the Honourable Pennelope Beckles
Minister of Social Development of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
to the
27th Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Children
United Nations Headquarters New York Friday 10 May 2002

Mr. President,

Heads of State and Government, Mr. Secretary-General, distinguished delegates, at the 1990 World Summit for Children, the first time there was such a large gathering of leaders, a promise was made to the children of the world. We promised that they would enjoy the best possible start in life... that they could rely on our protection in times of war and peace, at home and at school. We committed ourselves to ensuring that they reach their fullest potential regardless of gender, creed, ethnic or socio-economic background. The World Declaration and Plan of Action set out specific goals relating to children's survival, health, nutrition, education and protection. Our promise was not predicated on conditionalities such as the state of our economy, but on the understanding that the well-being of our children should always be our highest priority...always.

I am sure we will agree that children never forget a promise. Our presence at this Special Session shows that we have not forgotten either. The comprehensive assessment provided by the Secretary-General in his report "We the children" illustrates that although the progress achieved for children was significant, it was not enough. The fundamental objectives of this Special Session must, therefore, be to identify the obstacles which prevented us from achieving the goals to which we had committed ourselves and to take all necessary action to ensure the success of the new goals.

Mr. President, over the decade, Trinidad and Tobago has achieved a considerable measure of success in implementing the Plan of Action. In the area of education, we have established systems to facilitate access by every child to primary and secondary school education and we are working towards increasing the percentage gaining access to tertiary level education. The laws of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago provide that education is mandatory for all children from the ages five to twelve years. Tuition is free at public and government-assisted schools and more than seventy percent (70%) of children benefit from an expanded early childhood education.

In health, more that ninety percent (90%) of our children are immunized against all major childhood diseases and almost all births are attended by skilled health personnel. The school health service is integrated as part of the primary health care system and the health education component of the school curriculum has been strengthened. Recent data show a decrease in malnutrition in children. The Government has enhanced a school nutrition programme where free hot lunches are provided daily to thousands of school children at primary and secondary school levels and food hampers are also distributed to needy families on a monthly basis.

Trinidad and Tobago has introduced child-centered legislation and amended existing legislation to bring it in conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
A Family Court and a Children's Authority to oversee matters related to children are soon to be established.

In spite of these gains, Mr. President, our performance in other areas has not been as anticipated. For example, the targets set for reduction in maternal, infant and under-five mortality rates were not realized. This is a cause for much concern. In addition, HIV/AIDS has emerged as a burning issue in Trinidad and Tobago, and indeed across the Caribbean region, which is reported to have the highest rates in the world outside sub-Saharan Africa. There is increasing mother-tochild transmission of HIV. The Government has, therefore, introduced a pilot project to address this situation. Without a doubt, HIV/AIDS is a major development challenge of the coming decade. Trinidad and Tobago has recognized this and has embarked on a process to formulate an integrated response to treating with the epidemic.

Mr. President, the culture of violence is a global phenomenon permeating the family, the school and the community. We also acknowledge that our efforts to combat escalating violence, especially domestic violence and more recently, violence in schools, require more concerted attention. The Government is therefore engaged in a collaborative process with stakeholders at all levels and has developed strategies and programmes to curtail the increase in violence.

Poverty and inequity are related to these problems and evidence suggests that children are among the most vulnerable. The precarious situation faced by children in developing countries has beenfurther exacerbated by major reductions in Official Development Assistance coupled with the negative impacts of globalization. I appeal to my fellow leaders that we make education, especially Early Childhood Education Care and Development, a development priority in light of its potential to break the cycle of poverty. Members of civil society should partner with Governments and multilateral institutions to effect positive change in this area.

That poverty and inequity are increasing at a time of global wealth, astounding technological advances and the emergence of a knowledge-based economy suggests that the real issue is neither a shortage of resources nor capacity, but one of political will, political commitment, political priority, political vision.

We need to make the well-being of our children our highest priority. The best investment for the future is investing in our children now. As we reaffirm our commitment to children in formulating our policies, we should strive to ensure their well-being. In this respect, the implementation of the Plan of Action which will emanate from this Special Session will help ensure that we do, in fact, bequeath a world fit for children.

Mr. President, we have the opportunity to renew our commitment to the children of the world. We have within our grasp the chance to create a future free of malnutrition, free of violence, free of abuse and free of poverty. Such a vision is not so much noble as it is right. The global resources necessary are available. It is up to us as leaders to make this vision a reality.

In closing, my delegation would like to congratulate Ambassador Durrant of Jamaica for her sterling contribution and leadership as Chairperson of the Preparatory Committee.

I thank you, Mr. President.