The Honorable Tommy G. Thompson,
United States Secretary of Health and Human Services

on the occasion of the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children

New York
May 8, 2002

As the Secretary of Health and Human Services of the United States of America, it is my privilege to represent President George W. Bush at this Special Session on Children.

Although the terrorist attacks of September 11th prohibited us from meeting as originally planned, our commitment to advancing better health for the world's children remains undiminished. In fact, the events of Sept. 11 make it even more essential that we gather here today for the sake of children around the world.

Since the last Special Session on Children 10 years ago, the United States has continued to make substantial progress for our children in the areas of health, nutrition, education, labor and environment. My nation takes great pride in creating a future with limitless potential for our children.

For example:

. The child poverty rate in the United States has declined over the past ten years. In 1999, 17 percent of U.S. children lived in families with incomes below the established U.S. poverty line - a 17.5 percent decrease from 1990 levels.
. Routine immunization coverage levels for children 2 years of age are at, or near, all-time highs and the United States is at record low levels of vaccine-preventable disease, including measles, mumps and tetanus.
. Recently, the United States has begun promoting healthy behaviors and right choices for young people. Our efforts include strengthening close parent-child
relationships, encouraging the delay of sexual activity, and supporting abstinence education programs. As President Bush has said, abstinence is the only sure way of avoiding sexually transmitted disease, premature pregnancy and the social and personal difficulties attendant to non-marital sexual activity.
But our work to support children and families also extends beyond our own borders. It encompasses a wide array of partners, including faith-based and nongovernmental organizations, foundations, the research community and private industry.

Let me highlight two wonderful examples of this type of collaboration. One is the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The United States already has committed $500 million to this multi-national effort. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, an agency within my department, is working with the World Health Organization and the Rotary International in a global effort to eradicate polio.

Last month, I visited Africa, and saw firsthand the devastating effects of AIDS, particularly on children. Of the roughly 13 million AIDS orphans in the world, 12 million are in sub-Saharan Africa.

These realities break our hearts even as they spur us to action. And action is what the United States is taking, in tandem with many of you here today. We must join forces, public and private, through the Global Fund, to eradicate HIV/AIDs, much like we are on the verge of eradicating polio. That's what partnership truly is about.

Over the past decade, the United States has enhanced its global efforts to improve the lives of children, mothers, and fathers. For example:

. The United States provided over $2.5 billion in assistance to child survival programs in developing countries -- supporting maternal and child immunization and the prevention and treatment of respiratory infections, diarrheal (di-uh-ree-ul) diseases and malaria.
. By September of this year, we will have contributed nearly $157 million to the International Program on the Elimination of Child Labor since 1995. And we provide more than $10 billion in development assistance to support a range of activities that improve the lives of children today - health care, agricultural development, and food assistance to those especially vulnerable - but also to support those countries and communities working to establish a long-term future for their children in their efforts to provide quality education, growing economies that generate jobs, and sound environmental management.
. In fiscal year 2001 alone, we have provided over $2.2 million to help prevent the trafficking and exploitation of children in developing countries and to provide services and model programs for their protection and rehabilitation. Let me emphasize that this issue is of great concern to President Bush and to me. We are eager to work with all countries where child trafficking and exploitation occur to help them eliminate -these evil practices wherever they exist.
Despite our accomplishments, we also face critical challenges as we work to foster responsible parenting and safe and stable families. All children deserve to live in nurturing homes and communities and to realize their own unique promise.

President Bush's new education plan -- No Child Left Behind - enables all students in America to have a better chance to learn and excel and live out their dreams. And since the cognitive development of children must start in the home, in early April President Bush announced a new early learning initiative - "Good Start, Grow Smart" - to help prepare children for a future of learning.

We are working with you to this same end. We have provided $1.3 billion in assistance to basic education in developing countries. A sound education is a global pathway to success for children in every society, and we welcome joining you as coo-laborers in this effort.

Just as with education, President Bush is making the physical health of every American child a priority, from the womb to adulthood. We place a high priority on prenatal care for our women and children, exemplified by our Department of Health and Human Services' extension of government health benefits to the unborn.

Our Children's Health Insurance Program makes sure that children, particularly those in low-income families, have access to medical care. President Bush is calling for an unprecedented expansion of community health clinics - neighborhood medical facilities that traditionally serve low-income populations. And we have launched a major preventive health initiative to discourage illness and disease from ever starting.

Too many American children, and children throughout the industrialized world, are inactive. And the consequences are being found in deteriorating health for many children. In America, for example, type-2-diabetes is growing at epidemic proportions and the number of overweight children has tripled in the past two decades.

I applaud the World Health Organization for making physical activity and fitness its theme and priority for the year. We must get the world moving, literally. And we must begin with our children. The consequences for all our nations are too dire if we don't act now.

All children deserve a global strategy that is focused, visionary and action-oriented. We must wed the unfinished agenda of the past decade with the future challenges facing children and their families.

Today, at this Special Session, we have the opportunity to create a new and better world for our children. A world where children are safe and healthy - where parents guide their children safely through infancy and childhood, to adolescence and adulthood. The United States remains committed to giving all children the hope of a new day and the promise of tomorrow.
Our children and their families deserve nothing less.