First Lady Lee Hee Ho 
of the Republic of Korea

 at the  Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Children

8 May 2002 New York

Excellencies, Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, distinguished delegates,

I am deeply honored to participate in this meeting convened to promote the rights and welfare of all children around the world.

This meeting is being held eight months later than originally scheduled in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11. In the intervening months, we have reawakened to the value of world peace and security for all peoples. "A World Fit for Children" is a peaceful and prosperous world for all. I sincerely hope that this Special Session will go down in history as a great milestone for the future of humankind.

Mr. President,

There has been much progress since the World Summit for Children in 1990. Most remarkable has been the recognition that children have rights, and that the rights and well-being of children should be a top policy priority for countries around the world.

In this process, the United Nations has been the leader, and UNICEF its most active agency. In particular, UNICEF under its Executive Director Carol Bellamy has successfully carried out the Global Movement for Children and the Say Yes for Children campaign, which have greatly benefited from the dedicated efforts of President and Mrs. Nelson Mandela of South Africa. I would like to take this opportunity to offer my highest respect and praise to them.

Mr. President,

In only three weeks from now, Korea and Japan will cohost the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan. Korea is planning to turn the World Cup games into a celebration for children and world peace. During the World Cup games, UNICEF and Korea will join forces to sponsor the World Peace Festival for Children. This will be an excellent opportunity for children from different corners of the globe to make friends and, at the same time, experience firsthand the value of peace by actually visiting the land divided into South and North Korea, the last remaining legacy of the Cold War.

War is the most feared foe for all humanity, especially children. To deter war and settle peace on the Korean Peninsula, the Korean Government has consistently pursued what we call the "Sunshine Policy" toward North Korea. Just last month, South Korea dispatched a special presidential envoy to Pyongyang and the two Koreas agreed to resume efforts to improve relations that have been at a standstill for some time. I hope that peace and stability on the peninsula, in East Asia and in the world in general will be solidified as a result of these efforts. In this connection, on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Korea I would like to extend my profound thanks to the international community for its active support for our peace initiatives; I trust that the world will continue to give us its full encouragement for peace on the peninsula as well as the success of the upcoming World Cup games.

Mr. President,

As we look around the globe, we know for a fact that "a World Fit for Children" has not yet been achieved. At this very moment, countless children are falling to poverty, malnutrition, and abuse in addition to the many dreadful diseases such as AIDS. The stark reality is that at least 100 million children worldwide do not even have access to elementary education.

It is about time we acted resolutely to ensure that the yoke of pain is lifted from every child on earth and that they can enjoy a bright and healthy life. To this end, not only governments but also the United Nations, other international organizations, the media, schools and civic groups must do their share and actively cooperate with each other.

The education of children is the most effective investment we can make for the future. Education is the core element that will decide the destiny of nations, societies, and the world, not to mention the individual child. In this vein, the UNICEF's Back-to-School program and other support projects for Afghan children are truly praiseworthy, indeed.

Let me take this opportunity to stress the necessity of an "open education" that is geared to raising the understanding of and sensitivity to other cultures, so that today's children may grow up to be leaders that can free the world of racial, religious, and cultural conflicts.

What is crucial now is the will of the national leaders to implement the commitments made before the international community. The Korean Government, for one, will make its best effort to faithfully carry out all the pledges made during the current Special Session. It will also gradually increase its contributions to and support for various UNICEF activities.

Let us all join our hearts, minds and efforts to build "a World Fit for Children."

Thank you.