MAY 10, 2002

 Mr. President, Mr. Secretary General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great honor for me to represent the Republic of Palau and all the people of Palau, especially the children, before this assembly. I join all the honorable speakers who have spoken before me in thanking the United Nations for making this Special Session on Children possible. I thank UNICEF, Save the Children, and all the other agencies and non-governmental organizations who work tirelessly on behalf of the children of the world. Thank you and congratulations on a job well done. The 2001 UNICEF Annual Report gives a great summary of the accomplishments during this period 1990 through 2000, the UNICEF's Decade of Action.

From my own small island country of Palau we have some accomplishments that we are proud to share. We ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995 and in 1998 we submitted our first report of its implementation to the International Committee on the Rights of the Child. We were invited last year by the Committee to discuss this report with them. Some of the accomplishments we highlighted in the report include the over 95% immunization of all two year olds against the vaccine preventable diseases of children, the legislated universal education, and the below 15 infant mortality rate. There is universal access to health care and potable water in our country. Currently we are working hard to make our only hospital a UNICEF/WHO certified Baby-Friendly Hospital to promote breastfeeding in our country. We anticipate an external assessment by mid year.

While we are encouraged by these accomplishments, we still have much work to do, not only to protect children's rights, but also to ensure that their childhood is healthy, fun and appreciated. We subscribe fully to the Yanuca Declaration on Healthy Islands, adopted by Pacific Island Ministers and Secretaries of Health in Fiji in 1995, as their vision for the 21st Century. The first characteristic of Healthy Islands is that it be a place where "children are nourished in body and mind." In Palau we have added, the "soul" to this characteristic of Healthy Islands. Although there is universal access to health care in my country, full and needed medical care is not always available to our children. To help assure good health of our children, we have reached out to our neighboring Taiwan ROC for some needed medical care, and at this very moment, even as I speak, at least two of our children with cleft lip palates are being given special surgical treatment at one of the fine hospitals in Taiwan at no cost to them and their families.

Mr. President, I wish I could continue to the end to share that all is well in these islands. I am afraid I cannot. Let me just mention a few reasons I say that not all is well in the islands. We have truancy and school drop outs. We have teen-age pregnancies, out of wedlock. We have problems with drug use in the schools. And we are seeing among our children increasing signs of disrespect for parents and elders. Indeed, we are concerned. The annual National Women's Conference in Palau which took place during the first week of April this year had the theme: "Caring and Nurturing Our Children." At this conference, the person who spoke on the Rights of the Child expounded on the use of tobacco as a form of exploitation, referred to in Article 36 of the CRC. It says, "The child has the right to protection from all forms of exploitation prejudicial to any aspects of the child's welfare . . ." Our Youth Tobacco Survey indicates that 54% of elementary school students and 68% of high school students currently chew betel nut with tobacco. It also shows that 18% of elementary school students and 23% of high school students currently smoke cigarettes. I wonder what the rates of tobacco use are among the children of your respective countries.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we watch BBC World and CNN and our hearts go out to the children whose lives are devastated by armed conflicts, poverty and hunger. So many children have very little opportunities for a healthy life. And yet many of us watch, sometimes with disinterest, sometimes with disdain, as our children use tobacco daily and sometimes even around us, and do nothing about it. We cry foul when children are exploited sexually or at the labor arena and yet, the tobacco industry knows that nicotine is addictive and have targeted our children to exploit, yes, their sense of adventure for glamour, power, speed, and what have you, and we do little, if anything at all, to stop this exploitation of our children.

Mr. President, we may not be able to do much about children in areas of armed conflicts and children in poverty, but we can do much for the many children who have so much potential for health but stand to lose that potential through their addiction to nicotine because they have been quietly exploited right under our own noses. We can support a strong Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that is currently being negotiated. That is within our power. My country has been advocating for a strong Convention during the negotiations. I challenge your countries to do the same on behalf of all our children. They have a right to be protected and we have the obligation to protect them. We could make it one of the greatest achievements for children in this Decade of Renewal of Commitment and Action.

Before I close, Mr. President, I want to add that my country is committed to doing its part to make this world a place Fit for Children. And I take this moment to acknowledge the great work that UNICEF Pacific has done and is doing for the Pacific children. And on behalf of the children of Palau, I want to thank all for the combined efforts for our children.