Twenty-seventh Special Session
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Among the key issues raised this morning as the General Assembly special session on children continued its general debate were the negative impact of armed conflict on children and the need to put an end to their exploitation.
President Yahya Jammeh of Gambia said that as long as wars and violence sparked by greed and hatred continued, one might think that world leaders were the true enemies of children. Urging the international community to say yes to children and no to violence, he said the problems afflicting the children of Africa, and indeed the world, could not be tackled without confronting poverty, war and terror.
President Alejandro Toledo of Peru, reaffirming his commitment to reprioritize public expenditure on education, health and nutrition, said his Government had decided to reduce its military expenditure and redirect those funds towards investment in children. Addressing businessmen, he said, Don t give them fish, but teach them how to fish. Don t give them food, but open your markets, because with markets, we can generate employment and income. He suggested that the technology and knowledge of private enterprise be used to generate more social projects directed towards children.
President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia said the ghastly shadows of poverty and protracted conflicts further darkened the future of African children. Zambia was a plateau of peace and had therefore become home to many refugees fleeing war and strife in other countries. He appealed to the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations to help Zambia share that burden.
The President of Bahrain’s Supreme Council of Women said that by condemning all offences perpetrated by the Israeli occupying forces, the international community would be taking a moral and humanitarian stand that could end Israel’s aggression against the Palestinian people. Events in the occupied Palestinian territories not only violated international law and the Fourth Geneva Convention, but also constituted a breach of human values.
The observer for Palestine said that the lives of Palestinian children were marked by the systematic denial, by Israel, of even their most basic rights. Hundreds of them were illegally detained in Israeli prisons, tens of thousands had had their education disrupted and thousands had been rendered homeless. However,
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although Palestinians did not exercise sovereignty over their land, that had not prevented the Palestinian Authority from endorsing and implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Georgia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs said that conflicts, separatism and ethnic cleansing in Abkhazia, Georgia, and elsewhere in the world had brought tears and hardships to hundreds of thousands of children. How could the international community accept the fact that the separatist regime in Abkhazia denied the right of the children there to study in their own tongue, to use the books written in Georgian? he asked. Just as in the twentieth century, indifference remained the foremost enemy and sin of mankind.
The Minister of Labour and Social Insurance of Cyprus said the continuing occupation of nearly 37 per cent of the country by a neighbouring State had prevented the implementation of a plan of action that would benefit all Cypriot children. For Cyprus, creating a world fit for children would require a political settlement that would allow all Cypriot children whether of Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Maronite or Latin origin to have equal access to services and basic human rights, including the right to associate freely with one another.
The head of Ukraine’s State Committee for Family and Youth Affairs, noting that general morbidity among children had increased threefold since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, said her country had demonstrated resolve to prevent the recurrence of such tragedies in the future by voluntarily renouncing its nuclear military arsenal and by fully decommissioning the Chernobyl plant.
Germany’s Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth said her country could not stand by while 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 years were subjected to ruthless exploitation and even enslavement. She added that despite increasing awareness of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, the number of victims, especially those exploited in connection with child trafficking and child prostitution, was growing worldwide.
Addressing the session, Willemijn Aerdts, Youth Representative of the Netherlands, said that her intervention meant that youth participation was taken seriously, but the fact that she was only one of the few youth representatives doing so meant it was not taken seriously enough.
The special session also heard statements by the Vice-Presidents of Uruguay and the United Republic of Tanzania, as well as by the Governor-General of Saint Lucia.
Also speaking this morning were the Prime Ministers of Mauritania, Mauritius and Guinea.
Statements were also made by the Minister for Human Resources Development of India; Minister of Labour, Social Affairs and Family of Slovakia; Minister of Education of Tonga; Minister of Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates; Minister of Social Action of Paraguay; Minister and Head of the Office of the Government of the Czech Republic; Minister for Development Cooperation of the
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Netherlands; Minister for Social Affairs of New Zealand; Federal Minister for Social Security and Generations of Austria; the Minister of Women s Affairs and Social Security of the Maldives; and the Minister of Social Development and Child Protection of Niger.
Other speakers were the representatives of Morocco; Marshall Islands; Nauru; Federated States of Micronesia; and Belarus.
Also addressing the special session were the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP).
The general debate will continue at 3 p. m. today.
The twenty-seventh special session of the General Assembly – devoted to an end-of-decade review of the follow-up to the 1990 World Summit for Children – met this morning to continue its general debate.
LEVY PATRICK MWANAWASA, President of Zambia, said in light of the tragic events of 11 September, it was now clear that tomorrow could be guaranteed for the world s children only if the entire international community came together to combat emerging threats to peace and personal security. A terrorist attack against one country was an attack against all.
Like many other countries, Zambia had created a national programme of action for children, he said. Thanks to the technical support of the United Nations Children s Fund (UNICEF), that programme had been effective in creating alliances for children and empowering communities. He added that programmes promoting maternal and child health care, basic education, food security and nutrition, and family welfare had also been developed.
Giving some specific examples of the programme s objectives, he mentioned, among other things, initiatives aimed at providing education for all. Zambia had introduced free education for all children in grades 1 to 7. The country was also actively promoting education for girls and had fast-tracked a re-entry initiative for young mothers. He also drew attention to Zambia s sector-wide approaches to child health and the creative ways in which the Government had sought to guarantee children s welfare.
In that regard, he said that plans related to vitamin A supplementation in food had been successfully implemented, as had plans aimed at broad-based eradication of preventable or readily treatable diseases. At the same time, the HIV/AIDS pandemic continued to rob Zambia not only of the smiles of its children, but also of the nurturing presence of their parents. Current estimates showed that 44 per cent of Zambian households accommodated orphans, while 13 per cent of children below the age of 18 were orphans.
He said the ghastly shadows of poverty and protracted conflicts further darkened the future of African children. Zambia was a plateau of peace and had, therefore, become home to many refugees fleeing war and strife in other countries. He appealed to the United Nations and other humanitarian organizations to help Zambia share that burden. He added that the hopes of the new millennium and the New Plan for Africa s Development (NEPAD) had rekindled hope for the future of Africa and its children.
CALLIOPA PEARLETTE LOUISY, Governor-General of Saint Lucia, describing the special session as a calling to account of world leaders, said that those leaders were so preoccupied with securing or increasing their market share in the international economic marketplace that they had lost sight of the players – today s children. Unless they were forced into dealing with a crisis, leaders provided few opportunities for children to speak for themselves and so guide the policy decisions taken on their behalf.
In preparation for the special session, she said, Saint Lucia had convened a children s forum that sought to canvass the feelings, ideas, worries, hopes and dreams that they wished to convey to the international community. The issue raised most consistently by all age groups was their perception that they were insufficiently loved and cared for by adults. That cry was borne out by the chilling statistics showing that the incidence of physical and sexual abuse, neglect and abandonment of children in Saint Lucia had quadrupled in the last five years. That had been attributed to the migration of mothers, the contraction of the extended family-support system, early adolescent pregnancy and unemployment.
Also high on the list of concerns was the issue of HIV/AIDS, she said. There was cause for concern as 14 per cent of cases recorded in Saint Lucia were children under the age of 20 years; 8 per cent were paediatric cases in the 1 to 5 age group; and 92 per cent of adolescent cases were girls between 15 and 19. Saint Lucia s children, therefore, called for programmatic interventions to reduce the spread of the disease and for the removal of discrimination against infected persons.
She said the children of Saint Lucia had also called for the creation of spaces of their own, such as recreational centres, a children s hospital, foster homes, counselling centres and children s resource centres. With characteristic generosity, they had also made a plea for their parents in the area of parenting. Saint Lucia looked to the continued support of the international community in maintaining the enabling environment in which it could access the financial resources and technical assistance needed to answer the legitimate call of its children for a more secure and less stressful environment.
CHEIKH EL AVIA OULD MOHAMED KHOUNA, Prime Minister of Mauritania, said that the United Nations had always given special attention to the interests of children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and the 1990 World Summit were high points and marked a historic turning point in how the international community dealt with children. He commended the role played by UNICEF and other agencies in the area of children.
Mauritania was working to establish a foundation for sustainable development and expand the economic, political and social spheres, he said. It was working tirelessly to create conditions whereby everyone in society had equal opportunities, a society in which people were central to the Government s designs. It had seen ongoing growth, provided basic services, reduced poverty and established favourable conditions for the improvement of society.
Mauritania, he continued, had been one of the first States to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. To implement the Convention, the Government had adopted an action plan for children and had campaigns to raise awareness of the special needs of children. The Secretary of State for Women was responsible for formulating and implementing national policies for children and women. Children were given priority in the country s development policies.
To strengthen that momentum, national institutions, such as the National Council for Children, had been set up. The Labour Code had been revised and better protection given to children as a result. In addition, the minimum age of work for children had been defined and a penal code for minors was currently being elaborated. School enrolment had gone up, health coverage had been expanded, and infant and child mortality reduced.
AL HADJI YAHYA JAMMEH, President of the Gambia, said world leaders had gathered to review the progress made since the 1990 World Summit for Children, heralding an era of recommitment to international advocacy on behalf of the world s children. African leaders had likewise made a commitment to the cause of the children of that continent. Drawing inspiration from the African common position, those leaders had promoted the ratification of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of Children and had urged broad participation in the current session.
Such action, he continued, reaffirmed the priority that Africa as a whole gave to the future of its children. It was obvious that more than ever before, children s causes and the realization and promotion of their rights deserved strong and continuous support. Such support would demonstrate a collective commitment to achieving the best for one of Africa s most precious resources – its children.
His Government had embarked upon various initiatives to elaborate policies conducive to creating an environment for the survival, development, protection and participation of children and women. Those initiatives provided the necessary impetus for the smooth implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For the next five years, the Gambia would work with UNICEF to, among other things, reduce the rate of under-five mortality by 20 per cent, increase equitable access to quality education in selected areas from 63 to 80 per cent, and to develop child protection policies.
He said that problems of the children in Africa, and indeed the world, could not be tackled unless serious issues such as poverty, war and terror were confronted. He called on the international community to say yes to children and no to war and violence. All should be aware that millions of innocent people, particularly women and children, died because of hatred, racism, exploitation and greed – all scourges that could be overcome if world leaders were seriously committed to making things better.
If wars and violence sparked by greed and hatred continued, one might think that world leaders were children s true enemies, he said. Indeed, war had killed many more people than disease. International actors must commit to replace the greed in their hearts with a love for humanity. That would be the most effective way to make a better world for children.
LAMINE SIDIM , Prime Minister of Guinea, endorsing the statement of the First Lady of Egypt and the joint African position, asked what future the world expected to give its children. What responsibility should leaders shoulder
vis- -vis the children?
He said children and women in sub-Saharan Africa were still vulnerable to the effects of poverty, economic crisis, external debt, armed conflict, increasing violence and the persistence of the HIV/AIDS pandemic and other infectious diseases. Those factors weighed heavily on government programmes, particularly those for children. Finding concrete solutions required an ongoing commitment by the international community.
Guinea had adopted a national plan for children establishing public structures that had significantly contributed to revitalizing health and education programmes, particularly for girls, and the strengthening of community participation, he said. However, insecurity in neighbouring countries had had a considerable impact on what the Government was doing for children, who were the main victims of that instability.
ANEROOD JUGNAUTH, Prime Minister of Mauritius, noted that innocent children in different parts of the globe, especially in the Middle East and Africa, were falling victim to atrocities, not because of a lack of mechanisms to protect them, but owing to a lack of political will to translate into action the relevant international and regional conventions on the protection of children. Diseases such as HIV/AIDS were causing despair among the younger generation, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Prompt action was required to address those trends.
He said government institutions, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations and parents had participated in his country s successful launch of the Say Yes to Children campaign. More than 230,000 people, including children and adolescents, or 22 per cent of the population of Mauritius, had participated in the vote to determine the priorities. The vote had identified three top priorities: educate every child; care for every child; and stop harming and exploiting children.
The Government had created a special portfolio in the Ministry of Women s Rights and Family Welfare to address child development, he said. Children enjoyed free access to all levels of education. Since 1995, primary education was compulsory. Public health-care services were free and easily accessible through an extensive network of hospitals, health-care centres and community health centres, which provided comprehensive health care, including prenatal and early child development.
He said the Government had taken effective steps to contain the negative side effects of rapid socio-economic development on children without jeopardizing its strategy for economic progress. To encourage increased accessibility to information and communication technology, it had launched a major school information technology project. Conscious of the negative impact of the Internet culture on children and youth, Mauritius was taking bold steps to shield its children form harmful exposure.
OSMUNAKUN IBRAIMOV, Vice-President of Kyrgyzstan, said that when his country had become a Member of the United Nations, it had assumed responsibility for improving the lives of its children, as was natural for newly emerged States. It had realized that the future of the country depended on how it educated its children. Kyrgyzstan had significantly reduced infant and maternal mortality rates, and immunization levels had increased. In 1994, it had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was the starting point for creating legislation for the protection of children. His Government had ratified six basic international treaties on human rights and had submitted appropriate country reports in compliance with them.
In 2000, the Government had set up a committee to draft a national programme, entitled The New Generation , he said. It had also participated in national events in the context of the global movement for children and the Say Yes Campaign. The Government was also elaborating measures to combat drug abuse and trafficking. From 7 to 10 May, children from five countries in his region were gathering in his capital for parallel events in conjunction with the special session. With the assistance of UNICEF, Kyrgyzstan was building a children s rehabilitation centre and had set up several children s villages.
In the areas of legislation, a number of laws had been adopted, including ones on education, foundations for State youth policy, guardianship and disabilities. In 1997, a national strategy had been elaborated for sustainable human development. The special session was extremely timely and provided an opportunity to consolidate efforts and chart the best path to create the better future for the world s children. Despite its economic difficulties, his country was committed to improving the status of children and further their rights.
LUIS HIERRO LOPEZ, Vice-President of Uruguay, said through various plans and programmes implemented over the past decade, Uruguay had successfully achieved many of the goals set by the 1990 Children s Summit, namely, in the areas of health and nutrition, school enrolment, the fight against poverty, and the integration of children into the social life of the nation. Uruguay was the highest-ranking Latin American country on the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Index and, in that respect, conditions for its children generally reflected the living conditions of the adult population.
Still, he said, it should be noted that such progress had been achieved against a backdrop of economic downturn. Uruguay s success only underscored the Government s commitment to social progress. In that regard, some 75 per cent of the national budget was allocated to social spending in areas related to housing, education, health and social welfare. The National Children s Institute, the official body dedicated to promoting the education of children and young people without families, had a budget that was larger than even Uruguay s Parliament.
Other advances in education included virtual universal school enrolment – some 99 per cent of pupils between the ages of four and 12 were covered by the system. Indeed, the wide-scale enrolment of four- and five-year olds might be the first such achievement in the world. He went on to highlight Uruguay s success in the areas of health and nutrition and poverty. He noted that Uruguay had very high rates of immunization and vaccination coverage. Overall mortality rates related to HIV/AIDS had also declined over the past four years.
He went on to say that the fact that 95 per cent of the population had access to adequate sanitation systems and 98 per cent had access to potable water significantly contributed to the country s overall state of health. Still, Uruguay had not been able to eradicate all the problems that affected children.