The President of the General Assembly,
Your Excellency Mr Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations,
Your Excellencies Heads of Delegations, Distinguished Delegates.

It is with great pleasure that I address this important gathering. At the World Summit for Children in September 1990 we issued a Declaration and Action Plan endorsed by 181 countries and subsequently 155 of them prepared national plans of action for children. The conference set forth a vision or a First Call for children by establishing seven major, and twenty supporting goals that were considered implementable by the year 2000.

It is for this reason that, as we meet here for three days, we review progress so far made towards fulfilling the commitments made twelve years ago.

Children are every nation's tomorrow and the nature and quality of that future is dependent on how they are nurtured by their families, the schools they attend and by society in general. In a world that has seen tremendous technological advances, posterity will indict the present generation, if it were unable to give food to its children as well as uphold all their other rights.

Zimbabwe was, in 1990, among the first group of nations to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and since then has rigorously done her best to implement its provisions.

However, like many other developing countries, Zimbabwe always recognized, even before the 1990 Summit, that poverty, hunger, disease, neglect, discrimination, abuse and illiteracy, hinder families and states from fulfilling and upholding the rights of the child. For Zimbabwe, poverty and disease, now compounded by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, remain major obstacles to upholding the rights of the child. We are pleased, therefore, to note that at the recent Conference on Financing for Development held in Mexico, the international community affirmed that sustainable development is quintessential to poverty eradication. Let me hasten to add that sustainable development can only be assured if investment in it has children's development as the main target.

Mr President, the racially imbalanced distribution of resources in my country has over years also impacted negatively on the ability of the children to fully enjoy their rights. Zimbabwe, as you know, inherited a society divided on grounds of race, with the minority white settler community enjoying the ownership of most of the fertile land and other wealth creating resources. The majority of the poor indigenous population of about 14 million were forced to reside in the rural areas, known in the colonial era as native reserves, where the soils, rainfall and general infrastructure are poor. It is in these backward rural areas, my Government has been struggling to eliminate such diseases as schistosomiasis, malaria, cholera and others.

Over the years, and in pursuance of our policy of "health for all by the year 2000", we have taken vigorous measures, to increase access to health amenities such as the building of provincial and district hospitals and corresponding clinics.

Mr President, Zimbabwe is indeed proud to be among developing countries which have, through immunisation of most children, successfully fought for the eradication of such diseases as polio, neo-natal tetanus, diphtheria and measles. We have also successfully fought iodine deficiency. Since 1996, when donors withdrew their aid, we have purchased all the vaccines from our own fiscus.

Our Education-for-all programme, adopted at Independence in 1980, has been second to none, because the average child in Zimbabwe now has access to education for eleven years. The End Decade Review of the 1990 World Summit indicators shows that primary school enrolment in Zimbabwe had by the year 2000 increased to 89% with a completion rate of 80%. Our literacy rate has also now risen to 87%.

The Land Reform Programme currently underway seeks to assure the future of our nation, and especially that of our children, as it now makes them owners of their land and masters of their destiny. The Programme has already demonstrated, contrary to conventional wisdom, that the young and professional classes can successfully engage in agriculture. This phenomenon will ensure that agriculture will no longer be just a means of subsistence, but a major source of wealth as it stimulates industrial development and thus act as an important factor in poverty alleviation, a sine qua non for the creation of a world fit for children.

To protect children from abuse, the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act has been amended to enable the operation of a Victim Friendly Courts system that ensures that perpetrators of child sexual abuse get maximum punishment. In addition, children's participation at different fora focusing on their rights has richly informed society and policy makers alike.

However, for Zimbabwe, and indeed the SADC region, the fight against HIV/AIDS, a major child killer, is bound to be a protracted battle. Orphan-hood as a result of AIDS is currently estimated at 600 000 children, a figure expected to rise by the year 2005, to nearly a million or nearly 15% of all the children of Zimbabwe's population. The disease continues to claim the lives of the already infected orphans. Infant mortality, even for the relatively better off cities of Harare and Bulawayo, has doubled and it is estimated that by the year 2005, AIDS will account for about 60% of child deaths in Zimbabwe. To counter the effects of HIV/AIDS and reduce its incidence we have quite a vigorous HIV/AIDS Campaign financially supported by an Aids Levy Fund.

To fight the poverty which worsens the effects of the pandemic, Government has instituted a Poverty Alleviation Action Programme that assists with the education and health care of poor children, while the Public Assistance Programme helps with housing and other needs of poor families.

Despite imperialist and neo-colonialist efforts to subject my country to intolerable and unjustified sanctions, we remain resolved to defend the sovereignty of our nation and ensure the future of our children. Hence Zimbabwe will never be a colony again!

In conclusion, Mr President, allow me to re-affirm my country's commitment to the global effort to create a world environment fit for children. This Summit should take all necessary measures in the resulting Plan of Action and move towards fulfilling the 1990 Summit's vision of a First Call for children. Let us work to put food in every child's mouth.

I thank you.