MR. CHAN SOO SEN
MINISTER OF STATE FOR PRIME MINISTER'S OFFICE & COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT AND SPORTS OF THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE
AT THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION ON CHILDREN
NEW YORK, 8-10 MAY 2002
All of us come from different parts of the world. But there is one common
value that we all share: Our children are our future. They have rights
that should be protected. We brought them to this world, not to be abused
but to take over our heritage from us when we leave. What they experience
today shapes the world of tomorrow.
Regional Initiatives - ASEAN
2 ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations,
of which Singapore is a founder member, is committed to building a world
fit for our children. At the 4th Meeting of the ASEAN Ministers Responsible
for Social Welfare chaired by Singapore last year, the Ministers adopted
a Declaration on the Commitments for Children in ASEAN. The document reaffirms
ASEAN's commitment to protect our children and to provide them with opportunities
to learn, play, grow, participate, and reach their full potential. A copy
of the Declaration is already before you.
Progress of Singapore
3 Singapore is a small urban city-state of 4 million people. The survival of Singapore as a nation lies with the resilience and capability of our people. Children are regarded as valued members of the family and the country's assets and future. With Singapore's accession to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in October 1995, we reaffirmed our strong commitment to the well being of children.
4 Rights of children in Singapore are well protected
because we have:
a. Good laws,
b. Strong families,
c. A comprehensive healthcare system, and
d. Good education that prepares children for life. Let me elaborate on them.
5 First, we have a good legislative framework which protects the fundamental rights of the child. Our Employment Act prohibits a child to be employed under the age of 12. For young persons below 16, the Act restricts the type of employment and the maximum number of hours they can work. The Children and Young Persons Act protects a child from abuse, neglect and abandonment. It also provides rehabilitation of children and young persons who commit offences or are beyond parental control. In addition, our Women's Charter protects girls against sexual exploitation.
6 We also accord special protection to children who unfortunately get into trouble with the law. They are not left without guidance. We believe that every child deserves a second chance and institutionalisation must be the last resort. Therefore, a community-based approach is taken in which professionals and family members are actively involved to counsel, educate and empower the child. We have a separate court process (the juvenile court) specially dedicated only to these children.
This will ensure that their different needs are looked into. We strongly
believe that it is our duty to ensure that every child will be able to
pick himself up and start anew.
7 A good and strong family is the best guarantee of children's right. It also provides a nurturing environment for children to develop. It is a constant stabilising force during childhood. In the UNICEF survey, "Speaking Out! Voices of Children and Adolescents in East Asia and the Pacific", Singapore children were reported to be happy "most of the time", and admired their parents most. The same survey also found that the family was still the most significant source of values and love for the child. I can imagine that the most upsetting thing for a child is to see his parents break up and wonder if he is the cause of it. Fortunately, Singaporeans still expect to marry for life. Our divorce rate is low and the family is essentially strong. Regardless of cultural background, families place a lot of emphasis on the care and development of their children. This ensures that our children are well protected within the realm of the family.
8 No doubt, there will be ups and downs in family life. Families in difficulties need support. Hence we set up Family Service Centres (or FSCs) located in our population centres so that families can get professional help in their neighbourhood. A FSC is partially funded by government and run by a voluntary organisation. It offers a range of family-related services under one roof. For example, couples may turn to FSCs for marriage counselling or attend parenting programmes. Some FSCs thrive in specialised areas. One of them, the Bukit Ho Swee Family Service Centre has a creative outreach programme where social workers and volunteers hang out with children in the edge in order to win them over and provide them with guidance.
9 The community plays a key role to empower our parents with skills and knowledge to give our children a safe, secure and loving childhood. One of the forerunners in community services for children is the Singapore Children's Society, a voluntary organisation. Celebrating its 50th Anniversary this year, the Singapore Children's Society has a network of service centres and professionals to cater to various needs of children and their families. One of its initiatives is the Tinkle Friend, which is a national helpline for children between 7 to 12 years. Another of its creative projects is the Cabin Club, which serves as alternative hangout places for youths. These allow children to engage in fun and interactive activities after school to discourage them from participating in socially unacceptable acts.
10 A critical phase in the development of children is adolescence. Adolescents
are liable to be exploited if they go astray. The Government of Singapore
set up the National Youth Council in 1989 to create opportunities for youths
to maximise their potential and enhance their contributions to society.
The Council is headed by a Minister and works closely with youth groups
to formulate programmes for youths. If you visit Singapore, you'll find
a cheerful looking Youth Park in the heart of downtown for youths to have
good, clean fun such as rollerblading. Schools and the community play their
part in keeping our youths meaningfully engaged. I am pleased to report
that these efforts have resulted in a fall in our juvenile delinquency
rates in the past five years.
11 Good health is fundamental to a child's wellbeing. We are pleased to report that in UNICEF's "State of the World's Children 2001" report, Singapore is ranked among the lowest for infant mortality, and under-5 mortality. In 1990, the Infant Mortality Rate was 6.7 per thousand live births. It has been halved to 3.2 per thousand births. The life expectancy in Singapore of a child born today is 78 years.
12 We have invested much since Independence towards a world class health care. The care for our children begins even before they are born. In Singapore, women have access to good obstetric practice and quality antenatal care. After a child is born, a comprehensive family health care system provides developmental screening and inoculations during a child's pre-school years. This is followed by comprehensive school health services and dental services for school-going children.
13 In fact, the healthcare programme for our children
is so successful that the two major health issues associated with our children
today are not diseases but obesity and myopia. To get our young in shape,
schools put their overweight students through a Trim-And-Fit programme
with exercises and counselling on adopting a healthy lifestyle. We also
have a national programme to reduce cases of myopia and arrest deterioration
of eyesight amongst myopic children.
Good Education Svstem
14 The best gift we can offer to our children is a
good education. Good education has been Singapore's top priority since
Independence. We have the Compulsory Education Act to ensure a child's
right to education for at least six ears. Our education is very heavily
subsidised. Our programmes are good, and school drop-out rate is low. Most
children have at least 10 years of education before proceeding to Institutes
of Technical Education, Polytechnics, or Universities. Those with disabilities
are integrated in normal schools where possible. Those with more serious
disabilities are educated in special schools run by voluntary organisations
with partial government funding.
15 Singapore has made progress towards maximising every child's potential to be the best person he or she can be. We will continue to do more and do better. The Government of Singapore is committed to ensure that the future stewards of our nation develop and achieve their full potential.
16 Mr President, the best gift from us to our children
is to prepare them for the future. Our best reward is to see our children
doing better than us. The stake is a better world for all humanity tomorrow.
I thank you.