Mrs. Mary Robinson
High Commissioner for Human Rights

to the
General Assembly Special Session on Children

New York
9 May 2002

Chairperson, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

In September 1990, world leaders made "a solemn commitment to give high priority to the rights of children, to their survival, and to their protection and development". A decade later, you are here again to adopt a new series of goals - mindful that many of the goals and targets adopted by the World Summit for Children have still to be met. There is a need to link with the Millennium Development Goals, many of which go to the heart of issues you are here to discuss, including: the eradication of poverty and hunger amongst children, universal primary education, reducing child mortality, and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

This Special Session is the opportunity to take stock of the progress made. It should serve as a spur for greater political support, increased resources and more dynamic social mobilization to achieve those unmet goals.

The adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989 reflected the international consensus on a new vision of children - no longer as mere objects of protection who have "needs", but as human beings who enjoy "rights". The core idea of the Convention - that children's rights are human rights - is central to the matters being considered at this Special Session. The Convention, adhered to now by 191 States, is one of the great success stories of multilateral diplomacy and of the human rights movement. But the challenge before us remains significant, and the gaps in implementation painfully obvious.

A human rights approach to the well-being of children requires States to make every effort to eliminate all forms of discrimination against children. Yet discrimination against children, especially girls, is still prevalent around the world and affects their enjoyment of every right. I have vivid memories of my visit to Kabul last March, which provided a striking example of how development efforts must address gender discrimination if they are to succeed. None of us will ever forget the joy in the faces of the girls, who had finally returned to school after years of denial of this most fundamental right.

Just two days ago, the Security Council heard the powerful testimonies of three children affected by war. No one is better placed to remind us that the impact of conflict is a profound violation of their rights. We need to do everything we can to ensure their protection and to realize their rights.

Next Monday, here in New York, the historic first session of the new Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will provide a further opportunity for implementing the anti discrimination agenda adopted at last year's World Conference Against Racism, as it applies to indigenous children. Many other forms of discrimination must also be addressed, including that suffered by children from poor families, from rural and remote areas, those living with disabilities or belonging to minorities.

A rights based approach to action for children requires children, parents and local communities to be empowered to participate in the defense of their own rights. Human rights education must
therefore become a comprehensive, lifelong process and start with the reflection of human rights values in the daily life and experiences of children, including in school curricula.

While every issue under discussion at the Special Session relates directly to the Convention, a few areas are of particular concern to my Office. As recognized by the Special Session on
HIV/AIDS, respect for human rights is inextricably linked to reducing the spread and impact of HIV/AIDS on children. A rights based approach, including increased access to medication, is
central to mitigating the economic and social impact of the pandemic. The empowerment of
adolescent girls, and their knowledge of reproductive rights, is an essential element in responding effectively to HIV/AIDS.

Children involved with the criminal justice system also have rights. Yet, in too many cases, the right of children to be treated in a manner consistent with human dignity, taking into account the child's age and the objective of constructive reintegration in society, is disregarded.

We increasingly recognize that violence against children, in all its forms, is a violation of their rights. My Office has committed itself to support the Secretary-General's study on violence against children requested by the General Assembly. The Commission on Human Rights at its recent session recommended the appointment of an independent expert on this issue.


This Special Session must yield concrete action towards the full implementation of the rights already recognized by the international community. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is nearly universally ratified. Our task now is to bring these standards home - home to every school, hospital, law court, work place, and family in the world.

I urge you to keep in mind the human rights framework that already exists for the protection of the rights of children. This includes the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Special Rapporteurs on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and on the right to education. The mainstreaming of children's rights has meant that many of the thematic rapporteurs dealing with issues ranging from torture to food report on issues affecting children. The growing community of independent national human rights institutions, and the emergence of new coalitions of civil society organizations, including children's NGOs and networks, offer fresh possibilities for taking forward the struggle for children's rights.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In adopting the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the General Assembly established an agenda for action. By making it the most widely ratified of all human rights treaties, States made a commitment to that agenda. As a lawyer, I understand this is a legally binding commitment by States. But as a parent, I understand it more deeply as a morally binding commitment to our children, and our children's children.

Children have brought us their own vision of the commitments the international community should undertake in "A World Fit for Us" which they worked on during the Children's Forum. I wish you every success as you work, together with children, to implement this agenda. They have asked for a world in which their rights and dignity will be respected and their voices heard.

I wish you every success as you work, together with children, to inmplement this agenda.  They have asked for a world in which their rights and dignity will be respected and their voices heard.