OFFICE OF THE
Mrs. Mary Robinson
for Human Rights
Special Session on Children
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
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
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
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.