"Romania Says YES to Children!"

President of Romania,

to the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Children

- New York, 8 May 2002 -

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

As we assemble here today for a Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Children, the reason why it had to be postponed, almost eight months ago, is still very much on our mind. The tragic events of September 11 brought home in a most dramatic fashion the cruel reality of the world we live in and forced us to meditate more deeply on the future of humanity and on the abiding value of the moral imperatives behind our actions. We may now have a better grasp of what is right and what is wrong, but the simple, agonizing questions remain. What sort of world are we bequeathing to our children? What can we realistically do to make it a safer and friendlier place for them to live in?

The recent traumatic experiences shed new light on the lasting significance of the documents we adopted at the first World Summit for Children in 1990. I vividly remember the sense of responsibility, commitment and solidarity between generations that presided over our debates at that time. Indeed, the Summit and the subsequent entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Children managed to place the subject high on the agenda as a political priority for action both nationally and internationally. At the same time, we have to agree with the sobering analysis in the Secretary-General's Report when he compared the promises of 1990 to the actual, still rather modest accomplishments of the past decade. Romania endorses the sound recommendations and strategic directions outlined in the Report, and it wholeheartedly supports the forward-looking provisions of the outcome document and action plan. A renewed political commitment and adequate allocation of resources are key factors for the steady and complete implementation of our agreed objectives.

The condition of children cannot be separated from the state of the general political, economic and social environment. The children are most vulnerable to the persisting scourges of poverty, disease, armed conflicts, discrimination, exploitative practices and environmental degradation. Those issues were highlighted in the Millennium Declaration, and they were also discussed during the recent World Forum on financing development at Monterrey. We shall certainly have to engage in a comprehensive examination of all those logical linkages at the forthcoming World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

The case of Romania is relevant in many respects for the daunting problems that a country in transition to mature democracy and functional market economy has to face. An appalling legacy, especially concerning the condition of children, compounded the painful social costs of radical transformation. In practical terms we had to build up from scratch a new legal, regulatory and institutional framework for child development and protection compliant with accepted international requirements, including decentralization of services, clear standards, transparent accountability and capacity building. Coping with such fundamental changes called for great innovative efforts, mistakes were made along the way, but now we are able to report tangible progress. In this we also owe a lot to the valuable guidance and hands-on assistance we received from various UN agencies, UNICEF in particular, EU institutions, the Council of Europe, a large number of NGOs and well-meaning individuals.

For historical reasons, and also as a matter of practical necessity, we had to address seriously the question of institutionalized children. While their numbers have been reduced to less than one-third in the last ten years, we think that this is still not good enough. We shall continue to work toward providing every child in distress with a setting as close as possible to a normal family environment. In order to make absolutely sure that the children's best interests are properly served and protected we had to suspend the practice of international adoption for one year, pending the enactment of appropriate legislation and procedures.

In close partnership with the International Organization for Migration and the civil society we have developed and made operational a national plan of action against trafficking in human beings, children in particular. The existing anti-trafficking legislation will be effectively complemented by a witness protection act to be examined by Parliament later this year.

Since widespread poverty is still a major challenge in Romania, a comprehensive set of measures was devised to make the best of the limited resources available under a National Strategy for Child Protection involving education and public health ministries, specialized agencies and local authorities. Currently, free milk is provided for all infants. As part of a wider program to enhance the quality of educational services, school supplies are distributed to about 1 million children in primary and secondary schools. To encourage attendance, particularly by Roma children. a free meal is offered at school. Special support measures have been devised for one-parent families and for the prevention of child abuse, discrimination or other forms of exploitation. Further steps cover additional areas of vital significance such as preventive programs and generalized access to treatment and care for HIV/AIDS to be introduced by the end of this year as a result of a partnership with relevant UN agencies and pharmaceutical companies, and application of universal salt iodization by the end of 2003.

The Government of Romania recently examined the findings of an independent multi-stakeholder council and decided to prepare and submit to Parliament a special law on children, which will update and harmonize all existing legislation and will bring it in line with international standards and Romania's commitments. It is also envisaged to create the necessary infrastructure and regulatory mechanism for the effective operation of the newly established institution of Ombudsperson for Children.

We in Romania take our pledge to say YES to children seriously. Deeds always speak louder than words.