Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the United Nations High-Level Meeting on Children and the Sustainable Development Goals: Giving Every Child a Chance, in New York today:
Let me begin with thanking our hosts the Permanent Mission of Sweden, World Childhood Foundation USA and Mentor International for bringing us together today.
Your Majesty, the United Nations and the Secretary-General are grateful for and impressed by your work in building safe environments and protecting vulnerable children around the world.
Your World Childhood Foundation demonstrates your dedication to the imperative of creating a world where children simply can be children as they want and as we want them to be. Not soldiers, not victims, not a runaway from despair not premature adults; just children who can live in peace and love, learn and play, have a home, have food and clean water, and who can grow up without encountering hate or violence.
Twenty-five years ago, the United Nations made history by adopting the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Soon, it became the most quickly and widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. This Convention is our pact for the world’s children — our pledge to help them survive and thrive, learn and grow, without discrimination.
A quarter of a century later, we are about to reach another global milestone with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This is a vision for a healthy planet where all people, not least children, can live with the rights and dignity they can claim and deserve.
The tragic reality is that children are dying in great numbers in conflicts, in abject poverty and from diseases we can prevent. Too many children lack access to clean water, safe sanitation and education. Children with disabilities suffer abuse and discrimination. Millions of children around the world are stunted and denied a full healthy life.
These are just some of the many gross injustices and inequalities in our world. And this in a world where a billion people go to bed hungry every night, even though we have more than enough food and resources to share with all.
We must be especially concerned about young girls. They are often denied the chance to go to school. They are victimized by sexual violence in conflict. All too often, girls and young women suffer from harmful traditional practices, including female genital mutilation.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called attention to the global problem of violence against children. Its report “Hidden in Plain Sight” found that more than 1 in 10 girls worldwide — some 120 million girls — have experienced sexual violence. In early adolescence, one third of students suffer bullying. And the Internet, when harmfully used, is a growing threat to children’s safety. We all know that conflicts and violence undercuts development and human growth.
The new sustainable development goals are setting a new direction. The 2030 Agenda links peace and security with sustainable development. It directly underlines the importance of peaceful societies, not least for children.
Goal 16 includes a target on ending “abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children” — with a direct reference to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Every day, we see how exposed and vulnerable refugee children are. We have all been shocked, heartbroken and angry by the images of the recent refugee crisis. We need to be reminded both about our legal obligations and the demands of solidarity and compassion. We must, in particular, respond by protecting all children in conflict zones and all those who have been forced to flee wars and devastation.
The 2030 Agenda addresses poverty, hunger, the need for quality education and health services, the right to water and sanitation and climate change.
The 2030 Agenda has a focus on issues that weigh on the world’s young people — including unemployment. Without chances for decent employment, young people lose hope and trust in society and institutions. The sustainable development agenda can help generate new jobs and enable youth to contribute to growth and prosperity.
We are privileged to be here at the United Nations at an historic moment. Governments have produced a transformative document which they, parliaments, international organizations, civil society, the private sector, academia, community leaders and all of us can turn into reality.
This agenda recognizes the value of partnerships. Now is the time to strengthen our bonds and together the vision of a life of dignity for all. The 2030 Agenda is basically a matter of intergenerational justice. It is about fulfilling our responsibility to all children, so that they can grow up free from want, harm or fear — yes, free from want, harm and fear.
We can do it if we do it together. To me, the word “together” is the most important word, a clarion call. In today’s turbulent world of challenges and promises, we must achieve the new goals to achieve a life of dignity for all — most of all for our children and coming generations.