New York, May 8, 2002


Mr President,

I would like to congratulate you, the Secretary-General and the Bureau, for the painstaking preparations leading to this Special Session of the General Assembly on Children. I would also like to commend the tireless leadership of UNICEF under Carol Bellamy, for contributing to the organization of this event.

Ten years ago, we gathered here to deliberate on how we can make the world a better place for our children. Our declaration then was elaborate and far-reaching. It is appropriate to ask on this occasion whether the plight of the world's children is better today than ten years ago? The United Nations Secretary General, this morning, succinctly answered this crucial question when he said that the plight of children has not been improved in any significant manner.

Global trends show that children still suffer dehumanising treatment, abuses, exploitation and deprivation. Child trafficking and sexual exploitation are still much rampant and new phenomenon such as the involvement of children in armed conflicts has emerged.

Children who are the most vulnerable members of society are also the worst victims of armed conflicts.

Our gathering here today is not to pay lip service to the world's children but to chart a new course of action that will lift them out of the web of poverty. This is of crucial importance given the fact that ADULTS of today were children of yesterday. In fact, many of those who were children when this assembly met ten years ago are now adults. And therefore, the children of today are the adults of tomorrow. That is why Nigeria welcomes the participation of children in this special session. We salute their representatives here and assure them that we value their contributions to our deliberation.

Perhaps, in no other continent are the problems and difficulties confronting children more profound, deep and widespread as in Africa. The figures are plain frightening. Africa has the largest number of children orphaned from HIV/AIDS, the largest number of children not attending school, the largest number of children suffering from malnutrition and the largest number of children who die before the age of five. When we add the phenomenon of children suffering from the effects of armed conflicts to this grim situation, its tragic dimension becomes more manifest. Yet Africa is the least able to address these challenges in spite of the best efforts of its governments and people.

Mr. President,

At the root of the problems characterised above is poverty. I am sad to recall that only last week, images of some children dying from, hunger in the hands of their mothers in Southern Africa were beamed across the globe on world service television. This is an indictment on us all. I will expect this assembly to resolve that henceforth, no other child will die of hunger. And the only way of accomplishing this very important objective is for all governments and world's peoples, to join hands together to move all those living in poverty out of this predicament. This is the only way we can atone for our collective failure to bring smiles to the faces of children across the globe.

Mr President,

Developing countries, more especially in Africa, are caught in a spiral of debt over-hang. Yet they face the greatest challenges of development with the least financial
resources. Devoting large chunks of their national incomes, sometimes as high as 40% to debt servicing alone further compounds the problem. Our experience in Nigeria shows that the comprehensive programmes we. have designed to tackle the issue of poverty among our children and women have been hampered by the lack of financial resources. Last year, Nigeria spent a whopping US$1.7 billion to service external debts and only a paltry US$300 million on the social sector, a sector most critical to children and women. One practical measure to demonstrate our commitment is to commence without further delay the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals.

It is for this reason that Nigeria has consistently called for the cancellation of external debt. We are convinced that external debt is not only a burden but an obstacle to the prosecution of effective programmes targeted at children and women to lift them out of poverty. One approach is for the creditor nations to write off these debts by converting them into development funds for poverty reduction programmes for children and women. Creditor nations need not worry that funds accruing from debt cancellation will be diverted for other purposes. We are all committed to the partnership in development. Consequently, we can jointly agree on programmes where resources that would have otherwise been used for debt.servicing will be channelled toprogrammes that will benefit our children. In our view, this is the surest way of making our actions speak louder than our voices. This is the surest way of making our world free, fit, secure and save for our children. And this is the surest way of fostering a better future for the world's children.

I thank you.