UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY 27th Special Session on Children 
8-12 May 2002


The Red Cross and Red Crescent Role in Protecting the Rights of Children




New York, 10 May 2002

Mr President,

Imagine for a moment being a child whose daily bread depends on selling bottles she finds on the road. Now imagine the radical difference a drop in centre would make to your life - warm food, chatting with friends, trying art classes, learning new skills. It would truly be a door opening to a brighter tomorrow. The Drop Inn Centre for Street Children, operated by the Namibian Red Cross Society, is just such a doorway through which the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, its 178 member Societies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, are working to change the lives of vulnerable children.

As an organisation committed to the principle of serving the most vulnerable in society, it is easy to understand why the Red Cross and Red Crescent is so involved with children. Yet children represent to us not only particularly fragile beneficiaries requiring extra protective measures: they also exemplify the fundamental principles that characterise and inspire our Movement.

For example - one thousand young volunteers are participating in the home care programme of the Red Cross in Bosnia and Herzegovina. They are providing a vital service to lonely housebound elderly people. In Cambodia, young Red Cross volunteers help raise awareness about the deadly threat of mines. Red Crescent youth in Bangladesh are involved in the campaign to eradicate polio. And the immense power that is generated when children help other children is nowhere more prominent in the Red Cross Red Crescent world than in Africa, where children are beginning to spearhead the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS and associated stigma and discrimination.

The International Federation has chosen to focus on the impact of HIV/AIDS on young people at this Special Session on Children. The pandemic is compromising the lives and rights of millions of children around the world. They are deprived of the right to grow up: 4.3 million children under the age of 15 have lost their lives to AIDS. Thirteen million children have lost the love and care of one or both of their parents. They are deprived of their right to social and economic security. Perhaps worst of all, children affected by HIV/AIDS are robbed of the right to innocence, because they become subject to stigma and discrimination.. And when children are so stigmatised, it is up to adults to intervene.

That is why, two days ago on World Red Cross Red Crescent Day, the International Federation with UNAIDS and the Global Network of People Living with AIDS - GNP+, launched a global action to reduce HIV/AIDS related stigma and discrimination. Across the world, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, our 97 million members and volunteers are helping pass on the truth about AIDS, breaking down stigma, confronting discrimination, opening eyes and opening minds.

Ensuring that the rights of children become a reality requires a global political commitment. The International Federation calls on governments to fully endorse the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS, signed last June by the leaders of 189 member-states of the United Nations.

We call on you to put the care and protection of children at the forefront of your policies, legislation and development plans. As signatories of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, you have made a commitment to ensure that children's rights are not compromised. We in the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement are prepared to collaborate with you and with all other concerned actors in society, to ensure essential care, protection and education for all the world's children.

We in the International Federation believe that collaborating with others is essential to combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic and has taken action to strengthen these collaborations. At the 106th meeting of the Inter-parliamentary Union last September, through resolutions adopted, the IPU gave recognition to the contribution of Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers to turning back the tide of HIV/AIDS. They urged states to ensure that all necessary measures are taken to protect children against all forms of discrimination.

We believe that the goals of the Global Action for Children agenda - of promoting healthy lives, providing quality education, protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence, and combating HIV/AIDS - are achievable. The resources needed to reach these goals are affordable to the global community. Investing in children now is much less costly to society than allowing a whole generation to grow up uneducated, poor and unhealthy. Without education and assistance now, many orphans and vulnerable children will not grow up at all, but will become part of the tens of millions who will die from AIDS in the coming years.

By harnessing the leadership of your governments to the power of humanity of the International Red Cross Red Crescent movement, we can make a difference. The poet Henry Longfellow, put it well: "There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in". Excellencies, members of the international community and colleagues, let that moment be now.

Thank you very much.