improving the lot of children. It necessarily means greater financial contributions. I wish to recall here the appeal by the President of the Republic at Monterrey for the industrialized countries to make a greater effort. This vital action against poverty is not however sufficient to guarantee compliance with children's rights everywhere at all times. Children are different, and their situations all vary. But our resolve against the violence inflicted on a vulnerable population must be the same and constant.

France still pursues the same dream: to see the world enjoy the ambitious motto it chose for itself: "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." Liberty, equality and fraternity first for the most vulnerable, and consequently for our children first.

Thank you