PRESS CONFERENCE ON SPECIAL SESSION ON CHILDREN
Next week's General Assembly special session on children would provide an opportunity to address the unfinished business of the 1990 World Summit on Children, M. Patricia Durrant (Jamaica), Chair of the Preparatory Committee for the forthcoming event, said at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon.
That business included unfulfilled survival and development goals in health nutrition, education and protection, she said. Leaders would reaffirm commitments to achieve those unmet targets, as well as goals set at the Millennium Summit and other United Nations conferences.
She noted that the child-related goals of the Millennium Declaration included a 50 per cent reduction in malnutrition worldwide; universal access to primary education; elimination of gender disparity in primary and secondary schooling by 2015; and a two-thirds reduction in the under-five mortality rate.
At the recent International Conference on Financing for Development, she said, governments had made additional commitments to achieve international development goals and global funding targets. The special session would provide the first opportunity since the Monterrey Consensus to examine ways to translate the child-related Millennium Development Goals into concrete actions.
The Preparatory Committee had developed a draft declaration and a draft plan of action, she said. The declaration was a political reaffirmation to complete the unfinished agenda of the World Summit. The plan of action reflected a vision of a world in which all children would get the best possible start in life; have access to quality basic education, including free, compulsory and universally available primary education; and have ample opportunity to develop their individual capacities in a safe and supportive environment.
Ms. Durrant said countries would be called upon to focus action in four major areas of concern: health, education, child protection and HIV/AIDS. The draft plan of action also contained provisions for fostering partnerships, mobilizing resources and monitoring implementation. The issue of partnerships was particularly important for the special session owing to the need to involve parliamentarians, local government, the private sector, all aspects of civil society and the media.
Briefing correspondents on the programme, Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), noted that next week's event would be the first-ever special session on children. The 1990 World Summit was an official gathering of government leaders held at the United Nations, but not an official United Nations meeting, she added.
She said the session would include a series of events supporting the main plenary. In addition to taking part in the parallel children's forum, young people would, for the first time, participate officially as members of delegations. They would also break new ground by making presentations before the General Assembly, including the opening plenary meeting.
There would also be a symposium gathering the leaders of the world’s major religions, she said. There would also be parliamentarians’ symposium and a public sector-private sector dialogue in which the chief executive officers of major companies in India, Switzerland and the United States would hold discussions with heads of State and government. A forum on women's leadership would also be held at the invitation of Nane Annan, wife of the Secretary-General, which would be directly related to the participation of first ladies.
Asked how forward-looking the outcome document was, Ms. Durrant said it aimed at providing the same kind of follow-up action as had been initiated at the 1990 World Summit. There would be some intermediate goals for 2005, 2010 and 2015. The World Summit document had resulted in 140 national reviews, she pointed out. That provided a benchmark by which countries were aware of exactly what they had achieved.
How much of the text was agreed and what were the major sticking points? the same journalist asked.
Ms. Durrant replied that about 90 per cent of the document had already been agreed, and the Preparatory Committee was now working to finalize the outstanding issues. The Committee had completed most of the goals, targets and strategies for action while some of the drafting work was being done at an informal level during the last few days.
Another correspondent asked how much of a problem was posed by the fact that the United States had still not signed up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and by the issue of children's rights and reproductive health.
Ms. Durrant said the special session would seek to achieve consensus as usual. Convergence usually occurred at the time of the meeting and the same was expected next week.
Asked about the level of United States representation, Ms. Bellamy said President George W. Bush still had time to decide whether he or Mrs. Bush would attend. However, assurances had been given that there would be ministerial level representation from the United States.
Ms. Durrant pointed out that several delegations would be headed by first ladies, who in their own right had been very active at the national level and in spearheading action at regional conferences.
Asked about the impact of 11 September on the agenda, Ms. Bellamy cited the example of Afghanistan, saying the country had been a humanitarian emergency even before that date, with one of the highest under-five and maternal mortality rates.
Noting that it was common to question the focus on children when issues of peace and security demanded attention, she said that in order to avoid growing international terrorists in the future, it was necessary to grow fully healthy, educated people. That was the reason to invest in children. The Security Council would hold a one-hour special session on children and armed conflict on 7 May, she added.