Zine El Abidine Ben Ali
President of the Republic of Tunisia

to the United Nations Special Session on Children

Delivered on his behalf

Mr. Abderrahim Zouari
Minister of Youth, Childhood, and Sports

New York, may 8-10, 2002

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

Your Majesties,
Your Excellencies,
Your Excellency, Mr. Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations,

First of all, I would like to greet you and to extend my warmhearted thanks to all those who have exerted loyal efforts to convene this special session and provide appropriate conditions for its success, chiefly the United Nations and its institutions, notably UNICEF.

I also wish to express my consideration for the contribution of governmental organizations, both continental and regional, and non-governmental organizations in preparing this meeting.

In September 1990, in an unprecedented initiative, the international community adopted the World Declaration for the Survival, Protection, and Development of Children in the 1990's, and recommended a pilot strategy to be used by states in implementing the Declaration. Today, we meet again to assess the extent to which member states have achieved the goals of the World Declaration eleven years after it was first adopted, and to develop a new working plan for the coming decade.
When we look into preparations leading to this special session and the ensuing recommendations whose contents have been enhanced by contributions from governmental stakeholders as well as organizations and associations concerned by childhood, we realize that the international community is committed to the causes of childhood and aware of their importance, and that governments and the components of civil society adhere to this course of action.

Tunisia has ratified the international convention on children's rights and developed a national strategy to implement the principles included in the convention.

Today, we are proud to review our achievements benefiting children, as they have exceeded the results expected from the national strategy developed for this purpose. We are also proud of other initiatives, notably the enactment in 1995 of a special law for the protection of children. We have also developed implementation and follow-up mechanisms, including a body of children's delegates, a preventive organ entrusted with monitoring the various cases of threatened children, through the notifications they receive; they are also in charge of juvenile delinquents, in concert with other parties concerned by children.

We have established an observatory in charge of information, training, documentation, and surveys on the protection of the rights of children, to monitor the circumstances of children, collect related information both nationally and internationally, as well as contribute to the development of policies and programs aimed at enhancing the rights of children and protecting their development.

We have set up a space for dialogue called "Children's Parliament" aimed at instilling in them at an early age the values of responsibility, tolerance, democracy, acceptance of different opinion, and involvement in public life, through a discussion of all issues related to their concerns.

Tunisia has recently adhered to the two optional protocols annexed to the convention on children's rights on armed conflicts and sexual exploitation.

Your Majesties,
Your Excellencies,

Tunisia has adopted a sustained development pattern where economic dimensions are complemented by social dimensions.

Tunisia is a developing nation that allocates 50% of its budget to social sectors; 20% of the state budget being allocated to education and training. This effort has helped raise the school enrolment rate to 99%; it was accompanied by a qualitative reform of the educational system enhancing educational curricula, improving working conditions in educational institutions, and ensuring that children stay within educational institutions until the age of sixteen.

In addressing the issues of childhood, we have relied on a comprehensive set of policies and programs which gave concrete substance to our comprehensive approach to children and our determination to provide all children with equal opportunities.

We believe that the family circle is the best environment to educate children and care for them, and the only way to attain this goal is to reinforce the position of women in society, strengthen the role played by mothers in looking after the young, and develop health and population programs to serve this purpose.

In Tunisia, we have consolidated the gains of the family, consecrated the social and political rights of women in both legislation and practice, which has helped women become a partner in society with full rights. Our country was able to lower our population growth rate to 1.15%; and the fertility rate was reduced to 2.2 children per woman; infant mortality was lowered to 26 per thousand, and female life expectancy was raised to 74 years.

We have reinforced our social options by establishing a National Solidarity Fund to support the state's efforts in bringing remote areas out of their isolation, developing general services and facilities, providing their population with employment and income opportunities, and integrating them within the country's economic cycle.

The success of the Tunisian experience in this field has had an evident impact on the positive reaction of the international community to our call to set up a World Solidarity Fund. As I express my pride for this positive reaction, I hope this initiative will find its way to implementation as soon as possible.

Although reports from UN development programs have asserted the capacity of many nations to reconcile economic with social dimensions and to invest in the development of human resources, we believe that the progress achieved by such nations and their successes in the area of childhood, command that we develop a new pattern of cooperation providing for an exchange of technical skills with direct coordination by the United Nations and its specialized institutions.

In many regions around the world, children are still deprived of their most basic rights and face severe difficulties that cannot be ignored.

Regardless of recommended priorities in caring for children during the next decade, an efficient translation into fact of international solidarity is likely to bring hope to
children who have been deprived of their right for decent living conditions and sound education. Today, Palestinian children endure the woes of occupation; Iraqi children suffer from the effects of the embargo; and African children are overwhelmed by poverty, misery, disease, and conflicts. Many other children worldwide are confronted to exploitation and violation.

We are duty-bound to unite our efforts and initiatives in caring for children and addressing their causes; in this way, we can live up to the trust we are discharging and meet the challenges posed in building a better future for our children and for mankind as a whole.

Thank you for your attention.