H.E. Dr. Murli Manohar JOSHI,
Minister for Human Resources Development

on the occasion of the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children

New York,
9 May 2002

Mr. President,

Children are society's most critical foundation, they shape its future. It is, therefore, only appropriate that the nations of the world should come together in this special session to reaffirm their common commitment towards children and pledge themselves to specific actions which would put children first and leave no child behind in the next decade.

2. Mr. President, the world's children can truly flourish and be secure only in a world of peace, non-violence and non-exploitation. Let me quote Mahatama Gandhi who said several decades ago:

"If we are to reach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on real war against war, we shall have to begin with children."

3. Mr. President, we are indeed satisfied at the emphasis placed on strengthening the family as the basic and primary care taking unit responsible for ensuring protection and nurturing of children. Both traditionally, as well as in contemporary India, we believe that the right to a family is the most primeval and fundamental of all children's rights, and the family the most vital unit for nurturing a child with the required love, emotional security and protection. Childhood is seen as a continuum comprising of different stages, each to be addressed differently. In our tradition, children for the first 5 years must receive boundless love from the family. Thereafter, till the age of 16 years, the concept of right and wrong, the meaning of values and duties must be instilled. After the age of 16, a child and parent should share an equation of friendship. Prapte to Shodshe Varshe, Putram Mitravata Aachareta. The values and sense of duty inculcated in childhood become the greatest strengths of adulthood, while also strengthening society. Let us resolve to strengthen the family as the most natural medium for providing for the protection, well being and development of children, and safeguard the right of a child to be a child. And for those unfortunate children deprived of family love and care, let us address their needs with empathy and compassion and create a world in which all children have a home, adequate food, education and opportunity to develop their full

4. Mr. President, poverty is indeed the greatest enemy of children and poverty alleviation must begin with children. The optimal development of human resources is the single most critical and durable determinant for eliminating poverty, because economic growth accelerates through investment in children's health, nutrition and education. Poverty reduction is the target of all programmes of the Government of India, with children at their centre. Our achievements vis a vis all indicators for children for the past decade have been positive if not total, and though we realize we still have a long road ahead, we are undeterred by the challenge. In November 2001, we launched the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan, a national programme that aims to universalize elementary education . by 2010, with special emphasis on the education of the girl child. A Constitutional amendment to include the right to free and compulsory education for all children from 6 to 14 years as a fundamental right is in progress. Our National Commission for Children will be a statutory body to protect and monitor children's rights, and review implementation of laws and programmes meant for children. We are also launching a mission to combat malnutrition in a time-bound framework, particularly aimed at breaking the inter-generational cycle that has perpetuated it so far. Systems have also been put in place to provide relief and rehabilitation and to alleviate the trauma of children in areas affected by natural,calamities and violence.

Mr. President,

5. We have, through our deliberations, committed ourselves jointly to a well-defined set of targets for children. Though we have not quantified the respective share of
resources that would be mobilized from domestic and international sources, our coming together to adopt these targets is itself proof of our acceptance of a shared responsibility.

6. India is home to 380 million children, the largest child population in the world and my government reiterates its commitment to ensuring the rights, protection and complete development of every child in our country. As we reinforce our pledge today, let us convert our consensus into action, overcome every unmet challenge, and give concrete shape to the partnership to which we bind ourselves at this Special Session, so that every child is touched by it. And let us this moment share the grace of the closing . sloka of the Rig Veda,

"Common be our intention, common be our hearts, common be our thoughts, so that there is perfect unity amongst us."

Thank you, Mr. President.