H. E. TUILOMA NERONI SLADE
Permanent Representative of Samoa to the United Nations
on the occasion of the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children
10 May 2002
Rightly, this special session on children has been proclaimed unique and historic. We need to ensure that it is so, not by words alone, but by determined and concrete action.
In 1990, leaders at the World Summit for Children adopted the Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children and a plan of action for implementation. They were actions that carried a solemn promise always to put the best interests of children first - in good times and in bad, in peace or in war, in prosperity or adversity. This special session is an occasion for rededication to the spirit of that promise.
The United Nations Convention must remain at the heart of international efforts to give meaning to the rights of children. The Convention is the most widely accepted human rights instrument ever. It sets out the basic principles that would ensure the realisation of children's rights on a global scale - nondiscrimination; promoting the best interests of children; children's rights to life, survival and development; and children's participation. Non-implementation of these principles are at the root of our failure to move significantly forward on children's rights.
We thank the Secretary-General for his comprehensive report entitled "We the Children". It is not surprising that the report confirms the disparities and pervasive poverty that we all know exist. More tellingly, the report shows that these conditions are directly related to under-investment in young people, especially their health, education and protection. The clear conclusion is that if governments are truly serious about reducing poverty, then they must make children their first priority. Putting children in priority was, as I noted a moment ago, a promise in 1990.
My delegation welcomes the proposals for the outcome of this special session. The draft outcome document sets out what we would regard as the right ingredients for "a world fit for children", and we would support its adoption. As the international community we would need to ensure and safeguard such a world where children are loved and respected, and where they can develop in health, peace and dignity. As the representative of the Children's Forum has said at the very start of this session, a world fit for children is a world fit for everyone.
My Government believes that for Samoa the rights and freedoms of children are best nurtured in the context of our culture and traditions. The Constitution of my country, inspired by the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, represents a strong and fundamental commitment to human rights and freedoms, and equality of opportunities for all citizens, irrespective of gender.
The establishment of the Ministry of Women Affairs in 1990 reflected, in part, the critical role of women in the traditions of the country and its social, political and economic development. The Ministry is charged with responsibility for the implementation of policy and in ensuring equal opportunities for women and children in all areas of the Samoan society. National planning and implementation was further strengthened with Samoa's adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Samoa has a population just under 200,000 fifty-three per cent of which
is below the age of 20. Every person, young or old, has access to basic
health services, adequate and safe water supplies and sanitary facilities.
Progressively improvements are being introduced, as we try to overcome
the resource and other constraints.
Primary education is compulsory for all children. Although education at the primary and secondary schools is not free, enrolments at these levels, as well as at tertiary levels, are very high. Major emphasis has also been placed on early childhood and special education supported by the necessary resource allocation and policy initiatives under the responsibility of the Department of Education. Village and district communities play key partnership roles, as do the private and non-governmental organisations. Of the total Samoan population, approximately 73% of females, and 69% of males have received formal education. Samoa's literacy rate is estimated at around 97%.
The provision of health services is highly subsidised by Government.
Most publicly funded health services, which include immunisation, maternal
child health services, child growth monitoring, paediatric consultations
and in-patient services are either free at the point of delivery, or are
heavily subsidised. The Government actively promotes a policy of equal
access to health services for all, with all children under the age of 5
receiving free medical care. There is an ongoing comprehensive project
to address the concept of a "well child", which includes injury prevention,
rheumatic fever prevention, and general policy development on children's
A national co-ordination mechanism involving Government departments and all stakeholders is in place.
Let me also say that an active and informed media has a vital role to play in the promotion of the welfare of children.
Our efforts at the national level are supplemented by what we need to do as the Pacific Islands Forum region. In our part of the world it is cost-effective and more meaningful to work as a group in our efforts to tackle particular problems. The distinguished Permanent Representative of Nauru, as our group chairman, yesterday outlined some of our regional activities in this area. I, of course, endorse what he has said. I need only to touch on two aspects.
First, the concept of "healthy islands" framework, which is being developed by the Pacific Ministers of Health which recognises, in part, the need for ecological balance. The links between health and environment and the impacts on vulnerable groups, especially children, raise real and serious issues. As noted in the draft outcome document for this special session, they are issues that need to be addressed. Small island communities are exposed to significant environmental degradation, sometimes severe, exacerbated through pressure of urbanisation and the consequences of climate change and natural disasters.
Secondly, the economies of a regional approach would seem to my delegation to be an aspect that could facilitate improved access and greater use of breakthroughs in information and communication technologies that could offer improved opportunities for education generally, and for children in particular.
We share fully the fears and concerns that have been expressed about HIV/AIDS. Our own country has not been spared. Whilst the incidence of HIV/AIDS is low, there is clearly no room for error of policy or for complacency. The consequences for a small country like ours would be too catastrophic. We have in place a national strategy, and we will continue to seek support and technical assistance as.required. As has been mentioned, we are also seeking to deal with this issue at the regional level.
While we can point to significant achievements for the world's children in the past eleven years or so, there remains significant "unfinished business". The occasion of this special session should be for the renewal of commitment to issues that are critical to the protection of children - including sexual exploitation, the impact of armed conflict, child labour and all forms of abuse. Commitment should be demonstrated through the rapid and full implementation of the outcomes of this session.
Children form an essential part of modern development if not, at times, the critical driving force. While we promise them the future we must not forget that, as they have so rightly reminded us from this podium, children are also the present.