PRESS BRIEFING BY UNICEF DEPUTY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
The first-ever United Nations special session on children had gotten off to a historic start, having heard from many world leaders and the children themselves, Kul Chandra Gautam, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), told correspondents at a Headquarters press briefing this afternoon.
Moving and emotional stories had been told by children, he continued -- children who had witnessed and survived things that no child should be subjected to. Stories had reminded those present about the work at hand today and tomorrow and beyond the special session. Among the speakers was Ismael, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone, who talked about having grown comfortable with a gun at the age of 14 -- and having lost "that human thing that makes you care for other people". The session had also heard from Amina, a 12-year old girl from the Niger, who, unlike many girls her age, was lucky enough to be in school; and Nadia, also 12, an orphan from Afghanistan.
Continuing, he informed correspondents that at a concert tonight, Nelson Mandela would deliver to Secretary General Kofi Annan 95 million signatures collected during a global “Say Yes” campaign for children, which had been launched last year. Those were 95 million voices calling for leadership to improve the lives of children. Such leadership was reverberating in the halls of the special session. Testifying to it were today’s public-private dialogue and the launch of the global alliance on improved nutrition, spearheaded by Bill Gates. It would also be evident tomorrow morning, when United Kingdom's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, would take part in a discussion about financing a world fit for children.
Asked to provide a review of the negotiations on the special session’s outcome document, Mr. Gautam said that the negotiations had continued last night in informal groups led by Ambassador Schumacher of Germany. Some progress was being made, with the negotiations “inching slowly ahead”. Agreement had been reached on several additional paragraphs, but some difficult core issues still remained unresolved. While confident that a successful conclusion would be reached, he was afraid that the negotiations would continue for the rest of the day today, and maybe even into tomorrow.
To a question about the deadline for reaching an agreement, he replied that the deadline had been last week. He hoped work would be concluded by tomorrow, because that would be the last day of the session.
With reproductive health emerging as one of “the sticking points” in negotiations, do you think the United States is trying to set global policy on such issues as abortion? a correspondent asked. Mr. Gautam said that reproductive health was one of the pending issues in the final document, and there were some widely different views on the matter. However, tentative agreement had been reached on some key aspects of reproductive health, including such issues as safe motherhood, infant and maternal mortality, obstetric and neonatal care. Agreement, in general, had also been reached on child spacing and family planning, but there was no clear agreement yet on the follow-up to the major United Nations
conferences, including the five-year review conferences on the International Conference on Population and Development and the Fourth World Conference on Women.
Asked about a possible vote on a resolution put forward by Arab nations on the situation of Palestinian children, he said that consultations were continuing on that text. He was not familiar with the latest developments.
As for UNICEF’s position on that matter, he said that the Fund had spoken clearly on the need to protect children under difficult circumstances. Such protection should be provided to all children, including Palestinian and Israeli children. He regretted the violence in the Middle East, which should not be tolerated. One of the main goals of the special session was to combat violence, in particular, when it was directed against children. Children should not be made either victims or perpetrators of any conflict -– be it in the Middle East or anywhere else.
Asked if UNICEF was endorsing the draft, he responded that it was not up to UNICEF, but to Member States to do that. The political negotiations on the draft resolution were a completely intergovernmental process.
To several other questions, he said he supported greater participation of children in the world affairs. For the first time in history during the session, children were not only seen, but also heard. Their views were being taken very seriously, and everyone was very impressed with them. The young participants of the Children’s Forum had stolen the adults’ hearts. If adults could imitate children, the world would be a better place. Following the session, he hoped there would be greater acceptance of children’s participation on matters that had an impact on their own well-being.
How valid was the State Department’s claim that portions of the outcome document on prostitution, trafficking and trading in children had been watered down to such an extent that they had been rendered meaningless? a correspondent asked.
That was not quite the case, Mr. Gautam replied. The agreed portions of the document on sexual exploitation of children represented a strong affirmation of what the international community had agreed to, including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on child trafficking and prostitution. In fact, the Protocol had strong support in the United States and there was a chance that it would be ratified before the Convention itself.
Asked how UNICEF could ensure action on the promises made during the special session, Mr. Gautam said that, drafted with the participation of children, the outcome document contained a strong section on international partnership with the participation of young people. Endorsing the outcome document, the leaders of the world would be strongly endorsing partnership with young people who were getting better and better organized. The UNICEF and many non-governmental organizations were facilitating their participation. The special session should not be seen as a one-time event. While the situation varied from country to country, children’s participation should continue after the session. He believed the international community was moving towards increased participation of civil society, in general, and children, in particular.
Regarding a call for creating a children’s parliament, he said that examples of such institutions already existed in some places, including Burkina Faso and some states of India. Creation of such a body would provide an appropriate and important forum for the children to debate the issues that concerned them.
Asked if children would be included in future activities of UNICEF, he said that the Fund’s main work took place not in big meeting sessions, but in particular countries and communities. Children increasingly took part in many activities that UNICEF sponsored in the field.
To a question about voting age, he said that UNICEF had not taken any position on that issue. While voting age should be determined strictly by national legislation, he believed that by the age of 18 people were mature enough to vote. With better education and introduction of modern technology, children were increasingly better informed about current events. In fact, many young children were better informed about the political situation in their countries than their parents.
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