8 May 2002


Press Briefing


“Children are not an expense, they are an investment” was the message being sent by children during the current special session of the General Assembly, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund, Carol Bellamy, told correspondents this afternoon at Headquarters.

Investing in children had a moral, economic and a geo-political basis, she said.  The world had set enormous goals at the Millennium Summit and the Conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey, Mexico and would do so at the Summit on Development in Johannesburg.  Success in any of those endeavors began with how children were being treated.  The concrete commitments made in New York were the key to real progress in the world.

The first ever General Assembly special session on Children offered young people the opportunity not only to be seen, but also to be heard, probably for the first time in the history of the United Nations, she said.  It was important that governments have an opportunity to agree on new goals for children and that world leaders of all kind had an opportunity to re-energize their commitment to achieve those goals.  “It is not enough to just make promises to children, you have to keep your promises,” she said.  The leaders assembled must bring in partners, re-assign resources, and involve children, families and communities.

She said the world leaders assembled here were being watched.  The global pledging campaign for children -- the “Say Yes Campaign” -- had gathered nearly  100 million pledges from 100 million people around the world.  Through paper ballots, as well as Internet voting, those people had supported investing in children and had said they expected world leaders to keep the promises they made, which was a "a powerful incentive".

Answering questions, she said every country, even the poorest one, had to assign an adequate portion of their budget to basic social services such as health and education.  But it was not a one-way street.  Rich countries definitely had a responsibility.  There was a need not only for North-South dialogue, but also for resources behind that dialogue.  As a former investment banker, she knew that investing in children had a high return.  A girl with just primary education was more likely to become a healthy adult, thereby reducing costs for curative care.  Her children were less likely than one without to die before the age of five, again reducing costs, and her family was more likely to be economically more stable.  There was a direct link between investing in children and economic stability in a community.

The plan of action from this conference had been agreed on for the most part, Ms. Bellamy said.  Goals could be divided into categories of promoting a healthy life; access to and completion of quality basic education; protection against violence, abuse and exploitation; and fighting HIV/AIDS.

Participation was broader than in most conferences, she noted.  The composition of delegations for this session was determined by their respective governments.  However, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) accredited with the

Economic and Social Council and those working with UNICEF could also participate.  Nearly 400 children had participated in the children’s forum. Moreover, 132 countries had included children in their delegation.  Children from Iraq had not been allowed to come, but she was not aware of any other country where something like that had happened.

She noted that UNICEF had been named part of a monitoring mechanism for the outcome of the World Summit for Children.  She expected that the Fund would also be involved in monitoring the outcome of the special session.  The Millennium Development Goals had also established a monitoring mechanism, so that the parts of those goals that concerned children were being monitored.  The language on monitoring in the outcome document was nearing completion.

The UNICEF was not involved in discussions with the United States on the problem of increasing trafficking of under-aged girls from Mexico who were then forced into prostitution, she said, responding to another question.  Trafficking in human beings for sexual purposes, labour purposes and adoption purposes was a growing problem, largely fueled by criminal interests.  Fighting that phenomenon required attention from individual countries, but also agreements between countries, which was happening more and more. 

Asked about the involvement of the Catholic Church in providing child services, especially in Latin American countries, in the context of the current paedophilia scandal, she said the Catholic Church had always been a strong children’s advocate and was a strong ally of UNICEF there.  Instances of inappropriate or illegal behaviour should be brought to the attention of the authorities and persons of whatever religion or organization involved in such behavior should be removed.  The UNICEF would support efforts to ensure that mechanisms were in place where people could complain.

Asked about the reluctance of the United States to use the language of reproductive health services, she said that issue was not new.  The plan of action was likely to go neither backward nor forward.  She assumed that what had been agreed upon in that regard in past meetings would be accepted at this meeting.

Regarding the Palestinian question, she said there was language in the final document that addressed the situation of children in the occupied territories.  That language had been negotiated and agreed upon last year.

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For information media. Not an official record.