PRESS CONFERENCE ON FIRST SPECIAL SESSION ROUND TABLE
Co-chairs of round table I of the General Assembly’s special session on children –- the first in a series of three interactive debates on the overarching theme of ”Renewal of the commitment and future action for children in the next decade” -- briefed correspondents on the outcome of their debate at Headquarters this morning.
The first round table, which took place from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, was co-chaired by the President of Romania, Ion Iliescu, and the Prime Minister of Mongolia, Nambar Enkhbayar. Also present at today’s briefing were Caroline Barebwoha of Uganda, one of the two child representatives who addressed the round table, and Shashi Tharoor, Interim Head of the Department of Public Information, who introduced the speakers.
Each of the round tables is conducted under the leadership of two co-chairs at the level of head of State or government, who will also present a summary of the discussions to the concluding meeting of the special session on Friday. To encourage frank and uninhibited dialogue, the Assembly decided to close the round tables to the media and general public.
Summarizing the debate, Mr. Iliescu said that it had provided an opportunity to some 50 delegations to present their views. The atmosphere had been extremely positive and constructive. The discussion could be characterized as truly interactive, allowing for an interesting exchange of views and ideas. Valuable input was given by child representatives from Uganda and New Zealand, whose interventions were appreciated by the delegates as highly inspiring. Among the participants at the event were heads of the World Health Organization (WHO) and World Food Programme (WFP), as well as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Human Rights.
He said that education was one of the main themes discussed yesterday, as many of the participants shared their national experiences in that regard. Participants recognized that education is a basic human right and one of the keys to eradicating poverty. They spoke about laws to make primary education free and compulsory and addressed the need to ensure high quality of education. Many delegations underlined the lack of financial resources, which hindered the development of quality education, as did the lack of equipment and trained personnel. Technology in education, including computer literacy and access to the Internet, emerged as a new priority.
Many delegates had pointed out that children’s problems could not be separated from the problems of the society in general, he continued. As poverty was seen as a serious problem, the participants of the round table stressed that reducing poverty and the social gaps in the world had become the vital goals of the international community.
Another important theme was children’s health and survival, he said. While there were impressive achievements in decreasing child and maternal mortality through immunization and provision of primary health care and
nutrition, much more remained to be done. The world was still not reaching the children most in need of simple, inexpensive, life-saving treatments. Many delegates spoke about the importance of adequate food and nutrition, and special mention was made of the importance of the family for children’s development and well-being. Among other important issues were the threats presented by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and armed conflict. Several speakers spoke about organizing children’s parliaments and other forums, where children’s voices could be heard.
Mr. Enkhbayar agreed that education had emerged as one of the main themes of yesterday’s round table. In that regard, the fact that the United Nations had proclaimed a Decade of Literacy (to begin in 2003) assumed particular importance. Also essential was the goal to eradicate illiteracy by the year 2015, ensuring that boys and girls all over the world would be able to complete the full course of primary school. At the same time, participants in the debate raised the question of continuing education, which also required attention.
Continuing, he said that he had been touched by the statement by Te Kerei Moka –- a child representative from New Zealand -– who had said that he was trying to keep his own identity and his own culture. He emphasized that a person who lost his or her culture was incomplete. Agreeing with that,
Mr. Enkhbayar added that a person was fully complete when he or she was also familiar with other cultures. That came with education.
Participants of the round table had pointed out that children were not our future -– they were our present, he continued. For that reason, it was important to spend money on them now. As for the question of where to find such resources, it had been pointed out that the countries of the world knew where to find resources for military goals, and now they had to find money for the education of their children. He also stressed the importance of regional reviews to assess national progress in implementing programmes for children. In that respect, such projects as the Partnership for African Development could serve as an example.
As countries with economies in transition, where did Romania and Mongolia find the resources to address children’s health and education, the main issues that were dominating the session? a correspondent asked.
Mr. Iliescu outlined the difficulties his country was facing, saying that Romania was the only country in its region where the old regime had been demolished by popular revolt fueled by the social misery of the population. Now, 12 years later, the old structures of a dictatorship and centralized economy had been dismantled. However, it was easy to destroy, but much harder to rebuild. While there was progress in developing democracy, introducing economic reforms and modernizing the country, the gross domestic product (GDP) now stood at 80 per cent of what it had been in 1989; and the population’s purchasing power was about 60 to 65 per cent of that level. That represented a serious challenge for the Government. In the last 2 years, the economy had started to improve, but the country was still facing problems with school education and children’s health. Poverty eradication was one of the main goals.
He added, however, that poverty would be found not only in countries in transition, but even in the world’s richest countries. Confronting the gap
between the rich and the poor at all levels required attention both at the national, regional and global levels.
Mr. Enkhbayar said that his country was trying to find as many sources to finance health and education as possible. Despite the difficulties, about
20 per cent of the national budget was devoted to education. Some 4.5 per cent of the country’s GDP went towards health care. Trying to improve the situation, the Government was trying to involve other players, including non-governmental organizations (NGOs), in providing those services. Mongolia was also collaborating with international financial institutions, which were assisting in
carrying important projects there.
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