H.E. Mr. Pall Petursson
Minister of Social Affairs of Iceland

During the General Debate at the United Nations Special Session on Children
8 May 2002

Mr. President,

Allow me at the outset to express my satisfaction with this Special Session of the General Assembly and its large and distinguished gathering. Let me also express a particular pleasure with the historic Children's Forum preceeding this event. I can confirm that the Icelandic child representatives were extremely pleased with the Forum.

Mr. President,

Allow me to convey my admiration and gratitude to the Secretary General for his comprehensive and informative report "We the Children".

The report demonstrates the great challenge of improving the living conditions and welfare of children all over the world. The report is often a depressing reading as it reveals the most distressing aspects of children's situation. However, it also contains a hope for the future by demonstrating the achievements already made.

By international comparison, the children of my country, Iceland, are indeed fortunate as they are blessed with peace and security, good health care and education.
We must, however, continue to acknowledge that children deserve special attention, their rights and needs have to be recognized and their situation improved. We must also ensure their participation in society by respecting their freedom of expression and the right to be listened to.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child. should continue to be the cornerstone of our efforts to enhance the status of children. The Government of Iceland remains commited to the implementation of the Convention and its two Protocols which Iceland has already ratified.

The Icelandic Government has during the recent years taken a number of steps toward a better society for children. This is documented in our National Report on Follow-up to the World Summit for Children. I will highlight a few aspects.

Each parent in Iceland is entitled to a three-month maternity/paternity leave, which is not assignable and, in addition, they are entitled to a three-month joint leave which they may divide among themselves as they please. The aim of this law is to ensure each child's access to both its father and mother. This has proven to be a great success.

In order to raise awareness of children's issues and rights, an office of Child Ombudsman has been established. A special focus has also been given to child protection through the operation of the Government Agency of Child Protection. In addition an Assessment Centre for Child Sexual Abuse, The Children's House, has been operating for a few years. This is a multiagency project that provides comprehensive services to children under one roof.

Recently the Icelandic Parliament passed a new legislation on Child Protection. The number of treatment and rehabilitation facilities for youth with alcohol and drug problems have been increased. Finally, I would like to mention that in confirmity with a resolution passed by our Parliament we are creating a comprehensive public policy on children's issues accompanied by a plan of action. The outcome document "A World fit for Children" will be a welcome input into our work.

Mr. President

Children all over the world are affected by armed struggle, poverty, lack of basic education and appropriate medical services and insufficient protection.
All feasible measures should be taken in accordance with international humanitarian law, to ensure the protection and care of children who are affected by armed conflict. We are especially concerned about the plight of children in the occupied Palestinian territories.

We all need to accept responsibility and define our priorities for the welfare of children. Lets hope that the declaration and plan of action deriving from this Special Session will be put into practise by each and every one of us in our actions both at the national and international level.

Thank you, Mr. President