The Hon. Roberto Maroni
Minister of Labour and Social Affairs

at the
Special Session of
The United Nations Generl Assembly
on Children

New York
9 May 2002

Mr. President,
   Let me first compliment you on your leadership of this Special Session of the General Assembly, and endorse the statement made by Spain on behalf of the EU.

   This Special Session expresses the deep consideration that we, the generation of today, must have for children and adolescents, the generation of tomorrow. Reuniting ten years after the historic Children's Summit in 1990 should not be simply an occasion for taking stock of what has been done or lamenting what has not. It is above all an opportunity to reflect on what remains to be done, to map out a common path of cooperation, and to learn from each other, for the benefit of children. A world fit for children: this is the commitment that we are reconfirming today, and that will guide us in our future actions.

   One month ago we met in Madrid where we signed a commitment to create a society for all ages. Today we are strengthening that commitment: we must show that we really do want to build a world for all generations, starting by investing in the young, the future of each and every society. We must show that we really do wish to build a world in which each generation appreciates the other and shares in the common good.

   To achieve this reality, to safeguard the future, we need to act. We cannot remain on the sidelines while tragic events affecting the lives of children in so many parts of the world unfold before our eyes; nor can we refuse to question our part in these events and correct or improve our behavior.

   Despite the commitments solemnly proclaimed at the 1990 Summit and despite the almost universal acceptance of the United Nations Convention on Children's Rights, violence toward and exploitation of children, isolation of children, and indifference to children's needs occur all too frequently and in too many different forms.

   Therefore, at UNGASS 2002 we should also admit how little we have done at times in the face of these problems, acknowledge the varied challenges facing all countries, and discuss possible common strategies.

Education and Health Care
   Entire generations of children have not received basic education or been prevented from entering or completing training programs. We cannot ignore that sooner or later they will become an unsustainable burden for the societies in which they live.

   Violence against children takes the form of discrimination, exclusion from schooling, an alarming increase in the number of street children in devastated urban neighborhoods, and the traumatic loss of cultural roots for children caught in chaotic migration processes. These phenomena may be old but they are also intolerable, making it incumbent upon the entire international population to deliver assistance and protection to the little victims.

   It is the duty of our generation adults and parents as well as political and governmental leaders to provide this assistance and safeguard the lives of these young people. Within the framework of the commitments undersigned at the World Education
Forum at Dakar in 2000, Italy made education a priority for international cooperation programs. Italy is also a member of the High Level Working Group to implement the strategies identified at Dakar, and has successfully completed projects to improve national school systems.

   Our commitment to education is flanked by a strong health care initiative to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, malnutrition and denutrition, especially among women. Italy has invested considerable financial and human resources in the world UNAIDS program, and is the second largest donor to the Global Fund against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. We intend to focus our efforts also on the social aspects of the fight against HIV/AIDS in children.

   "Children do not belong to us; they belong to the world," as Kahlil Gibran said. No parent and no Government can mold them to their wishes. It is the duty of parents to protect children from their vulnerability, and to encourage their talents. It is the duty of Government to reduce the gap between the older and younger generations, through schooling and adult education, and improve inter generational relations.

Poverty Eradication and Children
   Our primary objective is to fight poverty, the primary cause of the deprivation in which millions of children live, and thereby reduce the causes of child abandonment by families and help the children join in the life cycles of society.

   Over the past ten years Italy has directed greater resources to programs designed to safeguard the rights of children and adolescents in developing countries. Since December 1998 Italy has had its own "Guidelines" for development cooperation programs that involve children, and intends to treat children and young people more and more as an essential development resource in which to invest. Consistent with this approach, the child/adolescent is no longer seen solely as a beneficiary but rather as an agent of development and the subject of inalienable rights.

   For the three year period 1999-2001, in the framework of a coordinated and multi-sector approach, Italy has allocated major voluntary contributions to international organizations that deal with children, for cooperation programs to be implemented in close coordination with NGOs, regional authorities and UN Agencies.

   My country is also paying special attention to the issue of international adoption. Recently approved laws strengthen the principle of subsidiarity of international adoption, and guarantee adoption procedures in the child's best interests. Our aim is to cooperate with the institutions in the home countries toward fostering social policies, improving conditions, thereby promoting national adoption and foster care with a view to allowing children to remain in their home countries.

   Long distance support is one of the resources on which Italy intends to focus, allowing better organization and coordination of projects implemented through the generosity of so many people. The aim of such initiatives is to provide young people with real opportunities to be independent, activate their resources in their home countries, and develop a spirit of initiative and cultural and professional skills that will help them to escape the spiral of pure charity.

Violence against Children
   On the strength of its democratic vocation and commitment to human rights and values, Italy has in recent years stepped up its capacity to confront and contrast the worst effects of trafficking in human beings, especially children, playing a leading role in the promotion of international initiatives to stop and eradicate this practice. Aware as we are of the extent of the phenomenon and its tragic characteristics, in all international fora my country has been a leading contributor to the drafting of new instruments to combat this phenomenon and provide assistance and protection to its victims.

   In the area of multilateral collaboration, Italy was one of the first countries to support the two Optional Protocols at the 1989 New York Convention on Children's Rights, which were adopted at the Millennium Summit in 2000. And I am pleased to announce that this morning I deposited the instrument of ratification for the two Protocols with the UN Secretariat.

   The two Protocols address two different forms of violence against children: one is trafficking in children, the sale of children, child pornography and prostitution; the other is children in armed conflicts. To fight both forms of violence, we must use efficient strategies and methods that promote and support development in the societies of origin of these children. To this end, last July Italy hosted an international UN workshop on children in armed conflicts, aimed at drafting an agenda of commitments for monitoring critical situations and establishing a global network of experts. We are also committed to creating a permanent group of experts to study the best ways to fight this phenomenon.

Child Labor
   There can be no economic growth in a society when young workers, and especially children, are being exploited. Italy considers the ILO Convention no. 182 on the prohibition of the worst forms of child labor to be a landmark, and was one of the first countries to ratify it.

   Italy is at the forefront of the ILO's Global Campaign to raise awareness of what strategies countries can adopt to stop child labor. Both the Government and the social partners supported Italy's participation in the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labour (I.P.E.C.). Workers were fully involved in the program, dedicating their time to fundraising for the campaign to eliminate the most harmful forms of child labor.

   Children were also at the center of world attention during the Palermo Conference of December 2000, at which the Convention against Transitional Organized Crime was opened for signature, together with the two attached Protocols against smuggling and trafficking in human beings, especially women and children. Italy is proud to have hosted this important event, and to have been one of the first countries to sign the texts. We hope that the Convention will soon reach the required number of ratifications for its entry into force.

   Our goal in negotiating these international instruments was not to criminalize the victims of illegal trafficking but to fight the criminal organizations that profit from them. Italy is making sure that the commitments solemnly undertaken are actually implemented. In recent years we have promoted a number of projects, in close collaboration with the international agencies, to fight child trafficking and guarantee children protection, assistance and the means of being reintegrated into their families, schools and social systems.

Promoting Well Being
   Italy has long been committed to promoting the active citizenship of children and adolescents. Children and adolescents have rights: the right to be educated, to be fed, to have a suitable home for their physical and psychological development, to play, to good health and to affection. The same opportunities must be guaranteed to all children, able and disabled alike.

   These rights are summarized in the principle proclaimed by the 1989 Charter and now incorporated into Italian laws on childhood: the minor citizen has the right to well being, the right to live in a world that is also fit for her or him.

   A world fit for children, the theme of this meeting here in New York, must guarantee above all the right to a family, to grow up and develop one's personality in a climate of love and understanding, under the care and supervision of one's parents, in an atmosphere filled with affection and physical and moral security, guaranteeing food, a place to live, free time and adequate health care.

   In Italy, the family still represents the basic structure for the education of a person, the protection of his or her well being, and the fostering of social unity. It is the first place where children learn, in the broadest sense of the word. Over time they acquire a sense of social responsibility and recognize the active role they have to play. The family is the structure that guarantees the handing down of the cultural and moral heritage to younger generations, through inter generational exchange and the promotion of equality between the different generations of a single family. The role of the elderly within family relationships is fundamental in the way they contribute to the learning process of young people.

   The Italian government is deeply committed to new, coherent and coordinated policies to benefit the family. Rather than simply providing economic support for needy families, various instruments can be implemented by making families part of the process of identifying their needs and implementing projects to meet them.

   As I stated in Madrid last month, Italy is the country with the lowest birth rate in the world. To finally reverse that demographic trend and relaunch the active role of the family in society, we intend to take an integrated approach that addresses financial and fiscal issues, the provision of social services aid structures, and labour policies.

   The Italian government intends to create a new welfare system that fosters broad horizontal and vertical subsidiarity between central, regional and local government as well as the active involvement of families, associations, and private social organizations. Our action aims not just to respond to emergency situations but also to promote the well being of the family as a unit and of all its members, first and foremost children.

   A world fit for children means the right to a healthy environment, such as a child friendly city. Childhood policies in Italy favor what we called shared planning, involving the participation of all the social actors who deal with children: local government, public institutions, businesses, private social organizations and the service industry. Shared planning encourages children, especially adolescents, to reappropriate urban spaces and the local cultural heritage, and makes them a part of the decisions that promote their rights and define their spaces.

The New Media and Children
   A world fit for children means special attention to education: a quality education accessible to all. In its childhood policies Italy also contemplates the relationship between children and the new media, which educators feel is crucial to education policy.

   Even before their first day of school, children develop a spontaneous literacy primarily through the media. Their close contact with the new technologies does not make them dependent; it gives them a new way of seeing the world, of picking up signals or searching for stimuli. Ignoring the new means of communication would be equivalent to shutting out both the real world and the future. This is why it is indispensable for the child to become active in its own socialization process, for example in schools.

   In the context of the new media, the world offered by television is still one in which children in many countries are immersed for many hours a day, a world with a strong influence on psycho social development. Italy hasn't forgotten that television continues to play an important role as an agent of socialization that often fills the empty spaces in a child's day. Our goal is to assure the quality of what is offered on TV. TV and the Internet are an opportunity for learning and social development, a supplementary resource that can offer valid models of other life styles and values.

Prevention. Protection and Recovery
   A world fit for children means protecting the smallest citizens from danger, particularly exploitation and abuse. Prevention, protection and recovery are the three imperatives of Italian policies to safeguard children and protect minors against sexual abuse and exploitation.

By these three imperatives Italy is committed to integration and inter institutional interaction through:
   -the creation of local monitoring centers for children's and adolescents' needs, including recovery and awareness raising
   -the integration of social health services at all management levels; 
   -the creation of a protective network of judges, public institutions, social workers, doctors, private social organization
     workers and above all school workers;
   -specialized training for workers who deal with children.

   Training in prevention, protection and recovery of the victims is the focus of Italy's projects to combat the sexual abuse and exploitation of children. The key to "zero tolerance" of these phenomena is training and awareness raising, along with tougher laws and law enforcement.

   A world fit for children means that school and play are the jobs of young citizens. Italy is strongly opposed to all the worst forms of child labor, and is currently finalizing a coordination instrument to fight this phenomenon, not only from the central government but also through local government. Our goal is to build a child protection network, supported by the Government, that is closer to the needs of the child and its family.

   Education has a key role in this project, which faces the difficult challenge of reintegrating the child or preadolescent into a normal school system.

   The participation of children in the decision making process is essential to achieving the goals we have set out for ourselves. In this light, the presence of so many young girls and boys at the Special Session underscores our commitment. Our success is assured if we manage to understand what children really need and if we are able to listen to and speak with them. This is the first step in our quest to create a better world for everyone, not just today but also in the future.