Twelve years ago in 1990, the international community launched a historic campaign to inspire hope and ensure better conditions for children around the world. The campaign has heightened our collective consciousness and stirred us into redoubling our efforts in this respect. Much progress has been made ever since but so much more remains to be done.
There are still 150 million malnourished and 120 million out of school children in the world. Eleven million still die before the age of five. While old problems persist, new ones like HIV/AIDS are taking their toll on children. Quite often, abuse at home and violence in conflict situations victimize children and traumatize them for life. Leaving children in such a predicament is morally unacceptable to all of us.
Mr. President, children must be protected in war and in peace. Nepal is committed to do everything in its power to promote child development and to protect child rights, so that our children could rise to their full potential. We are one of the first few countries that joined the child rights convention and signed its two protocols. We have also adopted regional instruments under SAARC to enhance child welfare and to prevent child trafficking, besides declaring this as the Decade for the Rights of the Child.
Steps are under way to implement these commitments. We have adopted a children act and other laws to ensure child welfare and to ban child labor. Separate ministry of women and children coordinates activities preserving child rights and executing national action plan for child development. Children receive free public education, immunization and primary health care; and primary level girl students are entitled to free textbooks and those from remote areas receive scholarships as well. Special schools have been set up to address the needs of disabled children. The national human rights commission works as an independent rights watchdog and special benches in courts decide juvenile cases.
Mr. President, these measures have had a palpable impact on children's conditions in the country. School enrollment and immunization have increased and infant mortality has declined. Nearly 100,000 girls have benefited from the scholarship programme.
But to sustain and expand these measures is a daunting challenge for Nepal, a least developed country, where the per capita income is barely 220 dollars, 38 percent people live in absolute poverty and 50 percent population is under the age of 18. Paucity of public resources and poverty of families prevents adequate investment in children. Non governmental organizations, most of which are doing a laudable job, are also faced with constraints in their capacities and coverage.
To make matters worse, the Maoist terrorists, seeking to destroy the fledgling democracy and freedoms, have been devastating our children and our country. They abduct and abuse children and forcibly recruit them as fighters. They murder young children and their parents who refuse to yield to their extortion. They bomb schools and health posts and bridges. The government is compelled to respond to these Maoist atrocities.
At a time when we are fighting a war on poverty with all our resources and energy, we have been confronted with the war on terror. They put severe strain on our resources. But we will have to win both wars if Nepal is to witness a durable peace, better opportunities for its children and improved standards of living for its people.
Thanks to the moral support of our friends and the admirable performance of our security forces, we are making headway against the Maoists. Much of the terror infrastructure has been destroyed. We are determined to defeat the Maoists and we can do so with assistance from our friends to better equip our forces. But we prefer dialogue to resolve the problem and are prepared for it. Once betrayed, we want to make sure the Maoists renounce violence and lay down their arms before the fresh talks begin.
However, to protect democracy and freedoms, to deter extremists from exploiting people's vulnerabilities again, and to give people hope and opportunities, Nepal must win the war on poverty and speed up sustainable development. But it will not be possible without longer and sustained partnerships with our development partners, particularly from the North, that should bring us increased development assistance and deeper debt relief to complement our resources, and improved market access for our products and services.
Needless to say, Mr. President, poverty is the main obstacle for so many developing countries, particularly the least developed ones, to improving the state of children, promoting peace and securing sustainable development. While these nations will have to do their best to put their house in order, the international community must come to their help.
In an era of globalization, humanity has become indivisible and must be treated as such. The Millennium Declaration offers a blue print for a better world, a world that is also fit for children. We must take this historic opportunity provided by the special session to recommit ourselves to do our best in order to give children a better space to blossom. We should not let our children down.
Thank you Mr. President.