8 -10 MAY 2002





Thank you Mr. President,

It is for me an honor and privilege to address you all on behalf of the Government, People and Children of the Kingdom of Tonga on the occasion of this major United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children. I wish to also thank the Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan and Mrs. Annan for inviting His Royal Highness Prince 'Ulukalala Lavaka Ata, The Prime Minister of Tonga and his good wife, Princess Nanasipau'u to personally attend this crucial gathering. However, due to prior engagements, their Highnesses cannot be with us this week, but their thoughts and well wishes are with us as we deliberate critical issues concerning children all over the world.

Tonga's formal recognition for the welfare and rights of children dates back to 1927 when the first Act of Parliament legislated Compulsory Education. Today, Education continues to be compulsory and free for all children between the ages of 5 and 14, or unless a child has completed six years of primary education.

Government's allocation to Education has never fallen below 11 % of its total budget during the past five years, and has always been the largest of Government spending, if not second to Health. Given Government's commitment to the development of Education, Universal Access to Education has long been achieved for primary education, and for the first time, secondary education in the year 2001.

Mr. President,

My presence today, however, is not to proudly boast of the accomplishments Tonga has achieved in health and education, but rather, to join each and every country and organization represented here to fully demonstrate and express Tonga's support and commitment for the welfare and well-being of children worldwide. I applaud the United Nations for this stimulating initiative to bring together Heads of States and/or their representatives to discuss important issues relating to children, and as a tribute also to the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World. Not too long ago, Tonga was very remote in discussing issues relating to child abuse and violence because of cultural values and moral taboos, but with accelerating political, economic and cultural changes, it has seen the crucial need to break this silence. For many of us, the United Nations symbolizes our hope for Peace and the vision it promotes becomes the vision we promote and try to instill in the minds of our children.

Mr. President,

Tonga is a nation with a young population. As such, it is all the more reason that Tonga should place paramount importance on its young population and enrich them as integral members of society, essential development partners and as the future leaders of the nation. Owing to the vulnerability of small island states and children to dangers of certain forms of globalization, our children will continue to be placed at risk, and there will always be aggravating effects on their well-being if we do not find the means to protect them. From my experience as a father of my children, and Minister of Education & Minister Responsible for Youth, Sports and Culture, it is deeply saddening and disturbing to see children in my own nation who are addicted to drugs, wandering and fighting on the streets: - I constantly ask myself, "Where have I gone wrong?, What do I do?". I should ask you, "Do you share the same concern?

No doubt that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child will feature prominently in policy discussions this week. The Government of the Kingdom of Tonga ratified this Convention in 1995. Reflecting further its political will to improve the welfare of children in the Kingdom, it established in 1997 a National Coordinating Committee for Children (NCCC), comprising of both government and non-government organizations, with an overall mandate to provide policy advice to government.

Tonga considers the blend of women, government and NGOs as crucial to achieving the goals of the Global Movement for Children and particularly the 'Say Yes for Children' campaign.

I say 'women' because they play an extremely important role in conceiving and bringing up a child (as a first teacher) during the fundamental formative years of his or her life. The right of every child to have a mother who is loving and caring is utmost also, for without tender loving care, what good will be his or her future if the roots of love and peace have not been planted deeply within. I also mentioned NGOs because they are increasingly becoming essential development partners. In the case of Tonga, they have continued to bridge the gaps between the 'mother as a first teacher' and 'formal primary education' through early childhood care facilities, and similarly, between 'secondary education' and the 'work place' through Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) opportunities. With this in mind, the objective of Government now is to include ages 3 to 4 into its basic education program. Tonga is anticipating also the opening of its Institute of Higher Education, including distance learning through ICT approaches, in July this year, through which educational opportunities in the post secondary and non-formal sectors will be enhanced.

Anecdotal evidence exists to suggest that child prostitution is emerging in the country. This is a manifestation of the increasing exposure to western cultures and emigration. Crude statistics indicate that Tongan households' expenditure far exceeds their income. The increasing problem of unemployment leaves many people vulnerable and frustrated at the lack of employment opportunities. Consequently, the entry to the sex industry becomes appealing to a number of young girls because of the monetary awards. In an effort to combat such activities, Her Majesty, The Queen of Tonga established a refuge for which girls can enter and be protected and maintained. Similarly, the Center for Women and Children also responded to the needs of girls formerly employed by Tonga's only brothel by emergency relief assistance through provision of shelter, food and clothing.

Mr. President,

Having briefly outlined the situation of children in Tonga, I am convinced that the outcome of this Special Session on Children will significantly advance the contribution of children towards national development. I sincerely hope that the 'Children's Forum' and the 'Forum on Women's Leadership for Children' convened this week as indispensable components of the Special Session on Children have enabled participants to develop bonds of friendship, cooperation and mutual understanding among one another to make the world a better, safer and more peaceful place. Additionally, I would like to stress the importance Tonga attaches to the Session's plenary meetings and roundtable discussions. They will certainly provide Tonga with a wealth of information and opportunities, and equally important, the impetus to refine its national Plan of Action for Children.

In conclusion, allow me to give you my personal assurance that Tonga is ready to play its role to the full in this international struggle for child enhancement and against perverse abuse of the most fundamental rights of the child.

Finally Mr. President,

In the interests of timeliness and brevity, I have only read excerpts of my full statement that has already been circulated.

Mala and God's Blessings.