KIRIBATI
 
 

STATEMENT

BY

HIS EXCELLENCY TEBURORO TITO
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF KIRIBATI

AT THE UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL SESSION ON CHILDREN

NEW YORK
FRIDAY 10 MAY 2002


 
 

Mr. President, Heads of States, UN Secretary-General, Distinguished Delegates, Child Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I bring to you all, very warm greetings from the Government, the Children and people of the Republic of Kiribati, in the Pacific.

In Kiribati we say, Kam na bane ni mauri!

Mr. President, allow me, on behalf of my delegation, to add words of congratulation on your election to the Presidency of the 56th General Assembly as well as this summit and to assure you of our outmost support .

I also take this opportunity to extend our best wishes to the SecretaryGeneral H.E. Kofi Annan and all UN Secretariat staff, in particular the Executive Director of UNICEF, Ms. Carol Bellamy, with our renewed assurances of support and gratitude for their excellent stewardship of the United Nations and its various organs including the UNICEF.

Mr. President allow me also to express my sincere gratitude to President George W. Bush, the Government and the people of the United States, our gracious host, for their hospitality and efficiency in providing us with the required protocol and security services. I would like to take this opportunity to once again convey our sympathies and condolences to the innocent victims of September 11. I salute the United States and in particular the citizens of New York for their show of courage, tolerance and perseverance bduring such difficult times, a testimony to the unbending strength of the noble values that the American democracy upholds and defends even in its darkest moment.

Mr. President, we are gathered today, to take stock of the progress that has been made towards the objects of the Convention of the Right of Child (CRC) and also to put our thoughts together, in response to the call of children, so that we can all help to make a world fit for children. It is also a time to revisit some of the fundamentals of the CRC in order to foster greater appreciation and understanding of the broad spectrum of the traditions and cultures as duly acknowledged by the various articles of the CRC and within which children are born, loved, cared for and educated in preparation for adulthood.

Children represent the best, the purest and the loveliest part of humanity in every family, village and society. According to our Kiribati tradition, which goes back to mythological times, the world, comprising sky, ocean and land, belongs to a super spiritual being called Nareau, and all human beings are his descendants through the half spirit half human beings (`anti ma aomata'), that he created at the beginning of time to help him mould and take charge of the world. Every human being born into the world is therefore considered sacred (`tabu') and supreme over other creations and its needs and requirements for life are above all other considerations. Guided and influenced by these traditional beliefs blended with Christian values, every stage of the child's development is celebrated as a significant event and an essential part of the child's preparation and initiation into the adult world, and the needs of the child take precedence over all other needs.

 Our attendance at this summit therefore reflects the very high priority that we accord to children and our genuine commitment to the noble principles enshrined in the CRC.

I am therefore grateful for this opportunity to have gained much inspiration from the wisdom of many who are here and also to have this opportunity of interacting and sharing our success and failure stories in our efforts to improve the well being of children. While there is still a long way ahead of us, it is indeed very encouraging to learn from the various statements made at this summit that the CRC has, during its first decade of operation, made a difference to the lives of millions of children across the globe meaning there is less child pain, less child hunger, less child illness and less child death in the world and there is greater hope for children in the future as a result of the good work of UNICEF and all concerned.

Over ten years ago during my visits to some parts of the world outside the Pacific, I was saddened to see so many malnourished and extremely ill looking children along the streets held out by mothers begging for money and food, and to see many others tlu-iving on what they could find in the garbage bins of some very wealthy looking people living in mansions next door to these poor, homeless human beings. I would like to go back to these places again and hope to see fewer of these sad looking children and mothers and hopefully one day the world would be celebrating the end of such heartbreaking scenes.

It is also pleasing that the CRC has impacted positively on the minds of national leaders to the extent that many countries have made the necessary legislative, administrative and budgetary changes for the betterment of children. It is also very moving to hear the gentle voice of children foretelling the end of many of the miseries that have plagued their lives for decades but it is sad to hear that they are going to fight to bring an end to these evils if the leaders and the grown-ups do nothing about their plea. As good parents, we must do the fight for them and let them enjoy the fruit of our hard labour so that they in turn will be able to do greater things for their children.

Mr. President, `Making a world fit for children' is a very challenging theme for this Summit given the many serious challenges being posed by international terrorism, globalization, HIV aids, the highly unpredictable and untamable forces of world financial and commodity markets, the rapid evolution of communication technology, environmental degradation and global warming that have de-shaped the world to make it somewhat less secure and less conducive to the survival and development of children, particularly in the developing countries.

In Kiribati, the Government, in partnership with the parents, families, the island councils, the Churches, various community based organizations, NGOs and development partners, is doing its very best, within its available resources, to improve the well being of children as an essential part of its `quality of life improvement' policy. As part of the aim to improve the social, physical and economic environment for children, the Government is enhancing the revival of important family and cultural values and investing more and more of its resources and money in the health, education, sports and other children and youth related activities. But the aim of Government to provide the best for its children is sometimes frustrated where the prices of goods and services from overseas needed for the health, education and well-being of children become very costly, or where the income of farming and fishing families in the rural and subsistence sector, where the majority of children live, is seriously affected because of highly volatile external markets. To address this, Kiribati is working with other countries in the Pacific and Asia facing similar problems in order to develop a regional and international strategy to deal with such situation, or to minimize the impact of these international trading and market forces on our national programmes.

This constitutes a major economic obstacle to oiir efforts to improve the economic well-being of children in Kiribati, and I believe that there are many parallels of this in the Pacific region and other regions of the world. It requires a collective and partnership approach at the national, regional and international levels. It also requires a more effective representation of the small and developing countries in the global policy making. In this connection, Kiribati fiilly supports the proposal put forward last year by President Rene Harris of Nauni, as Chairman of our Pacific Islands Forum, that the Pacific should now be recognized as a distinct region under the Charter of the United Nations to enable Pacific states to contribute a unique Pacific strand to the global fabric of ideas and understanding.

These have implications on the structure of the global economy and the trading systems and the way they work and the need to have s~ich centuries old structures and system refonmed and democratized in order to create a world fit for children. If these global structures and systems are not reformed then I believe the CRC objects will de difficult to achieve and the goals set by the Millennium Summit will take very long to materialize, particularly in the context of countries where the subsistence economy is under serious threat.

Similarly, we believe, it will also be very difficult to achieve the targets set by CRC to make a world fit for children if

(a) the culture of peace is not cultivated to combat the emerging culture of hate and evil;

(b) the countries are not prepared for the adverse impact of globalization and not able to compete in the global market place;

(c) the HIV aids is not brought under control;

d) land is not made available to the many landless families living as squatters in towns and cities;

(e) the future of many small low-lying atolls like Kiribati in the next 50 years or so, are dependent on whether or not the developed countries and the other larger emitters of green house gases take the Kyoto Protocol seriously;

(f) marine and other natural resources face the risk of being over exploited or contaminated leaving nothing or very little for the livelihood of people; and

(g) if wrongs of the past are not acknowledged and reconciled in friendly ways as essential prerequisites for lasting friendship and peace in the world.

OUR PROGRESS ON CRC IMPLEMENTATION

Despite these challenges, I am pleased to brief this Summit on some of the progresses that we have made in pursuance of the principles and objects of the CRC since we became a party to the CRC in 1995.

(a) Translation of the CRC into the Kiribati language , which has been very useful in creating awareness about the Convention;

(b) the CRC Report, drafted in 2001, is now completed and awaiting Cabinet approval.

(c) a draft report on the Situational Analysis of Children and Women is ready for submission to Cabinet..

(d) an increased coverage of Hepatitis B, with the Hepatitis B project now integrated into the regular immunization activities.

(e) training of local medical staff and the local community, as well as the provision of equipment and supplies to address the prevalent problems relating to diarrhoea) and respiratory infections, These have improved the health situations of our children, and increased the awareness of local caregivers in these areas.

(f) public awareness programmes in the form of parliamentary, NGO and grass root workshops have been organized to promote children's health, survival, development and protection in the context of CRC;

(g) Film Exhibition Act is being amended to further protect children from violent and pornographic films;

(h) Early Care and Childhood Education (ECCE) centers have been established on most of the islands. Although not directly fimded by Government but by the parents, the villages or the Island Councils, Government assists with the training of ECCE teachers and channels some of the aid funds for the constriction of ECCE centers and for the provision of teaching materials.

(i) Universal, free and compulsory primary education achieved from 1 sc January, 1977, 13 years before CRC came into force. Major renovation and beautification works and provision of water tanks for all schools are under way to make school environment much healthier and brighter for pupils;

(j) Universal and free Junior secondary education (Form 1 to Fonn 3)has commenced from 2000;

(k) Vocational training institutions in the form of Island Learning Centers (ILC) are being designed so that each island will have one ILC where Form 3 leavers who do not progress to Fonn 4 or other adults may develop their technical skills in their respective trades or talents;

(1) expansion and upgrading of senior secondary schools so that half of the pupils who complete their Fonn 3 will be placed in senior secondary schools on subsidized school fees up to Fonn 5.

(m) island and National competitions are being promoted and supported to develop sporting talents in accordance with the provisions of the newly enacted Kiribati National Sports Authority Act which provides for a biennial National Games for all young people in the various competitive sports. National bests in certain sports are provided the opportunity to represent Kiribati in regional and international sporting championships. Progress is being made hopefully to qualify Kiribati for membership at the next Olympics in weight lifting, table tennis and athletics and possibly soccer, volleyball and basketball.

(n) Government adopted the first ever National Youth Policy and Action Plan in 2001 covering, among others, juvenile justice, and the rights to legal literacy.

(o) New laws have been drafted, and revisions of existing national laws and policies, that have special focus on children, youth, sport, women and the environment, have been undertaken.

Mr. President, the progress we have made this far, is no mean achievement, in view of the constraints and handicaps mentioned earlier. Our gratitude goes to the UNICEF, other UN agencies and our many development partners for their support and assistance. We look forward to their continuing assistance, on the unfinished tasks over the next decade in the important areas of health and nutrition, public awareness, education, sport, and legal rights, among others.

REVIEWING THE FUNDAMENTALS OF THE CRC

As mentioned earlier, Kiribati is a nation where community roots and tradition still run strong. It is a country, where children grow up in an environment of love, and where the values of respect, responsibility, caring for and sharing with others, are developed in children from a very young age. Parental control and guidance, and disciplining a child, is very much an integral part of raising our children, and is popularly believed that this is essential in the interest of the child, who may fall into evil ways, if not guided or disciplined, as appropriate. Children, upon reaching adulthood, are also expected by custom to care for their parents and elders, as there are no institutions for the elderly because they are alien to the culture of Kiribati.

For this reason, Mr. President, Kiribati wishes to maintain a moderate and cautious approach, in undertaking those obligations spelt out in the CRC, which would undermine our important cultural values, particularly, with regards to the rights of the child, as defined in Articles 12-16 and Article 26 of the Convention.

In relation to articles 24 and 28, I am pleased to advise that, in view of the developments on our education, as mentioned earlier, we are now confident of our financial capability and now consider withdrawing our reservations on such articles.

As for Article 26 which relates to the right of the child to benefit from social security including social insurance, its implementation is beyond our means and it has a potentially divisive effect on the family which we regard as the most natural niche for the child. We acknowledge that Article 26 is a reflection of the culture of the more affluent societies and I feel that it should not be imposed on countries with different cultures.

A PERSPECTIVE OF THE WORLD

The world has changed dramatically during the past few decades seemingly less humane, less secure and more challenging for children now than it was 50 or 60 years ago. The world has become very unbalanced in its development for on one hand it has accumulated an immeasurable amount of economic wealth while on the other hand its social wealth, in terms of moral goods and human values is almost nmning out, exemplifying what the President of Sri Lanka referred to in her statement as `an age of extremes'. I believe the economically wealthy and the socially poor world have tilted the balance a bit too far towards the physical and money side of the natural equilibrium and neglecting the human side of the equilibrium equation. This imbalance, manifested in the lack of wealth sharing and the lack of peace of mind puts the world and the entire humanity in a very precarious position and a balancing dose is therefore critically needed.

To this end Kiribati decided to celebrate and welcome, as it did, on behalf of humanity the first dawn and sunrise of the new millennium with traditional singing and dancing performed mainly by the children. We deliberately chose the celebration theme of `World Peace' in Harmony with Nature as a reminder that peace in the world must begin in the humble heart of every person who is prepared to recognize the existence of a greater Nature with whom a balance and harmony must constantly be sought.

Even as we speak, there is ongoing military conflict and civil strife in various parts of the world. The merciless and heartless acts of terrorism and war that we see with teary eyes has brought home the message that a culture of hate and evil is in the making to substitute the culture of love and peace that the great religions of the world have been promoting for hundreds or thousands of years and, for which the United Nations 56 years ago, and the other noble institutions were created. We may now ask- Have these great religions and noble institutions failed, or have the parents and families, present and past, neglected their children? Have we political leaders failed to cultivate the elements needed for a peacefiil world? Whatever the answer and whatever the cause, I believe the most important thing to do now is to act. We must arise and pull our wisdom and forces together.

Strong political leadership is needed to break the circle of hate over which politicians are sometimes accused of capitalizing upon for personal gains or for winning elections. This is what I call harmful politics and we should do all we can to exclude it from our political club for it breeds more harm than good to our societies and the world we live in. I now call my Honorable Colleagues that we join hands together to make a world fit for children. This is the vision of our children. Let us then make it our resolution and our collective mission and let us build a better world for our children and for all humanity.

May God bless the United Nations and the children of the world. Thank you.