NEW YORK    10 MAY 2002

Mr President,

Malta is pleased to join the International community in an exercise so vital to the well being of our children. We applaud all parties, particularly UNICEF for their contribution in organising this conference and their tireless efforts aimed at achieving the objectives of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Since ratifying the Convention in 1990, Malta has intensified its efforts in fostering a child-centered approach. Following the meeting with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, further initiatives were taken to guarantee children's rights, including the withdrawal of our only previous reservation to Article 26.

Given that children are members of the family, which is the basic unit of society, our energies have been concentrated towards ensuring for them a happy, healthy childhood.

During the past years, Malta has undertaken a thorough overhaul within the childcare sector. As chairperson of.the Social Affairs Committee in Parliament, it was my responsibility, in 1998/99, to take stock of existing services for children in need and at risk. Considerable time was spent listening to all stakeholders, including children.

The introduction of the office of the Child Advocate and the setting up of the Family Court, will ensure children of legal representation. The Children Act, will incorporate all laws relating to Children and will consolidate existing rules. A Bill setting up the Office of the Commissioner or Ombudsman for Children is expected to be piloted shortly.

Mr President,

All of us who have an interest in children's rights must strive to co-operate to ensure an education for all, regardless of disparities. Whereas in some regions the main concern is raising the availability of computers, in others electricity may still be a luxury.

Together with education, children deserve quality healthcare, including action to combat the scourge of HIV/Aids. In a number of countries, malnutrition remains a threat, in others, the threat is obesity. Whatever the issue, it is vital that health be uppermost on our agenda.

Mr President,

Child slavery, child labour and sexual exploitation remain matters of concern to the international community. Although many states are pulling together to combat child pornography, particularly on the Internet, yet much remains to be done in the realm of child prostitution and sexual abuse.

We also reflect with sadness upon the impact that the tragic consequences of conflicts and violence leave on children. We cannot but express grave concern at the devastation experienced by children caught up in conflicts around the world, particularly those in the boiling cauldrons of Afghanistan and the Middle East; a devastation which will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the lives of the affected children.

Children suffer traumatic consequences when growing up in a war-stricken environment or when compelled to actively participate in armed conflict. Often, indeed too often, for this and for numerous other reasons, children end up as refugees or asylum seekers. This calls for international solidarity.

Mr President,

In the quest for founding a family, children may be the subjects of sale with persons vying against each other to bid for adoption. While undoubtedly a possible solution for children in need of a home, adoption should not be regarded as a panacea to the problem. It should be well regulated both at the National and International levels.

Each child is an individual with rights that should not be dictated by anyone else's personal, cultural or medical perceptions. The drafters of the Convention on the Rights of the Child expected us signatories to ensure the true exercise of those rights we agreed to protect.

The signing of these International conventions regulating children's' issues should not remain a pledge. We have to be fully committed to a more stringent implementation if the secure future of our children is to be assured.

Mr President,

This conference is a timely opportunity to take stock of our individual and collective achievements, shortcomings and responsibilities in the field of children's rights. Unless children are empowered to exercise their rights, there is the real danger that their childhood may pass them by.

Ten years down the line, let us agree to take the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to its fullest thrust and rally commitment to the effective enforcement of children's rights, worldwide.

Thank you.