Honourable President of the General Assembly, Secretary General Annan, Your Excellencies Presidents and Prime Ministers, Honourable Ministers, Colleagues, Friends,

I address you today on behalf of President Mbeki, and on behalf of the people and especially the children of South Africa. Many states have rightly laid stress on the significance of this impressive gathering. Let me add my voice to that sentiment. And let me also say that this is a truly momentous occasion for our country.

At this occasion where the lives and wellbeing of children are the focus, we remember vividly that children - many of them hardly in their teens - were instrumental in the fight against apartheid; and we salute and remember those children today. They faced police and army bullets, for instance at the time of the Soweto uprising in 1976. Thousands died, countless numbers were injured, detained and went into exile from the land of their birth. All they had to pit against the might of the apartheid state were their bare hands and their unshakeable attachment to the principles of non-racialism and democracy. In that struggle, many of our children were so preoccupied and harassed that they missed out totally on their youth.

Given our own bitter experience we do feel the daily pain and anger caused by the continuing brutalisation of Palestinian children. These children deserve to live in peace, comfort and security. We express our solidarity with all children caught in the nightmare of war and armed conflict.

The South African Constitution strongly promotes the rights of children - their wellbeing is of paramount importance to the state. South Africa has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a number of other international treaties, such as the Convention Concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour. We have also ratified the African Union Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children. The African Charter points the way to important regional co-operation. It is only when we work together as the African continent that we will be able to address the issues that we are plagued by: such as poverty and gross underdevelopment.

We all know about the impact of poverty and underdevelopment on mortality, disease, hunger and suffering. But for the first time in our history we are in a position to bring about change - to work to bring about real development and prosperity for our continent, our nation, our people and especially our children. The NEPAD Plan of Action, known as the New Partnership for Africa's Development can be an important vehicle for the advancement, and sustainability, of the rights of our children, women, and poor people.

Upon ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, under the leadership of President Mbeki, we developed a National Programme of Action for Children (NPA). This has effectively mainstreamed issues affecting the lives of our children, commits all spheres of government and ensures that the rights of children remain on the agenda of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The NPA is co-ordinated by the Office on the Rights of the Child in The Presidency. This co-ordinating and monitoring body works with all government departments, international agencies and civil society. We come from a history of strong civil society involvement and participation. And their input remains crucial to the growth and development of our country.

Health care services are free for pregnant mothers and children under the age of six years. Primary health care is free for all children. The Integrated Management of Childhood illnesses (IMCI) strategy has been introduced at primary health-care facilities to address principal causes of childhood illnesses and death. The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) has been introduced in order to immunise children against serious childhood infections. The EPI has succeeded in reducing both polio and measles to close on elimination. Child nutrition remains one of the priorities of the South African Government. We aim to provide children from poor households with one meal a day. In addition we have a Child Support Grant for lower income households.

In 2000 we released a White Paper on Early Childhood Development which provides for a compulsory reception year in all public schools. This ensures the best start for all children towards quality education, now stretching from the age of six to fifteen. This was followed by the White Paper on Inclusive Education (2000) to cater for children with special educational needs.

Protecting children in the criminal justice system is a priority of our government. The South African Parliament will shortly debate the Child Justice Bill which deals with children accused of crimes. This Bill, once adopted by Parliament, will set a new minimum age for criminal capacity, ensure individual assessment of each child, establish a special legal procedure and provide for a creative range of sentencing options.

The Government has also amended existing legislation to provide for a more comprehensive definition of commercial sexual exploitation of children. The NPA has also requested the South African Law Commission through relevant Ministries to undertake a comprehensive review of childcare legislation. Also under review by the Government is the very important focal area of sexual offences against children. These proposed laws will bring about drastic changes to the present South African law and will repeal many of the archaic laws that reflect patriarchal ideology.

Whilst legislation is an effective tool in realising the rights of the child, we are very mindful of the need for effective implementation. In this respect we have established specialised sexual offences courts, one stop multi-disciplinary centres, and shelters for victims and survivors.

To eradicate all forms of abuse against children we are committed as a South African nation to reflect on our moral values. We have commenced with a dialogue amongst our people on the issue of moral regeneration in our society. This process is led by the South African Deputy President, Mr Jacob Zuma, and our collective aim is to rebuild families and communities, to promote a culture of zero tolerance towards abuse and exploitation, and to build a caring society as envisaged in our Constitution.

We in South Africa held our own "Say Yes" campaign and over 4 million children had a chance to air their views on what priorities we should have as a nation. Our children prioritised the following:

68.1 % of children said educating every child is a priority

65.4% of children said we must put children first and care for every child

50.2% of children said there is an urgent need to fight poverty and HIV/AIDS in their communities

We remain committed to these priorities and have aligned our programmes to be in line with the aspirations of all the children who participated in this survey.

One of the main priorities of the Presidency is effective service delivery to children. Much has been achieved in this realm, but much more needs to be done. In order for services to be delivered, policies and programmes must be implemented. The National Programme for Children (NPA) is well placed to ensure that such implementation takes place. The Government of South Africa will accelerate delivery to children. We will strengthen our resolve to do more for our children.
The South African Government therefore wishes to take this opportunity fully to commit itself to creating a world fit for our children.

I thank you.