OBSTACLES DEVELOPING COUNTRIES FACE MEETING GOALS FOR CHILDREN HIGHLIGHTED BY AFRICAN STATES, AS GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION CONTINUES

8 May 2002
GA/10018

OBSTACLES DEVELOPING COUNTRIES FACE MEETING GOALS FOR CHILDREN HIGHLIGHTED BY AFRICAN STATES, AS GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION CONTINUES

08/05/2002
Press ReleaseGA/10018

General Assembly

Twenty-seventh Special Session

2nd Meeting (PM)

OBSTACLES DEVELOPING COUNTRIES FACE MEETING GOALS FOR CHILDREN HIGHLIGHTED

BY AFRICAN STATES, AS GENERAL ASSEMBLY SPECIAL SESSION CONTINUES

As the plenary of the General Assembly special session on children continued this afternoon, top officials from a number of African nations urged their fellow world leaders to consider the problems developing countries faced in implementing the goals of the 1990 World Summit for Children.

The twenty-seventh special session -- devoted to an end-of-decade review of the follow-up to the 1990 World Summit for Children -- opened this morning.  The landmark meeting, scheduled to run through Friday, 10 May, aims to bring together government leaders, non-governmental organizations, children’s advocates and children themselves to explore long-standing obstacles to young people’s well-being and development, as well as new challenges to the promotion and protection of their rights.

While welcoming the opportunity to review a decades’ worth of achievements on behalf of children, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, Vice-President of Ghana, urged the international community to respond to the call of the Millennium Declaration and make a “first call” for the children of Africa.  In spite of the many policies and programmes adopted, Ghana could not fully realize its goals for children because of the lack of resources. 

That trend, he went on, was prevalent in many developing countries, in particular those in sub-Saharan Africa.  While African leaders acknowledged that it was their responsibility to ensure the well-being of children on the continent, “unfortunately”, Mr. Mahama said, “we are unable to meet this all-important obligation”.  He called on the international community to support the efforts of African governments in their pursuit of the goals of the World Summit for Children, “in the spirit of international solidarity”.

Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of Uganda, said underdevelopment and lack of access to lucrative markets were perhaps the overarching issues affecting efforts to make Africa a better place for children -- especially sub-Saharan Africa.  Therefore, what was needed to ensure that the development goals were finally reached, was to ensure access to the products of sub-Saharan Africa to the lucrative markets of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries. 

It was a shame he continued, that out of the $1.2 trillion value of world trade in agricultural products, Africa, until recently, was only getting about $20 billion – 2 per cent.  It was clear that part of the genesis of children’s problems was rooted in the equitable access to trade opportunities.

Other African leaders stressed the impact the HIV/AIDS pandemic had on their efforts to supporting the development of children.  Seretse Khama Ian Khama, Vice-President of Botswana, said by 1990, his country had already surpassed several of the global targets included in the Summit outcome documents.  Sadly, that situation had changed as a result of the tragic consequences of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

That fact was most unfortunately reflected in the increase in the under-five mortality rate in Botswana during the past decade, he continued.  Moreover, despite improved access to health services, including recently expanded programmes for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, that very disease had placed a tremendous strain on State health care and social networks.  The impact of the epidemic had also resulted in an unprecedented increase in the number of orphans.  In Botswana, 12 per cent of all children under 14 had lost at least one biological parent to the disease. 

That sentiment was echoed by Aisa Ismail, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Youth Development of Nigeria, who added that that in no other continent were the problems and difficulties confronting children more profound and widespread as in Africa.  Africa had the largest number of children orphaned from HIV/AIDS, not attending school, suffering from malnutrition and who die before the age of five. 

Yet, she continued, Africa was the least able to address those challenges, in spite of the best efforts of its governments and peoples.  At the root of those problems was poverty.  Developing countries, especially in Africa, were caught in a spiral of debt overhang.  Last year, the country spent a whopping $1.7 billion to service external debts and only a paltry $300 million on the social sector -- the sector most critical to women and children.  Nigeria had consistently called for the cancellation of external debt.  It was not only a burden, but an obstacle to the implementation of effective programmes to lift children and women out of poverty. 

Other heads of State participating in the debate this afternoon included the Presidents of Cameroon, Mozambique, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Finland.

The Vice-Presidents of Malawi and Honduras also addressed the session.  The Prime Ministers of Bangladesh, Central African Republic, Comoros, Liechtenstein and Saint Kitts and Nevis also spoke, as did the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, The Crown Prince of Bhutan and China’s State Counsellor.

Other speakers were: the Minister of Social Affairs for Iceland, Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Philippines, Minister of Social Transformation of Barbados, Minister of Health of Syria, Minister of Education for Fiji, Minister of State for Nicaragua, Minister for Social Action and National Solidarity for Burkina Faso, Minister for Social Action and National Solidarity for Algeria, Minister for Social Services of Guyana, Minister/Spokesperson for the Government of Spain, Minister of Advancement of Women, Children and Family of Mali, Vice Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation for El Salvador, Secretary of State, Ministry of Youth and Sports of Hungary, and the representative of Madagascar.

The Assembly also heard from the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The general debate of the special session will continue tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.

Background

The General Assembly met this afternoon to continue its general debate in the special session on children.

Statements

BEGUM KHALEDA ZIA, Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, said her country was proud of its National Plan of Action for Children and the work of the National Council overseeing its implementation.  The survival of children, their protection against killer diseases and the improvement of the nutritional status of mother and child were important priorities of that plan.

She said her Government had significantly increased budget allocations for primary, secondary and girls’ education, as well as for primary health care and social development.  It had managed to substantially increase enrolment of children in primary schools and was particularly proud of the parity achieved in girls’ enrolment.  In addition, Bangladesh had recently undertaken to provide free tuition and scholarships to girls up to the higher secondary level of education.  Those measures would have a positive impact on the age of marriage and health of women and children.

In the last decade, she said Bangladesh had achieved a substantial improvement in immunization, control of diarrhoeal disease, vitamin A supplementation, iodized salt consumption and nutrition.  Through the Bangladesh Integrated Nutrition Programme, the country had demonstrated that severe malnutrition could be reduced among children under two years of age within a short time.  That programme would be vastly expanded.

However, there was no reason for complacency, she said.  Millions of children continued to suffer in different parts of the world, including Bangladesh, due to poverty, malnutrition, disease, conflicts and wars.   Efforts to eradicate poverty must begin with children and parents in vulnerable groups.  Increased investment in health and the nutrition of mothers and children were equally important.  The nations of the world must work together to create a non-violent and secure environment for children.

MARTIN ZIGUELE, Prime Minister of the Central African Republic, said that 12 years ago his country had participated in the World Summit for Children, during which it, like others in the international community, committed itself to protecting and advancing the rights of children.  The results achieved since then were quite meagre. 

He highlighted some of the major results of the implementation of his country’s national plan of action.  In the area of health, after a notable drop between 1990 and 1995 in infant mortality rates, indicators had showed a dizzying rise in those figures in 2000.  Also, the rate of maternal mortality was one of the highest in the subregion.  Furthermore, in 2000, nine out of 10 children were immunized against polio.  Also, the HIV/AIDS rate among young people was rising.

With regard to education, he noted that school enrolment had dropped between 1995 and 2000, and that was compounded by a low rate of people finishing school.  There was also a high rate of illiteracy in rural communities.  At the same time, some very encouraging results could be seen in the area of protection and public participation.  A follow-up mechanism for the Convention on the Rights of the Child had been established, as had been a children’s tribunal, whereby children would not be tried as adults.  Also, an organization called Ambassadors of Peace was established to familiarize young people with elements of peace and conflict resolution. 

The level of implementation of the plan of action had fallen below expectations, he noted.  Some of the reasons for that included the hostile political and social context in which the country found itself.  Also a factor was the devaluation of the country’s currency and its negative effects on an already fragile economy, as well as the unrest of May 2001, which hampered many of the country’s development programmes.  Among the commitments his country was going to undertake was to make the struggle against HIV/AIDS the highest priority in the country and to spare no effort in ensuring that children had a say in those matters that affected them.  He appealed to the international community to intensify efforts to reduce debt, which would assist his country in implementing programmes for children. 

YOWERI KAGUTA MUSEVENI, President of Uganda, said when the international community met more than 10 years ago to agree on the global agenda for children, the commitments had included ensuring child health and nutrition, ensuring universal schooling, safe motherhood, poverty eradication and debt cancellation.  In Uganda’s case, some of the agreed targets had been met. 

By example, he said the country’s Universal Primary Education Programme had facilitated a jump in school enrolment from 2.5 million children to 7 million.  Before that programme had been launched, about 300,000 children had been sitting for the Primary Leaving Examinations each year, but in 2003 more than 1 million children would take that test.  In order to cope with the increased enrolment in primary schools, Uganda had increased the number of classrooms from 47,674, with 80 students per classroom in 1999, to 66,712 classrooms, with 40 students per class at present.  The target was to expand to 148,670 classrooms by the year 2007.  Uganda would also increase the number of teachers to over 113,000, from the 81,564 working in 1997.

He said with focus on Uganda’s school systems and increased enrolment, the problem of illiteracy would soon be overcome.  Education was about more than that, however.  It must produce skilled people -– scientists, managers and educators -– that could be absorbed by the labour market within the country and beyond.  As for poverty eradication, Uganda had reduced poverty form 56 per cent in 1993 to 35 per cent in the year 2000.  Poverty could have been reduced further if Uganda, like many African countries, did not have problems marketing what it produced.

He said Uganda had made strides in the area of health.  Those strides had been made despite the incompetence of local governments that had resulted in a slight regression in child mortality rates.  He said that issue would be resolved immediately.  He said classrooms had become an important weapon in the battle against HIV/AIDS.  Since a third of the Ugandans would soon be in school, he would work to ensure well-planned and packaged information systems and campaigns were made available on a regular basis.

Underdevelopment, he continued, was the overarching issue affecting efforts to make Africa a better place for children, especially sub-Saharan Africa.  In the 1960s Africa had lost ground, because its leaders had interfered with private sector activities.  A lack of access to lucrative markets was also problematic.  Therefore, what was most urgently needed, in order to ensure all the development goals, was to ensure market access to the products of sub-Saharan Africa to the lucrative markets of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.  It was a shame that out of the $1.2 trillion value of world trade in agricultural products, Africa, until recently, was only getting about $20 billion, or 2 per cent.  It was clear that part of the genesis of children’s problems was rooted in the equitable access to trade opportunities.

PAUL BIYA, President of Cameroon, said it was unfortunate that the situation of children in many regions of the world, and particularly Africa, remained synonymous with anguish, physical suffering and despair.  Education, health and development were the inalienable right of every child, but life for hundreds of millions of them across the world resembled a struggle against adversity, and the future resembled a horizon barred by insurmountable obstacles.

Despite those harsh realities, the special session was a cause for hope, proving that the entire international community considered that situation unacceptable and was determined to improve it.  The session had a moral obligation to ease the distress of the most impoverished children on the planet.

He emphasized the necessity for the full implementation at all levels of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was the most widely ratified human rights instrument.  How could it be acceptable that millions of children died every year from preventable diseases like diarrhoea and measles and due to lack of treatment? he asked.  Until when would it be tolerable for 150 million children to go hungry?  Was it worthy of the twenty-first century that almost 100 million children, most of them girls, were not in school?

To such tragic conditions, linked to poverty, were sometimes added those resulting from wars and armed conflicts.  It was estimated that some 300,000 children around the world had been enrolled by force at the age of five or six years to participate in armed conflict.  Of those, no less than two thirds were Africans.  Once established, the African Union would propose a specific mechanism to address that situation.  Unfortunately, the resolutions on economic, cultural and social rights adopted at the World Summit for Children were far from being implemented, particularly those concerning Africa.  The international community had a moral obligation to honour its commitments.

HAMADA BOLERO, Prime Minister of the Comoros, said that since children were the future of mankind, the international community must ensure an environment in which they could flourish.  During the deliberations, it was necessary to consider those children who were subject to exploitation.  The images of thousands of children who were sexually exploited, were child soldiers or were involved in child labour were a heavy burden.  To find a minimum standard of living, many families were forced to abandon children to those scourges.  The situation of children was serious and deserved proper solutions.  It was inadmissible for children today not to have basic needs and services.

He reaffirmed his Government’s commitment to strengthening provisions for the protection of the rights of children.  It was directing the bulk of its resources towards the education and health of children.  However, school enrolment had not increased since 1990.  In 1997, the country had been afflicted with a secessionist crisis.  Thus inter-Comorian dialogue had led to the inauguration of a new era with the signing in 2001 of a framework for national reconciliation. 

He announced that on 14 April the country had elected its first President, which put an end to the constitutional crisis.  The question of the status of children led to the basic problem of solidarity among countries, he said.  As long as there was one child without a future, the work of the international community would not be complete.

OTMAR HASLER, Prime Minister of Liechtenstein, said his country attached particular importance to regional cooperation in the common fight for children’s rights, especially in the framework of the Council of Europe.  A new convention had been adopted last week and would reinforce the basic right of children and their parents to maintain regular contact.

He said that a decade ago there had been strong scepticism in connection with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Today, the Convention was the most universally embraced human rights treaty in history.  That unprecedented success made it clear that the Convention must remain the basis for international activities in that respect.  Its Optional Protocols and other legal instruments, such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, provided further protection to children in areas where they were especially at risk of being victimized and exploited.

Twelve years after the Summit, the necessary legal framework standards were in place, he said.  What was lacking was their implementation.  The outcome document constituted a solid foundation for future action.  The effects of armed conflicts on children, the different forms of sexual exploitation, the worst forms of child labour and the special vulnerability of children to HIV/AIDS had caught the world’s attention as areas in which national and international action were particularly necessary.

He said children must not only be the object of continued attention, they must also have their own voice and opportunity to participate in decisions on matters affecting them.  Providing educational systems was largely a national responsibility, but the eradication of poverty worldwide would obviously play a decisive role to facilitate such national policies.  In addition, a strong role for families, which constituted the basic unit of society, continued to be an important element in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.

BERIZ BELKIC, President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said the last decade in his country had been marked by suffering, war, child trafficking, the destruction of families and a two-fold transition -- all things that could have a negative impact on children.  Bosnia and Herzegovina therefore believed that the fight for child rights should take place at State, regional and global levels, so that a real difference could be made for the children of tomorrow.  With that in mind, Bosnia and Herzegovina was set to host a regional conference this June at which a Child Rights regional Network of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) would be established.  Some 27 countries were set to participate in the event, which was aimed at strengthening the regional network of civil society actors working for the promotion and protection of children’s rights.

He said his Government had created a Plan of Action for Children, 2002 to 2010, as the basis for implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  That plan foresaw specific actions in the fields of health, education and social protection of children, protection from violence and improvement in existing legislation.  Improving the living conditions of children was one of the main goals of the overall development of the country.  The effects of war, transition and poverty were particularly reflected in the child population, which made up over 22.5 per cent of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s overall population.

Of great concern, was the high number of female dropouts and the number of girls entering marriage at the age of 14, he said.  Further, weakening State institutions and fluid State borders had exacerbated problems such as the drug trade and human trafficking.  The plan of action included elements to address those issues, with particular attention paid to the victims of trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery and to improving legislation to enable the prosecution of perpetrators.  A global process could only be truly global if every child in every country was included.  The responsibility of world leaders today was to provide the coming generations with hope of life in an environment of greater understanding and mutual respect.

JOAQUIM ALBERTO CHISSANO, President of Mozambique, said it was disconcerting that more than 10 million children still died every year, often from readily preventable causes.  An estimated 150 million children were malnourished and more than 100 million were still out of school, 60 per cent of them girls.  It was estimated that more than 300,000 children under the age of 18 were fighting as soldiers with governments and armed opposition forces in more than 30 countries.

He noted that subsequent to the adoption, at the 1999 African Conference on the Use of Children as Soldiers in Maputo, of a resolution aimed at the elaboration of an international convention outlawing the use of children under 18 years in armed conflict, African countries had met in Cairo, where they had adopted a common position on the present special session, reiterating their commitment to the promotion and protection of the rights of children.  The peace following Mozambique’s destructive civil war had enabled the country to fulfil its commitment towards the implementation of decisions made at the 1990 World Summit for Children.  Immunization coverage had improved to 99 per cent against tuberculosis by 1998, 77 per cent against polio/diphtheria III, and 82 per cent against measles.  Diarrhoea cases among four-year-old children had been reduced from 192.277 to 178.148 in the 1997/98 period.

Regarding nutrition, he said Mozambique had been self-sufficient in cereals since 1977, which had contributed to improved child nutrition.  However, floods had affected Mozambique in 2000 and 2001, which had destroyed schools, hospitals, roads and houses, forcing people to abandon their lands and belongings.  He thanked the international community for its assistance in helping the country to reduce the impact of the catastrophes and to ensure the safe return of children to their families and the integration of others into substitute families.

TARJA HALONEN, President of Finland, said the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children, and the Plan of Action adopted at the 1990 World Summit for Children, while still valid, had unfortunately not been fully implemented.  Better results must be achieved.  Children were still living in the streets in extreme poverty and were exposed to trafficking, crime and disease.  Millions were forced to set their education aside so that they could work and earn a living for their families.

Children had a right to a safe childhood, she said.  The most important elements of that safety were the provision of love and care.  Children also had the right to health.  Today’s worst epidemic, HIV/AIDS, affected millions of children directly or left them orphaned.  Children also had the right to live free from poverty and all kinds of abuse or violence.  Promoting democracy, human rights and the rule of law was in itself promoting children’s rights and interests.

She said the session should carefully consider the views of a wide array of actors, including NGOs.  To prevent children’s marginalization, the international community should promote cooperation among families, schools, public authorities and community groups. In a globalizing world, economic competition and the pressure of career responsibilities were on the rise and not all parents were able to give their children enough time and care.  Cooperation between public authorities and labour market organizations should promote a balance between work and family life.

She said it was important to listen closely to the voices of children.  The international community could not betray their expectations -- they must be given the opportunity to participate in making the decisions that would affect them.  Children were part of the solution, not the problem.

DENZIL L. DOUGLAS, Prime Minister of St. Kitts and Nevis, said that for over 30 years, his country had been at the forefront of the provision of universal access to secondary education.  Its policy, which allowed for compulsory education between the ages of 5 and 16, had laid a solid foundation for securing a 98 per cent literacy rate.  Likewise, his Government strongly believed that affordability and access should not be a deterrent to optimal health.  Health care facilities were positioned in every community, thus enabling the provision of free medical and dental care to the country’s children. 

The Government recognized that the Convention on the Rights of the Child had widespread implications for all sectors of society, he said.  It was moving to ensure that all groups became sufficiently aware of and understood the rights enshrined in the Convention.  Among other actions, the Government had taken the progressive step of guaranteeing adolescent mothers the opportunity to continue their education, thus addressing the major concern of society’s most vulnerable -- its women and children.

Among the key priority areas for action identified by the Government was universal access to high-quality early childhood development services, which would form part of the national poverty alleviation strategy.  Another area was the implementation of legislative and policy framework in partnership with the public and private sectors and in collaboration with and continued support of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and other development partners.  Other areas included the establishment of adolescent-friendly health clinics, the expansion of professional counseling services and the strengthening of sexual reproductive education.

Crown Prince DASHO JIGME KHESAR NAMGYEL WANGCHUCK of Bhutan, said that while significant progress had been made in placing the issue of child welfare on the national and international agenda, there was no room for complacency.  The lives of millions of children today continued to be stunted by disease, illiteracy and exploitation, and their innocence shattered by terrorism and war.  Even in the developed world, drugs, crime, unequal access to education and health facilities and the disintegration of the traditional family structure all affected the physical and emotional development and future welfare of children. 

With regard to the situation in his country, he stated that most of the goals set during the World Summit had been achieved.  Guided by the King’s development philosophy, which stressed holistic development, the Government had accorded the highest priority to the welfare of children.  Over the past two decades, investments in basic social services had constituted more than 26 per cent of the annual budget.  A comprehensive primary health care system covered more than 90 per cent of the population.  In addition, life expectancy had increased from 20 years to 66, infant mortality rates had been cut by 40 per cent and 80 per cent of children were in schools. 

Everyone had seen poverty, disease, hunger and pain in their societies, he noted.  It was the duty of the international community to build a future which ensured that every child would be free of those afflictions.  To achieve that, everyone must work together in a spirit of commitment, trust and mutual respect, while taking great care to plan not just a few years ahead, but generations into the future.

JUSTIN C. MALEWEZI, Vice-President of Malawi, said that his Government was committed to promoting healthy lives and had increased budget allocations for health over the past eight years.  There had been notable success in the area of immunization, for example.  Also, there had been no confirmed polio cases since 1992 and the World Health Organization (WHO) had declared the country measles free. 

Despite those successes, the country still faced many challenges in maternal and child health.  Maternal mortality had almost doubled over the past decade.  Also, nearly half of the country’s children were chronically malnourished or stunted in growth.  He appealed to the donor community to support Government efforts to promote household level food security by increasing access to yield-increasing technologies and by increasing food aid in the next agricultural season. 

Education was a basic human right and a key factor in reducing poverty and promoting democracy, tolerance and development, he said.  The Government had consistently increased the share of education in the national budget, giving priority to primary education.  It had also expanded access to secondary education and prioritized the girl child in that regard by offering scholarships to all girls in secondary schools. 

While the Government was fully committed to implementing all strategies outlined in the outcome document, to do so would require a significant increase in resources from the international community.  Among the ways in which additional resources could be provided was through faster and deeper debt relief, which would release money to fund poverty-reduction programmes, and through national governments allocating at least 15 per cent of their budgets to health.

ALHAJI ALIU MAHAMA, Vice-President of Ghana, said that in pursuance of Ghana’s commitment to the well-being of children, in 1992 it had formulated a 10-year national programme of action, with a mechanism for monitoring progress on its implementation entitled “The Child Cannot Wait”.  A major achievement over the past decade in relation to the implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child had been the process of law reform on children in Ghana, which had begun in 1995.  However, like many other countries, Ghana had had mixed successes in terms of implementing the goals and targets set by the 1990 World Summit for Children.

In spite of the many policies and programmes adopted, Ghana could not fully realize its goals for children because of the lack of resources, he said.  This trend was prevalent in many developing countries, in particular those in sub-Saharan Africa.  Lack of resources was a major challenge to the well-being of children in that part of the world.  Sub-Saharan Africa was thus the region with the highest child mortality rates, lowest immunization coverage and the lowest school enrolment rates.  Coupled with those problems was the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS and armed conflict on children, which continued to deepen the persistent poverty faced by Africa’s children.

African leaders acknowledged that it was their responsibility to ensure the well-being of children on the continent, he said.  “Unfortunately, we are unable to meet this all-important obligation.  It is in this regard that we call on the international community to respond to the call in the Millennium Declaration to make a ‘first call’ for children in Africa", he said.  He further called on the international community to support the efforts of governments on the continent in their pursuit of the goals of the World Summit for Children, “in the spirit of international solidarity”.

“The awful impact of armed conflict on children” must be redressed, he said.  “The international community needs to be more forceful in bringing to justice all those who commit war crimes, particularly against women and children, to serve as a deterrent to potential perpetrators of these wicked crimes”, he added.

In that regard, he urged all Member States to stop the recruitment and use of children as soldiers and work towards the rapid and universal ratification and implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  He added that equally important was addressing the issue of trafficking in children for purposes of slavery and sexual exploitation, which was on the rise in almost every region.

It was his hope that the special session would, among other things, galvanize action on the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention of the Rights of the Child, on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Optional Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children.  Without a commitment to implement such measures, the future leaders of the world -- the children -- would continue to be at the mercy of the perpetrators of such horrendous crimes.  He hoped the international community would commit the resources required to implement the outcome of the session.

ARMIDA VILLELA DE LOPEZ CONTRERAS, Vice-President of Honduras, said her country guaranteed as inviolable the dignity of all human beings, including the right to life from the moment of conception to the moment of death.  Honduras also enshrined the right of men and women to contract matrimony or mutual union, as well as the right of parents and family to select an educational system for their children.

She announced that on 2 April, Honduras had signed the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on Children in Armed Conflict and the Convention on the Use of Children in Pornography.  Those instruments would be deposited during the special session.

More than ever, she said, the less developed countries needed international cooperation, including through the greater mobilization of resources, debt relief and fairer trade.  One option for alleviating poverty was the design of programmes to reduce urban and rural poverty by promoting trade in border areas.  Another option included the incorporation of informatics and information technology.  Honduras also intended to promote a project in which technology would play a major role in closing the digital divide in both the national and international development processes.  Just as business and trade had become globalized, the globalization of solidarity for infants and children would contribute to the creation of a better environment for the world’s children.

SERETSE KHAMA IAN KHAMA, Vice-President of Botswana, said the special session provided an opportunity to examine the shortfalls in reaching the goals set at the 1990 World Summit.  It was time to reaffirm international commitments to attain the outstanding goals of that conference, as well as to address new emerging issues, such as HIV/AIDS and increased trafficking in children.  Botswana had tailored its own national Programme of Action for Children, 1993 to 2003, to the goals emphasized in the 1990 Declaration and Plan of Action, in order to facilitate synergy and coordination of implementation.

He said that by 1990, Botswana had already surpassed several of the global targets included in the Summit outcome documents.  Sadly, that situation had changed as a result of the tragic consequences of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  That fact was most unfortunately reflected in the increase in the under-five mortality rate in Botswana during the past decade.  Moreover, despite improved access to health services, including recently expanded programmes for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, that very disease had placed a tremendous strain on State health care and social networks.  He added that achievements in that area had not only deteriorated against the countries own targets, but also against global targets.

The impact of the epidemic had also resulted in an unprecedented increase in the number of orphans, he continued.  In Botswana, 12 per cent of all children under 14 had lost at least one biological parent to the disease.  To address a part of that problem, the Government had allocated a significant budget to orphan care programmes to provide a targeted social safety net for all orphans.  HIV/AIDS had also affected goals related to malnutrition.  That was perhaps attributable to the absence of parental care, due to HIV/AIDS deaths.

He said that significant gains had been made in increasing the number of facilities that provided services to children with special needs.  In addition, the Government provided handicapped children with equipment free of charge.  Furthermore, special education programmes had been integrated into the education system.  Overall, the Government had intensified its efforts to secure universal access to education and to improve its quality.  The entire education system was being reviewed with the aim of, among other things, providing relevant information on sexuality and health, including HIV.  Finally, he appealed to donor countries to contribute generously to the efforts of smaller nations’ efforts to improve the situation of their children.

WU YI (China), noting that technologies were advancing by leaps and bounds, said that the enormous strength and huge resources in the hands of humankind for poverty alleviation and development offered both the possibility and the promise for further promotion of the survival, protection and development of children.  Decisive and coordinated actions were needed at the national, regional and global levels to further implement the follow-up actions of the World Summit and to respond effectively to new challenges.

She said “children first” should be the basic principle for child development.  All governments should further incorporate child development in their national economic and social development strategies and set targets and programmes in light of their national conditions.  The eradication of poverty was a prerequisite for child development, as children were the biggest victims of poverty.  Common and balanced development was essential in narrowing the gap between regions and nations so that all children could benefit from economic globalization and technological advances, as well as attain social justice and fairness.

Priority should be given to maternity and childcare, elementary education, control of HIV/AIDS and protection of the legitimate rights and interests of children, she said.  Effective international cooperation was essential for the settlement of child issues.  The developed countries had the responsibility and obligation to provide funds for the developing countries, to transfer low-cost, disease-preventing technologies, and to help strengthen the capacity of developing countries.

More importantly, she said, the developed countries should honour their commitments in terms of funds, technology, debt and trade, creating a favourable external development environment for the developing countries, and narrowing the gap between North and South to enable the latter to invest greater resources into the survival, protection and development of children.

KORN DABBARANSI, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, said that investing in children was the best insurance that any country and the world could have for sustainable development and social, economic and political stability.  Although his country had been successful in many areas of child protection and the promotion of child rights, it still had a long way to go before every child could enjoy the full freedoms, opportunities and benefits provided for under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The Government was also in the process of ratifying the two Optional Protocols to the Convention. 

While progress at the national level was impressive, he said the challenge of reducing the disparities and reaching the unreached, poverty-stricken and marginalized groups remained.  Similarly, sustaining the progress achieved thus far in basic services and improving their quality, efficiency and cost-effectiveness were also continuing challenges that could not be overlooked. 

He reported that today no Thai child died due to hunger, despite the recent economic crisis.  The country’s under-one immunization programme was almost universal, its primary school enrolment rates had remained consistently over 90 per cent for the past decade and access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities had been enhanced to cover 92 and 98 per cent of the population, respectively.  A more integrated approach was being developed to address issues of child protection and child rights.  The Government realized that it could not and should not assume all those responsibilities alone.  While the policy and resources commitment of the Government was vital, the full and active participation of and consultation with all parts of society was needed.  Thailand was among the few developing countries which had mobilized a substantial level of private-sector funding for children’s programmes. 

PÁLL PÉTURSSON, Minister of Social Affairs of Iceland, said that by international comparison, the children of his country were indeed fortunate, as they were blessed with peace and security, good health care and education.  However, the world must continue to acknowledge that that children deserved special attention, their rights and needs had to be recognized and their situation improved.  Their participation in society also had to be ensured through respect for their freedom of expression, and their right to be heard.

He said that the Convention on the Rights of the Child should continue to be the cornerstone of efforts to enhance the status of children, and that his Government remained committed to the implementation of the Convention and its two Protocols, which it already ratified.  He discussed some of the steps the Icelandic Government had taken during recent years towards bettering the condition of the child, which included a three-month maternal/paternal leave for each parent that was not assignable and, in addition, a three–month joint leave, which they might divide among themselves as they pleased.

He said that children all over the world were affected by armed struggle, poverty, lack of basic education and appropriate medical services and insufficient protection.  Hence, all feasible measures should be taken, in accordance with international humanitarian law, to ensure the protection and care of children who were affected by armed conflict.  “We are especially concerned about the plight of children in the occupied Palestinian territories", he said.  "We need to accept responsibility and define our priorities for the welfare of children.  Let us hope that the declaration and plan of action deriving from this special session will be put into practice by all both at the national and international levels."

CORAZON JULIANO SOLIMAN, Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development of the Philippines, said that her country’s latest achievement regarding the rights of children was the ratification of the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  In the last decade, the Philippine Congress had enacted 24 laws on children, the most recent being the Republic Act, which institutionalized an early childhood care and development system. 

She said a significant accomplishment for the decade was the adoption of the Philippine National Strategic Framework Plan for Development or “Child 21”, a 25-year framework plan to guide stakeholders in developing plans, policies, programmes and services for children.  Despite some notable achievements for improved child protection, the overall number of children requiring special protection had increased.  However, it was during the last decade that the country achieved best practices in responding to the needs of children, through partnerships with the private sector, civil society and international organizations.

Current investments in children were inadequate, she noted.  Additional resources were needed for investing in children, who were the world’s greatest asset.  Partnerships between governments and civil society must also be sustained and children’s issues should never be politicized.  In addition, the role of the family as a basic unit of all societies must be underscored.  It was in the family that a child was born, nourished and developed.  The family environment was, therefore, critical in shaping the destiny and future of children.  

HAMILTON LASHLEY, Minister of Social Transformation of Barbados, said his country’s national socio-economic development programming had always placed priority on the development of children and women, as evidenced by its signature and ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in October 1990 and its high standards in the provision of social services.  Barbados planned to launch the Global Movement for Children later this month.  While child labour was not a problem in his country, the Government had ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions 138 and 182.

In 1997, Barbados had embarked on an expanded immunization programme against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and measles, achieving more than 90 per cent coverage in those areas, he said.  The country had traditionally had a sound educational system that facilitated social mobility.  The Education Act of 1983 guaranteed free public education up to tertiary level and compulsory education between the ages of 5 and 16 years.  There was 80 per cent coverage of three-year-olds in government and private day care centers.

Recognizing the overwhelming adverse effects of poverty on development, Barbados had established a Poverty Eradication Bureau and Poverty Eradication Fund, he said.  HIV/AIDS was another emerging challenge that impacted negatively on the population between 15 and 45 years of age.  The Government had established a National Commission for HIV/AIDS Management, the main thrust of which was public education.  The assumption of responsibility for the programme by the Office of the Prime Minister demonstrated the Government’s commitment.

He said the ministries of health and education, youth affairs and sports promoted the development and adoption of healthy choices and lifestyles for all ages.  However, the breakdown of the extended family structure had deprived communities of accessible informal care traditionally provided by grandmothers, neighbours and others.  Parents’ reliance had shifted to the formal care sector, with residential and day-care services provided primarily by the Government through the Child Care Board, complemented by private operators and NGOs.

MOHAMMED IYAD AL-SHATTI, Minister of Health of Syria, said that his country attached special importance to the question of childhood and sought to provide the best care for them.  Its national plans were followed closely by the Government and a high commission for childhood had been established.  The country had made great achievements in the area of child health, such as decreasing infant and child mortality rates.  Its health strategy focused on extending primary health care to the far reaches of the country and aimed at improving quality of life. 

Syria believed that people were an investment, and not a burden, he continued.  Therefore, the development of human resources had received great attention from the political leadership.  The challenges ahead required more international cooperation.  He condemned all practices of the forces of occupation, including those of the Israeli Government.  He reiterated the responsibility of the international community to provide protection, particularly to children, in the face of those barbaric actions.  Such actions only renewed Israel’s desire to see the violence continue.  Syria would continue efforts towards the establishment of a comprehensive and just peace in the context of relevant resolutions, agreements and the principle of land for peace.

RO TEIMUMU KEPA, Minister of Education for Fiji said rapid globalization had challenged the effort by many governments to ensure social protection.  Indeed, social safety nets were collapsing under the pressures from emerging forces of change.  Global actors and the United Nations were, therefore, obliged to find appropriate solutions to help ill-equipped societies meet the Millennium Development Goals.

She said there was universal agreement that the best interest of children must be put first.  With that in mind, the special session should craft a blueprint for the enhanced protection of children today and in the immediate future.  The Government of Fiji had a Coordinating Committee on Children, which consisted of Government, non-governmental and international agencies.  That Committee worked through various smaller groups, so that it could effectively focus on a variety of specific issues related to children.  Thus far, that Committee had made some remarkable achievements, particularly in harmonizing legislation with the principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

She said the Coordinating Committee was in the process of formulating a strategic Plan of Action for an even more focused implementation of the Convention.  Fiji’s further national efforts had been greatly facilitated by the assistance of donors and agencies, including UNICEF, in areas of advocacy, social mobilization and in raising awareness of children’s issues.

Fiji was conscious that the issues of children in the Pacific region held a comparatively low profile on the global action map, she said.  Decreased allocation of resources and the shifting of the focus of the United Nations away from the Pacific would no doubt expose the children living there to higher risks over the next decade.  She urged the global community to remain focused on the increasing vulnerabilities that small island developing countries faced.  Indeed, it had been projected that by 2025, developing countries could account for as much as 80 per cent of the world’s urban population.  The implications were as obvious as they were enormous.  The current session should set out ideal mechanisms that appropriately link subregional and global processes and targets to the implementation measures at various levels.

LILA TERESITA ABAUNZA DE BOLANOS, First Lady and Minister of State of Nicaragua, said that a great percentage of the children in her country today were born to single adolescent mothers, who deprived the child of the right to have a father and a stable family.  That was the beginning of irresponsible parenthood.

She said that, while love of children could not be enforced through legislation, Member States had agreed on measures to protect children who did not receive love from their parents.  In Nicaragua, social, legal and administrative changes had been brought about on the basis of the doctrine of integral protection of children and adolescents as fully fledged citizens, with rights and duties.

The problem of unemployment removed the means of bringing bread to the table, she said, also expressing concern about street children exposed to the danger of drugs and prostitution.  The problems of poverty, natural disasters and disintegration of the family were real; it was urgent, therefore, to build awareness of the universal values of the human being among the Nicaraguan people.

GILBERT OUEDRAOGO, Minister for Social Action and National Solidarity of Burkina Faso, said his country had always given high priority to the promotion and protection of the rights of children.  In that regard, Burkina Faso had organized public forums for children in celebration of the African Child in 1991.  His country had also created a committee to gauge the follow-up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and had ratified the ILO Convention on the worst forms of child labour.  He added that a Children’s Parliament had been established.

He said that concurrent information and training initiatives and awareness-raising campaigns on the rights of the child had also been created.  Some of Burkina Faso’s other initiatives included the establishment of a trust fund for HIV/AIDS orphans, and the building of child development centres throughout the country.  He said greater emphasis was now being placed on the environmental education of children, in order to help create a more respectful attitude to their surroundings.  In the main cities of the country, great efforts had been made to promote cultural activities and sporting events.

Children in difficult circumstances had not been forgotten, he continued.  Vigilance commissions had been established in the provinces to monitor incidents of child sexual exploitation.  There had also been a significant review of the courts, to ensure fairness in the juvenile court system.  He stressed that the effectiveness of those and other initiatives had been severely limited by the lack of resources.  Persisting poverty as well as social and cultural pressures continued to negatively affect children and, perhaps most significantly, the means to provide help for them.  While there were grounds for hope, the unfailing support of development partners was still needed.

DJAMAL OULD ABBAS, Minister for Social Action and National Solidarity of Algeria, called for an objective evaluation of the actions taken over the last decade with the aim of adopting a strategy for the future.  The situation of children was of greatest concern in Africa, where half the population lived below the poverty line.  The level of school attendance continued to be the lowest in the world and health coverage the weakest.  In addition, the continent’s children were prey to armed conflicts and the HIV/AIDS pandemic.  Malaria or yellow fever killed a child every second, he added.

He said that poverty, which had already been characterized as the common enemy of humanity, was at the origin of threats to the rights and well-being of children.  Globalization further complicated the equation between sustained and sustainable development, on the one hand, and the mobilization of required resources, on the other.  The heavy burden of debt and structural adjustment weighed on social services having a direct and negative impact on the situation of children.  Political will for collective and decisive action was essential in order to address the situation.

A new dynamic of international cooperation was also required, he added.  Algeria insisted on the imperative need for creative ideas to materialize the needs of children.  Attaining equal access to basic education and guaranteed nutrition constituted challenges that must be overcome.  Children must also be protected against violence, discrimination and the horrors of war.

He said that in Algeria, where children made up more than half the population, their needs were a major concern of the State.  The National Action Programme adopted following the World Summit for Children was intended to reduce infant and maternal mortality and to promote universal access to basic education.  Beyond results in various areas, Algeria had adopted a series of social measures targeted at children.  Those measures included guaranteed minimal nutritional levels in school and free school transportation.

AISHA ISMAIL, Minister of Women’s Affairs and Youth Development of Nigeria, said that in no other continent were the problems and difficulties confronting children more profound and widespread as in Africa.  Africa had the largest number of children orphaned from HIV/AIDS, not attending school, suffering from malnutrition and who died before the age of five.  Added to that were children suffering from the effects of armed conflict.  Yet, Africa was the least able to address those challenges, in spite of the best efforts of its governments and peoples.  At the root of those problems was poverty.

Developing countries, especially in Africa, were caught in a spiral of debt overhang, she said.  They faced the greatest challenges of development with the least amount of financial resources.  Nigeria’s experience showed that the comprehensive programmes designed to tackle poverty among children and women had been hampered by a lack of financial resources.  Last year, the country spent a whopping $1.7 billion to service external debts, and only a paltry $300 million on the social sector -- the sector most critical to women and children.   

It was for that reason that her country had consistently called for the cancellation of external debt, she continued.  External debt was not only a burden, but an obstacle to the implementation of effective programmes to lift children and women out of poverty.  One approach was for creditor nations to write off those debts by converting them into development funds for poverty reduction programmes for children and women.  Creditor nations need not worry that funds accruing from debt cancellation would be diverted for other purposes.  That was the surest way of making the world free, fit, secure and safe for children. 

BIBI S. SHADICK, Minister of Labour, Human Services and Social Security of Guyana, said that it was equally important to:  eradicate poverty and illiteracy; curtail the spread of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and its attendant effects on children, families, communities and the national economy; and provide equal access to information technology and the wonders of scientific and technological advances. 

Through the National Action Plan for Children, the key concerns of children and women had been kept on the political and social agenda of the national authorities.  She said that the persistence of poverty and its devastating impact on the lives of children remained a source of constant concern for Guyana.  Children remained a vulnerable group in most societies, she said.

For Guyana, a “World Fit for Children” would be premised on dignity, equal and inalienable human rights, freedom, justice, peace, social progress and economic development, she said.  It would be a world in which global and national economic growth translated into social and economic well-being for all.  There would be no need to set goals to reduce by half the more than 1 billion people, mostly women and children, living in poverty.  Research and development would be aimed at social progress, rather than profit, so that affordable medical care was available for all and children could be guaranteed quality education.  “As Guyanese, we are convinced that this vision is achievable.”

PIO CABANILLAS, Minister/Spokesperson of Spain, speaking on behalf of the European Union, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Cyprus, said that those countries were promoting the Convention at the national level.  The Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights reaffirmed the obligation to act in the best interest of children and to take their views into account.  Furthermore, mechanisms for monitoring compliance with the Convention had been put in place, with ombudspersons for children or other similar institutions in many countries in the region.

Actions for children should be firmly rooted in the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the legal basis, he said, the necessary and essential reference in the realization of those rights.  He urged all States parties to immediately review and withdraw all reservations which were incompatible with the Convention.  Another key priority of the Union was to work towards the abolition of the death penalty.  He made an urgent call to end that practice, and life imprisonment for those who were under 18 at the time they committed their offence.  Also, the Millennium Development Goals had committed States to reduce child mortality by two thirds and maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015.  To achieve those goals, accessible and effective preventive services must be developed. 

All States, he continued, had agreed to provide free primary education of good quality to boys and girls alike.  That must be made available equally to children with physical or mental health disabilities.  It was necessary to ensure that children learned values, such as tolerance, respect for diversity and how to protect the environment.  The fulfilment of the rights of the child was the responsibility of everyone.  International cooperation and collaboration could contribute to fully achieving the obligations and principles of the Convention throughout the world.  

DIARRA AFOUSSATOU THIERO, Minister for Advancement of Women, Children and Family of Mali, said that her country, co-President of the World Summit for Children, had honoured its commitments to the protection of children’s rights through a series of actions at the national, regional and international levels.  Mali had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as all the other relevant United Nations protocols and treaties.

She said that the draft outcome document, which Mali hoped to see adopted at the end of the special session, was a reaffirmation of the commitments of the World Summit.  Mali also supported the provisions contained in the Secretary-General’s report.

Mali had hosted the first international meeting to harmonize national legislation against the exploitation of children in the French-speaking and other African countries.  That important meeting had formulated important guiding principles in the areas of protecting children from all forms of sexual and/or economic exploitation, mistreatment and/or violence against them, education, child labour, as well as the situation of children in armed conflict and refugee or displaced children.

She said her country had developed a plan of action against trafficking in children and signed a bilateral convention with Côte d’Ivoire, one of the first in Africa in that regard.  Mali had also organized, in May 2001, a meeting of West and Central African First Ladies on the reduction of infant and maternal mortality.  Together, Member States could and should make the world a place fit for children.  Mali would play a full part in that crusade, because the time was ripe to translate words into action.

ROBERTO INTERIANO, Vice-Minister for External Relations and International Cooperation of El Salvador, said that the signing of the peace agreements in 1992 had allowed his country not only to wind up the armed conflict, but also served as a starting point for supporting the foundations of peace.  Important advances had been achieved in the administrative and legislative spheres, which had profound effects on children.  The academic curriculum had been revised to incorporate such issues as human rights and environmental protection.

As of 1999, he said, the Government had begun public consultations with children, adolescents, State institutions and civil society to formulate a national policy for their development.  The harmonization of legislation, the participation of the community, children and adolescents, the importance of local management and social protection were some of the important issues in that regard.  

The national programme “Young Country” mobilized the resources of 17 public and private institutions, he said.  National programmes were also being elaborated to combat the worst forms of child labour, child exploitation and trafficking in children, as well as to promote breast-feeding.  Several laws had been passed, including on violence in the family, juvenile perpetrators and environmental protection.  Despite the progress achieved, the challenges continued to be significant.

IMRE SZAKÁCS, State Secretary, Ministry of Youth and Sports of Hungary, said that a major preoccupation of his Government for the past four years had been to become the Government for families.  Hungary prepared the National Family Policy Principle, whose aim was the enhancement of the standard of living of families, the consolidation of the security of family life, and the encouragement of the growth of the population.  The introduction of the scheme ensured that the right to the allowances did not depend on the income of the family, but was a civic right, thus rewarding the bringing up of children.

He said that Hungary, being concerned about the situation of its children and youth, had set up a Ministry of Youth and Sports in early 1999.  The creation of the posts of child’s right representatives, and family and child legal commissioners, was one of the major modifications of the Childcare Act.  Those legal posts would enter into force in 2003,

In terms of the protection of children and youngsters, Hungary focused on the repression of drug abuse, with active Government support being directed at institutions organizing alternative leisure-time and sports programmes, he said.  In the 12 years that had passed since the political changes in Hungary, the conditions to form a new vision of the future for the young generations had surfaced.  It was not only the shaping of a new vision of the future that was important; rather, a new basis had to be found for the relationship between the State and its young citizens.  Hungary was strongly committed to the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  “This significant international legal document provides an appropriate basis for the respect of children’s rights.  We will do our utmost to have a final document that describes priorities and target-oriented aims in terms of the full respect of the rights of the child”, he said.

JEAN DELACROIX BAKONIARIVO (Madagascar), associating himself with the statement to be made on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was evidence that States were making efforts on behalf of children, although achievements so far had remained modest.  The strong participation in the special session by children, and the broad high-level attendance, indicated a political determination to supplement efforts already being made to achieve the objectives set out by the World Summit for Children.

He deplored the persistence of poverty in many countries and emphasized the need to give the highest priority to the struggle to eradicate it, as well as to the mobilization of resources pledged at the World Summit.  It was equally important to increase investment in social services, and to strengthen regional and international cooperation in the technical, legislative, financial, material and other fields.

That would facilitate the elimination of child labour, trafficking in children and other forms of exploitation to which they were subjected, he said.  It was necessary to intensify scientific research in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases such as malaria, which was the major killer of children in developing countries, particularly in Africa.  It was high time the international community responded to the appeal made at the Millennium Summit to make children’s rights a priority.

CAROL BELLAMY, Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund, said that child rights, women’s rights and people-centred development were now widely regarded as ideas whose time had come.  It was the first time that the Assembly had addressed the issue of children in a special session.  And never had a major United Nations meeting invited so many children and young people to participate as official delegates.  Their participation was what made the special session special. 

For all the millions of young lives that had been saved, and all the futures that had been enhanced, the international community had failed to reach most of the key survival and development goals that were set at the World Summit in such areas as basic education, under-five mortality, maternal mortality, child nutrition and sanitation.  However, for all the uncertainty in the world, “the future remains in our hands as never before”.  The special session was an opportunity not only to review progress since the Summit, but to re-energize the international commitment to realizing a global vision for children now and in the years to come. 

Real improvement in the lives of children, their families and their communities was well within the world’s resources, but making it happen would require the exercise of committed leadership, from government to civil society at every level, from non-governmental organizations and the private sector, from religious groups and academia, community and grass-roots organizations, the media and children themselves.

RUUD LUBBERS, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that he had had the opportunity to meet many refugee children.  They all had a few overarching dreams in common:  enough food and other basic assistance; a secure environment; reunification with their families; access to education, and sports; and help to become self-reliant through skills training. 

Refugee children were often separated from their parents during flight, he said.  They often found themselves having to look after younger siblings all by themselves.  Tracing and family reunification of unaccompanied and separated children had been a continuous priority activity for UNHCR, for which it worked with UNICEF and other partners.  One positive example was in the Great Lakes region of Africa, where some 62,000 Rwandan children had been reunited with families between 1994 and 1998.  A renewed commitment from countries was needed to ensure that children had access to asylum procedures and that they were assisted by legal representatives. 

Another issue was the vulnerability of refugee children to violence, exploitation and abuse, he said.  Together with the Secretary-General, he was committed to a zero tolerance policy against sexual exploitation, abuse and violence.  One case was one too many.  There was a collective responsibility to address the underlying root causes that increased the susceptibility of refugee children to abuse.

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For information media. Not an official record.