H.E. LUIS A. HIERRO
Vice President of Uruguay
of the General Assembly on Children
New York, 8-10 May
(Check against delivery)
Let me first of all pay tribute to the tremendous organizational and progressive efforts that the United Nations and UNICEF have made in recent years to improve the situation of children, to establish comprehensive goals and to monitor the follow-up to national programmes.
In 1991, together with the Declaration and the Plan of Action for Children adopted by the highest authorities of our Governments, gathered for that purpose in the World Summit for Children, the international community was launching a collective action destined to have a deep impact on the future of mankind throughout the 21st Century. The results of these actions, although modest as stated by the Secretary General in his report, are not negligible at all. There has been progress in certain aneas of healthcare and protection of childhood and the development of national programmes has been encouraged so as to fulfill the goals of the Summit. But above all, the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child became a historic milestone in acknowledging the children as holders of rights and in enabling to deal with the problems of childhood and its solutions, on the basis of the development of a culture of human rights.
Therefore the importance of this special session and of its final document, entitled "A world fit for Children ", destined to renew the momentum achieved a decade ago with the establishment of a series of goals, strategies and actions based upon the national evaluations of the progresses achieved since the last Summit. Uruguay wishes to thank the Chairperson of the Preparatory Committee, Ambassador Patricia Durrant of Jamaica, to whose intelligence, wit and generous dedication we owe the successful outcome of this Assembly.
The holding of these conferences and the publication of specialized information are important contributions to the promotion of a universal awareness and solidarity that inspires and obliges our Governments to pursue our struggle against all forms of discrimination against children.
Uruguay is among those countries that rank high on the Index of Human Development and, in this capacity we are here to report on the signifacant progress that it has made since 1990 when it embraced as its own the commitments set out in the United Nations plan for the survival, protection and development of the child.
As a deeply law-abiding country, the principal and unyielding objective of Uruguay is the observance and strictest implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it ratified in 1990 through its Act No. 16.137.
Through the programmes that have been implemented by various Governments oven the past decade, Uruguay can state that it has successfully achieved its main goals, such as coverage in the areas of health and nutrition, school enrolment, the fight against poverty and the integration of children into the social life of the nation.
The UN/UNDP Human Development Index
has placed Uruguay among those countries that enjoy a high level of development.
In the last index prepared in 2001, the country was ranked No. 37, the
highest ranking among Latin American countries. ECLAC, for its part, has
invariably selected Uruguay as the Latin American country that combats
poverty most effectively and that has the best performance in the distribution
of wealth. In this respect, the living conditions of our children generally
reflect the favourable situation of the adult population. It should be
pointed out that these successes have been achieved against a backdrop
of economic downturn, which serves to underscore the ongoing and resolute
commitment of successive governments and administrations.
Financial resources and programmes
Some 75 per cent of the national budget is allocated to social spending in such areas as education, health, housing and social welfare. Expenditure on education accounts for 15.5 per cent of the budget and investments in public health for 11 per cent of the overall budget. The National Children's Institute (INAME), the official body dedicated to the education of children and young people without families, has a budget that is larger than two of the three state powers: the Legislative Body or Parliament and the judicial branch.
These figures, which demonstrate the political commitment to promote equity, are even higher when one adds the vast network of programmes and institutions, official and private, which are engaged in coordinated and efficient actions. It is evidence of a method of work that is modern, open and democratic and which combines the efforts of the State with those of civil society.
In the field of education, notable advances have been made in recent years. Uruguay has achieved the enrolment in pre-school of children aged 4 and 5 years, an achievement that may be a first in the world. There are 65 full-time schools that have been located in the most needy districts in order to give pupils from broken families access to schools throughout the day, together with food and psychological support. Uruguay already has the funding to extend this service over the next three years by establishing up to 300 schools of this type that will serve 50, 000 pupils. It has achieved virtually universal school enrolment: Some 99 per cent of pupils aged 4 to 12 years are covered by the system, which has a 98 per cent retention rate. This comprehensive coverage of services has been undertaken without jeopardizing its quality: we have already begun to experiment with bilingual schools in the public sector; all textbooks - some 400, 000 per year - are provided free of charge and the range of computer and English language courses is being expanded. Only 0. 7 per cent of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 years are illiterate.
The formal educational structure is supplemented by other institutions, such as the National Institute for Children and the CAIF (Centres of Assistance for Children and Families) Plan managed by non-governmental organizations, neighbourhood associations and religious and lay institutions, which cater to more than 60, 000 children and are effective vehicles for the implementation of plans to provide services in the areas of health and food.
Health and nutrition
Because of its special socially homogeneous structure and the impact of its institutional network, Uruguay has very high rates of immunization and vaccination coverage. The official figures are 99 per cent immunization coverage against tuberculosis and 93 per cent vaccination coverage against measles and DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus).
The country's policy towards HIV/AIDS
also shows positive results insofar as the overall mortality rate declined
over the past four years from 40 to 10 deaths per year. Improvements have
also been noted with respect to diarrhoeas and acute respiratory infections,
with the mortality rate declining from 10 deaths for every
1,000 live births in 1984 to 2.3 death per 1,000 live births.
All of this is reflected in a significant reduction in the infant mortality rate for infants under the age of one year, which dropped from 30 per thousand in 1984 to 14 per thousand, a figure with which the country is naturally still not content.
The fact that 95 per cent of the population has access to an adequate sanitation system and 98 per cent access to potable water contributes to the satisfactory state of health.
The past decade has seen very substantial improvements in infant nutrition, through the maternal breastfeeding programme and the State's feeding services. Public schools provide more than 170, 000 daily food packets, with a nutritional content of more than 750 calories. This mens that half of the school-age population receives daily food packets.
Even so, 3.4 per cent of children
under the age of five suffer from malnutrition and 1.22 per cent from severe
Poverty and social exclusion
The reports of ECLAC on poverty in Latin America indicate that 5.6 per cent of households in Uruguay live below the poverty line, a percentage that stood at 11.8 per cent in 1990. This means that some 18 per cent of children are born to poor households. It should be noted that ECLAC uses measurement criteria that are much stricter than those of the World Bank, which were used in the recent international conference held in Monterrey, Mexico. Some Uruguayan technical experts who use other measurement criteria have come up with higher percentages, but these studies are vigorously contested because they ignore universally accepted methods of determining the "poverty threshold ".
As a consequence of external shocks, the country has been experiencing an economic recession over the past four years and it is therefore posible that the figures for poverty and social exclusion have increased recently by percentages that are by no means alarming.
Thanks to funding from the IDB, Uruguay
will now invest US$160 million in programmes for the "Regularization of
Squatter Settlements" arad programmes on
"Children, Poverty and the Family" aimed at normalizing living conditions in the poorest districts.
Despite these encouraging results, Uruguay has not been able to eradicate the problems that affect childhood. To fully comply with our commitments and to ensure health, education and protection to each and every one of our children, we must keep on confronting multiple problems and challenges, some of which are the following:
(a) Reduce even further the rate
of infant mortality;
(b) Achieve even greater success in the fight against poverty and social exclusion;
(c) Combat the growing phenomenon of teenage pregnancy;
(d) Attract young school drop-outs finto the educational system at the intermediate level;
(e) Introduce a special criminal system, through the adoption - already partially approved by the Parliament - of the "Code on Children and Adolescents ", to seek intelligent and effective solutions to the problem of juvenile offenders;
(f) Intensify programmes to neutralize the problem of "street children ".
Since the genuinely significant progress that has been achieved in recent years proves that Uruguay is headed in the right direction, the country can pledge before the United Nations that the above-mentioned challenges will also be successfully tackled through further notable achievements over the next five years.
Finally, Mr. Chairman, I would like
to express the satisfaction of my delegation in seeing you preside over
the works of this Assembly and congratulate at the same time, the members
of the buro.