13 May 2002
Challenge of Promoting Children's Rights in Face of HIV/AIDS, Economic Sanctions Among Issues Raised, As General Assembly Special Session Continues
NEW YORK, 10 May (UN Headquarters) -- As the General Assembly special session on children continued its debate this afternoon, top government social affairs ministers emphasized the daunting task of promoting the rights of children and adolescents in the face of emerging challenges posed by HIV/AIDS, economic sanctions, globalization, and other forms of exploitation.
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 -- is scheduled to conclude later today. It has aimed to bring together a wide range of actors, including government leaders, non-governmental organizations, and children themselves, to explore obstacles to young people's development, as well as new challenges to the promotion and protection of their rights.
Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said ideally children would live in a world without AIDS. But, the world was not like that. HIV existed in every corner of the planet and children and young people were its primary targets. Every day, 2,000 infants contracted HIV through mother-to-child-transmission. Every day, over 6,000 children were orphaned by the disease, one third of them under the age of five, and 1,600 children died.
He said the tools to protect children for AIDS were known. Applying those tools required action in three ways: meeting global goals already set, enforcing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and delivering full-scale programmes to mothers, orphans and adolescents. The Convention must be used as an instrument to combat AIDS. The Convention advocated the right to health information, yet only 60 per cent of the young people in the world's most affected countries knew how to protect themselves from HIV. Children also had the right to education, yet last year 1 million African school children lost teachers to AIDS. Under the Convention, children had the right to the highest attainable standard of health, yet life-prolonging AIDS drugs got to less than five per cent of the populations that needed them.
On the issued of sanctions, Fahad Salem Al-Shagra, Iraq's Minister for Education, said that at the beginning of the 1990s, the children of that country began facing a tragedy that had no equal in history -- the catastrophe of comprehensive sanctions imposed by the United States and the United Kingdom, with the silent complicity of other world governments. He wondered how Iraq could be expected to meet the proposed goals of the special session, particularly that of reducing infant and maternal morality, when sanctions severely affected the country's development efforts and deprived Iraqi children of their human rights, access to medical attention, food and dignity on a daily basis.
By example, he drew attention to Iraq's staggering under-five mortality rate -- more than half a million dead since the imposition of the sanctions, at a rate of some 9,000 a month. That meant that a child died every five minutes and 900 children under five would perish during the convening of the special session. He called upon the session to denounce the policies of violence imposed upon the children of Iraq, as well as those of Palestine, and to refuse the types of sanctions imposed on Arab children all over the world.
Siti Zahrah Sulaiman, Minister of National Unity and Social Development of Malaysia urged that the use of sanctions -- if they were to be imposed at all -- should be imposed only as a measure of last resort and after in-depth and careful study of their potential impact on civilians, particularly children. She echoed the call for the global actors gathered at the session to use the opportunity to examine the mistakes of the past and work to create a better future for children.
Ms. Sulaiman also said that in many developing countries, efforts to meet some crucial goals of the 1990 Summit had not been met. Those countries appeared apprehensive, as the globalization they had embraced had not been able to solve many of their fundamental problems. Indeed, despite a $30 trillion global economy, some 40 per cent of the world's children in developing countries were forced to live on $1 a day. Millions were malnourished, out of school, were increasingly at risk to HIV/AIDS.
The Vice President and Minister for Social Affairs of Palau Sandra Pierantozzi, urged world leaders to be conscious of more subtle hazards facing children. While the international community cried foul when children were exploited sexually or were forced to live in abject poverty, it seemed to watch with disinterest or even disdain as children ruined their health through smoking.
If parents and global actors had no interest in the issue, the tobacco industry certainly knew that nicotine was addictive, she continued. That industry continued to target the world's children, using the very commercials their parents watched on television with disinterest to exploit young people's sense of adventure and glamour. She stressed that while there might be little that could be done for children trapped in the cycle of poverty, much could be done for those children being quietly exploited right under their parents' noses. Palau supported the Framework Convention on Tobacco currently being negotiated. It had also been advocating a Convention on the issue.
Also addressing the Assembly this morning were the Presidents of Haiti, Albania and Portugal. In addition, the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of Iran and Côte d'Ivoire spoke, as did the government ministers of Pakistan, Libya, Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, Luxembourg, Yemen, Ethiopia, Tuvalu, Cuba, Belize, Armenia, Tunisia, Myanmar, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Jordan and Greece.
Statements were also given by the representatives of Costa Rica, Turkmenistan, Malta, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea and Oman.
The Executive Director of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme also spoke.
The General Assembly special session will reconvene at 3 p.m. to conclude its work.
The twenty-seventh special session of the General Assembly -- devoted to an end-of-decade review of the follow-up to the 1992 World Summit for Children -- met this morning to continue its general exchange of views. The landmark meeting brought together government leaders, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), 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.
JEAN-BERTRAND ARISTIDE, President of Haiti, said that all children of the world had the right to life and happiness. The international community must make the rights of children its highest priority. More than 100 million children were not attending school and about half a million lived on less than $1 a day. Wrenching poverty left children with consequences that affected them for the rest of their lives. To eradicate poverty and its adverse effects, it was crucial to promote a new level of solidarity and partnerships.
He noted that since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 4.3 million children under the age of 15 had died from AIDS. On the eve of the bicentennial of his country, the Government had issued a law banning corporal punishment. Those in Haiti loved to listen to and heed the voices of its children, who, since 1995, had their own radio station "Radio Timoun" and their own television station "Tele Timoun".
REXHEP MEIDANI, President of Albania, said that, since the beginning of its democratic transition 12 years ago, his country had been in a reform process of which the protection of children's rights was an essential part. Child mortality was down by half, and malnutrition among children under the age of five had been significantly reduced.
He said the Government had established an ambitious national strategy for children, which tried to coordinate the work of other relevant players, local NGOs and religious associations. The State would, in the coming years, take more efficient measures to improve conditions in the health and education fields, as a direct result of the country's economic growth and of better planning.
Particular care would be taken to improve the quality of health-care services, the level of hygiene and the environment, which had undergone serious damage, he said. The development of the education sector was also a priority now more than ever, when a certain percentage of children dropped out of school owing to social factors. Education was being developed along European standards. Local structures had been established to combat local trafficking in human beings.
He said the greatest risk to children were poverty and war which, in most cases, went hand in hand. That had been the case in the wars waged in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, where young children had been major victims. The wounds resulting from the blind and unprincipled wars in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, which were based on genocide and ethnic cleansing, would take a long time to heal. Their recurrence must not be tolerated.
JORGE SAMPAIO, President of Portugal, said that until the Convention on the Rights of the Child had been universally ratified, all international actions on behalf of children would lack the appropriate foundations and their effectiveness would be seriously compromised. Now was the time to reaffirm its universal value.
He said that, if the Convention was a turning point and a landmark in the history of children as persons in their own right, a precise strategy must now be defined to elaborate a specific agenda, consolidating the progress achieved in the past and facing the new challenges with determination. Those challenges included preventing the early abandonment of school, drug addiction, teenage pregnancy, fighting poverty, violence, ill treatment and sexual abuse.
Globalization had introduced new facts, he said, namely: the transverse nature of the many problems affecting children and young people today: the recurrence of conditions where critical situations and difficulties were reproduced; and the globalization of violence, to which children and young people were particularly vulnerable. There was, therefore, an urgent need to combine efforts and agree on a priority agenda for children and ensuring that it was rapidly and progressively accomplished.
He said that only joint and demanding action, displaying the solidarity of the international community, would be able to fight the difficult obstacles that were compromising social progress. Those obstacles included, in particular, the proliferation of armed conflicts and the growing, unacceptable victimization and use of children; the devastating effects of HIV/AIDS on young people, mainly, the socially and economically deprived; and the growing marginalization of more vulnerable groups, including migrants, women and children.
SANDRA SUMANG PIERANTOZZI, Vice-President of Palau, said she was proud to share the accomplishments that her country had made on behalf of children. Following its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995, Palau had, within three years, been able to report over 95 per cent immunization of all two-year olds, legislation of universal education, and lower infant mortality rates. There was also universal access to health care and potable water in Palau.
Still, she said, much remained to be done, particularly to protect children's rights and ensure health and a happy childhood. Palau subscribed to the Yanuca Declaration on Healthy Islands adopted by Pacific Island Ministers of Health in 1995. The first goal of that visionary plan was to ensure that children were "nourished in body and mind". Palau had added "soul" to that credo. With that in mind, Palau had set out to actively address several emerging issues that were endangering its children.
Chief among those, she continued, was drug use in schools, but Palau was also concerned about increases in teenage pregnancies, truancy and dropouts. A youth tobacco survey had shown that 68 per cent of high school students chewed betel nut tobacco. It also showed that 18 per cent of elementary school students and 23 per cent of high school students smoked cigarettes. She said that the international community cried foul when children were exploited sexually or were forced to live in abject poverty, but watched with disinterest or even disdain as children ruined their health through smoking.
If parents and global actors had no interest in the issue, the tobacco industry certainly knew that nicotine was addictive, she said. That industry continued to target the world's children, using the very commercials their parents watched on television with disinterest to exploit their sense of adventure and glamour. She stressed that, while there might be little that could be done for children trapped in the cycle of poverty, much could be done for those children being quietly exploited right under their parents' noses. Those children stood to lose their potential by developing an addiction to nicotine. Palau supported the Framework Convention on Tobacco currently being negotiated. It had also been advocating a convention on the issue.
ATTIYA INAYATULLAH, Minister for Women's Development, Social Welfare and Special Education of Pakistan, said that her country was one of six initiation countries that issued "the first call" for children. The response was momentous. The World Summit on Children held in 1990 was an unprecedented success. It was natural, therefore, that a decade later the world should take stock of what had been achieved and what should be done to complete the unfinished agenda.
She said that the past decade, besides bringing new challenges, had also ushered in unique opportunities made possible by globalization. The developing world's aspirations would remain a pipe dream until and unless the developed world, the international donor community and financial institutions assisted them through debt relief measures, increased development assistance, enhanced investment, removal of trade barriers and measures to bridge the "digital divide". "Do we have the political will to give a concerted global response to global challenges?" The answer must be in the affirmative because children must be safeguarded.
She said Pakistan acknowledged that the worst victims of the twenty-first century were children of families trapped in poverty. Pakistan was today a proud signatory of all child-related treaties. "The spirit of these covenants will further strengthen our resolve and national endeavours towards the protection and promotion of the rights of the children", she said. "We shall return home wiser and firmer in our conviction that depriving children, be it of their freedom, growth or education, in truth deprives nations of their sense of morality. It is in this spirit that we join the global voice for a qualitative change in the lives of our children."
SALMA ADBULJABAR, Minister for Social Affairs of Libya, said that, despite all the attention given to children in official statements, the achievements had not risen to the expectations. The gap between the official commitments and the achievements on the ground was still great. The exploitation of children and their rights were manifest -- violence, discrimination, physical and psychological abuse and the deprivation of basic needs and services. Children were still exposed, more than other groups in society, to the destructive impact of wars, conflicts and economic sanctions, among other dangers. A clear evidence of that was the situation in Palestine, in which children were being denied their basic rights and even being killed by the occupying Israeli forces.
Libya was making significant strides in the area of child protection and development, she said. Those achievements were inspired by the principles of the country's revolution, which formulated a social philosophy aimed at achieving welfare and happiness. They were also inspired by the Green Book, which set up important principles such as "a child should be raised by his mother", "a child's natural protection can only be provided by the umbrella of motherhood", and "the family is both the child's cradle and his/her social umbrella".
Furthermore, she continued, the country was guided by the "Great Green Charter for Human Rights in the Era of the Masses", which stipulated that the country guaranteed care for both mother and child. It also stated that depriving children of their mothers or mothers of their children was unjust. Moreover, the Charter emphasized that the child should be raised in a cohesive family, which was a sacred human right, as was the enjoyment of motherhood and natural breast-feeding. Equally sacred was the right to learning and knowledge for every human being.
Her country was among the first to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, without any reservations, she noted. In implementing its provisions, the Government had established a national committee, the Higher Committee for Childhood. Libya was also among the first countries in Africa to have ratified the African Children's Charter, was a party to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 182, and had laws prohibiting the employment of children under the age of 15.
LEON ALFRED OPIMBAT, Minister for Health, Solidarity and Humanitarian Action of the Republic of the Congo, said that the international community was being called on to champion that most important of investments, that in children. The document, A World Fit for Children, was refocusing the world's attention on the concerns of children who, throughout history, had been the best symbol of human life.
Developing countries, especially those in Africa, had difficulties in implementation and required consistent partnership at the national, regional and international levels, he said. Such partnerships were a necessity for the implementation of objectives designed to promote the development and protection of children. Children factored into discussions of, among other things, peace and security, environmental protection and poverty eradication.
The Congo, he said, had been involved in the establishment of legal mechanisms for children and had acceded to major international legal instruments relating to children. It had been able to adapt its goals to the imperative needs of the time. It was time for the necessary resources to be mobilized to cope with HIV/AIDS and other related illnesses, whose primary victims were children. The future of mankind depended on what was done for them today.
He thanked all development partners who had assisted his country in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, the collection of approximately 11,000 weapons and in its general reconstruction. The future of children would be in danger if States did not work together for their emancipation.
FAHAD AL-SHAGRA, Minister for Education of Iraq, opened his statement by drawing the Assembly's attention to the fact that his delegation, which included Iraqi children, mothers and civil society representatives, had been prevented from attending all the meetings held this week because there entry visas had been granted only yesterday. Hence, the children accompanying the delegation could not join the children of the world as they deliberated their future at a series of important events, including the Children's Forum, which opened last weekend. Through its behaviour, the host country aimed to prevent embargoed Iraqi children from screaming out, before the world leaders gathered here, their agony and pain at the crimes being committed against them by the United States.
At the beginning of the 1990s, he continued, the children of Iraq began facing a tragedy that had no equal in history -- the catastrophe of comprehensive sanctions imposed against Iraq by the United States and the United Kingdom in the name of the United Nations and with the silent complicity of other world governments. The effects of those sanctions were all the more horrendous because they had been effected by those who claimed to pride themselves on the protection and defence of human rights. In truth, they had caused the destruction of the most vulnerable segments of Iraqi society, namely, women, children and the elderly.
Those populations, he said, particularly children, continued to be deprived of their human rights, access to medical attention, food and dignity. In that regard, it was important to stress Iraq's staggering under-five mortality rate -- more than half a million dead since the imposition of the sanctions at a rate of some 9,000 a month. That meant that a child died every five minutes, and 900 children under five would perish during the convening of the special session. What was sadder was the fact that they were dying slow and agonizing deaths due to a variety of ailments and lack of medication.
He said the children of Iraq and the Iraqi people were also subject to the "crime of the century" at the hands of humanity's "great protectorate" -- the use of depleted uranium, which had surpassed even the horrors of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In view of all that, he wondered how Iraq could meet the goals of the outcome documents under consideration today, particularly reducing infant and maternal morality rates. How could Iraq explain to its children that United Nations agencies were offering to heal wounds inflicted by those same agencies? He called upon the session to denounce the policies of violence imposed upon the children of Iraq, as well as those of Palestine, and to refuse the types of sanctions imposed on Arab children all over the world.
MOHAMMED AL-RASHEED, Minister for Education of Saudi Arabia, said it was not enough simply to list a child's rights and consider it a job completed. Those rights were a responsibility of parents, society and the State. A child's relationship with his parents and with the other institutions of society should not be solely a legalistic contractual dimension based on materialistic benefits, but rather should be based on faith and a system of beliefs and values.
He said it was a child's prenatal right to be born within a legitimate marriage, a right guaranteed in Islam by forbidding sexual relationships outside marriage. A child's right to be born, to survive and to grow started at the moment it was imbued with a soul in its mother's womb according to Islamic sharia law. Responsibility towards a child was a religious and legal duty placed, first and foremost, on his parents. If they died, that responsibility was transferred to relatives.
Saudi Arabia provided free education to all children, including those with special needs at appropriate educational institutions, he said. Elementary schooling had become a necessary foundation for all children, and the school curricula were aimed at achieving social and cultural development with the aim of encouraging them to become lifelong readers and seekers of knowledge.
He said Palestinian children were not only being denied their childhood, but life itself. Their homes were destroyed, their bodies maimed, their parents assassinated and their sense of nationhood confiscated. Saudi Arabia and most civilized nations demanded that the occupying forces withdraw, that the Palestinian people have their own independent State, and that everyone be allowed to live equally in peace. Only then would the cloud of violence disappear, he reiterated.
SITI ZAHARAH SULAIMAN, Minister for National Unity and Social Development of Malaysia said reports from the children reporting at the special session proved that, unfortunately, after more than 10 years, some crucial goals of the 1990 Summit had not been met. Many developing countries appeared apprehensive -- the globalization they had embraced had not been able to solve many of their fundamental problems -- and if they were not vigilant, that phenomenon would continue to negatively affect their children.
Already, she continued, children in developing countries suffered under widespread poverty. Despite a $30 trillion global economy, some 40 per cent of the world's children in developing countries were forced to live on $1 a day. Millions were malnourished, out of school and, sadly, were increasingly at risk due to the spread of the AIDS pandemic. Children were also the helpless victims of war. The waves of violence that had swept the globe in recent years had left millions of children displaced and orphaned. The plight of children living under occupation and sanctions was also troubling.
She urged that all future use of sanctions -- if they were to be imposed at all -- should be imposed only as a measure of last resort and after in-depth and careful study of their potential impact on civilians, particularly children. She said the special session provided the opportunity for global actors to examine the mistakes of the past and work to create a better future for children.
Malaysia, she continued, had gone through the process of laying the groundwork for broad social development and national unity. Those strategies had led to significant progress since the 1990 Summit. The country's first National Plan of Action for Children 1991-2000 had addressed issues of survival and protection of children. The subsequent Plan, for 2001 to 2010, would be focused on the issues of development and participation of children, with emphasis on the impact of globalization.
MARIE-JOSÉE JACOBS, Minister of the Family of Luxembourg, said that due to its financial resources, Luxembourg was in a position to take steps, which were sometimes costly, to advance the development of its children. The Government had made major investments to improve education and training and combat all forms of violence, discrimination and exclusion, among other things.
At the same time, she continued, it realized that the happiness of children did not necessarily come from such investments. Emotionally dysfunctional families, drug abuse and the dominant role of the media were among the issues of concern. While the majority of children and young people in the developed countries were enjoying material benefits, the conditions of those suffering in other parts of the world, such as refugees, should not be forgotten.
Countries must continue efforts to establish schools, which cultivated the talents of all their children, she said. Aside from protecting children and providing them with basic services, it was also necessary to promote their public participation. They should be encouraged to voice their concerns. It was up to parents and teachers to assist children to learn how to think clearly and speak publicly in a lucid fashion. Adults must also learn to hear those messages with sympathy and respect. Also, the struggle against sexual exploitation could only be won if efforts were coordinated and enhanced. Luxembourg had devoted 0.8 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) for development projects within the framework of bilateral and multilateral cooperation.
NAFISA AL-JAIFI, Secretary-General of the Higher Council for Motherhood and Childhood, Director of the Child Development Project of Yemen, said poverty and lack of resources had hindered the attainment by the least developed countries of the means to improve the condition of children. Donors must help the poor countries to achieve those objectives.
She said that Yemen, as one of the least developed countries, had many problems in the area of children, who made up more than 50 per cent of the population. However, the State devoted more than 27 per cent of the budget to education and health. In addition, the Council of Ministers had passed decisions regarding the prevention of sexual abuse and the provision of health care for children.
Some progress had been made, including the reduction of the under-five mortality rate from 200 out of 1,000 to 50 out of 1,000, she said. There had also been a reduction in the gap between boys' and girls' education. The Government had adopted reforms to combat poverty in Yemen, where the number of families living below the poverty line made up 34.9 per cent of the population. She said Parliament had adopted Bill 161 (2000), which was intended to harmonize child-related legislation and bring it in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The family should have a central role in the education of the child, she said. Children needed a good education in accordance with Islamic laws and with their moral rights as individuals. They must neither be exploited in armed conflict nor suffer under foreign occupation. It was a tragedy that innocent Palestinian children had been suffering under occupation for more than 50 years. Yemen called for an end to the occupation and also to the embargo against Iraq, which was an immense humanitarian tragedy in which innocent children were dying every day.
HASSEN ABDELLA, Minister for Labour and Social Affairs of Ethiopia, said that, as part of its overall reform programme, his Government had taken a number of initiatives to improve the conditions of its children. They included the adoption of the new Ethiopian Constitution and the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Also, new legislation had been enacted to establish the Offices of the Human Rights Commission and the Ombudsman, which would have child protection units. A National Plan of Action had been prepared to improve the well-being of Ethiopian children and women, and to translate the Convention into reality. Never before had there been such an action plan shared by all institutions of the Government.
Children in Ethiopia and in countries around the world had expressed what future they would like to have by casting their vote in the "Say Yes" for children campaign, ranking 10 priority issues affecting them. They voted by ballot, on the Internet and by a show of hands at organized events. For them, the most important issue facing their country was fighting and winning the war on HIV/AIDS. Furthermore, in recognition of the urgent need for concerted and accelerated action to tackle HIV/AIDS, a national policy on the issue had been adopted and a plan of action developed. National and regional HIV/AIDS councils and secretariats responsible for the implementation of the policy were established both at the national and regional levels.
ALESANA SELUKA, Minister for Education and Sport, and Minister for Health of Tuvalu, said that consistent with the principles contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which it acceded in 1995, Tuvalu endorsed the outcome document of the special session on children. The outcome document would provide a solid framework towards achieving the goals of the Convention and of the United Nations Millennium Declaration.
He said in Tuvalu, as in other Pacific island societies, the fundamental importance of family and culture to the upholding of primary responsibility for the protection, upbringing and development of children was highly valued. Therefore, the important role played by family and traditions must be recognized; parents, families and communities must be assisted in strengthening those traditional institutions, so that children could grow and develop in a safe atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding.
Significant progress had been achieved in the promotion of child welfare in Tuvalu since the 1990 World Summit on Children, he continued. Despite the progress made, however, a number of challenges remained. Most serious was the urgent need to improve quality medical services. The need for overseas medical referrals was adding strain on the island nation's meagre financial resources. That was further aggravated by the high cost of medical supplies, especially vaccines. A regional approach towards the procurement of pharmaceuticals would be more cost-effective. The HIV/AIDS pandemic was also of great concern, with the incidence of HIV/AIDS being highest among the island's seafarers, who went overseas to work on merchant boats and contracted the killer virus while abroad. Many of them had families, and the impact of their return with the virus could be devastating.
Mr. Seluka added that Republic of China on Taiwan had also been active in the promotion of the rights and welfare of children in many parts of the world, but was excluded from the United Nations and its agencies. Their contribution needed to be properly acknowledged and recognized. He hoped that the international community would support it in its resolve to participate in the work of the United Nations designed to promote the rights and welfare of children. He added that the implementation of the Declaration and Plan of Action for Children required renewed political will and commitment, if the special session was to succeed in truly creating a World Fit for Children. He said, within its capacity, Tuvalu would exert its efforts to achieve these goals.
VILMA ESPÍN GUILLOIS, Member of the State Council, President of the Federation of Cuban Women of Cuba, said that as a result of the prevailing unjust international economic order, and the exclusionary nature of globalization, more than two thirds of humankind lived in abject poverty, deprived of their most fundamental right: the right to life. Women, children and adolescents were the most seriously affected.
The post-cold-war world was dominated by the United States as a hegemonic super-Power, she said. Its great economic strength was not used to improve the quality of its citizens' lives, but to manufacture sophisticated killing devices. Many thousands of Yugoslav, Palestinian, Afghan and Iraqi children and adolescents had been murdered by those weapons. Such inhumanity engendered the enormous corruption of thieves and traffickers in children and adolescents and those who made them the targets of abuses, slave labour, sexual exploitation, prostitution and pornography, with the tragic sequel of HIV/AIDS and its growing number of innocent victims. Cuban legislation was very strict with those who molested children, she added.
Despite the tightening of the blockade imposed on Cuba for more than 42 years, she said, infant mortality had been reduced to 6.2 per 1,000 live births; women were seen by physicians at least 10 times during pregnancy; and child immunization coverage was at 95.8 per cent for 13 diseases. That had allowed Cuba to donate the necessary doses of the meningococcal vaccine to help combat the outbreak of meningitis in Uruguay. In addition, Cuba provided free education and medical care to 99.2 per cent of girls and boys under five years of age. The enrolment rate was 100 per cent in primary education and 99.7 in junior high school.
DOLORES BALDERAMOS-GARCÍA, Minister for Human Development, Women, Children and Civil Society of Belize, said children made up the largest segments of the population for the countries of Central America and the Caribbean. The overall development of those nations was, therefore, inextricably linked to the development of children. If the region as a whole was to make any sustainable social, economic and development gains, its children had to be assured access to education, medical care and nutrition. More attention would have to be paid to the impact of the AIDS pandemic on the children of the region.
Since 1990, many countries in the region had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Most of the region's children received recommended vaccinations, and under-five mortality rates had decreased by more than 20 per cent. The recently adopted Kingston Consensus had identified 23 bold recommendations for continuing to improve the situation of children. But with official development assistance (ODA) decreasing, countries in the Caribbean and Central America were faced with having to do more with less. She appealed to all global development partners to continue to support the region's efforts.
She said that Belize continued to make the necessary changes to improve the lives of its children. Since 1999, the largest portion of the country's national budget had been allocated to education. Through the Ministry for Human Development, the Government had brought together the NGO community, educators and other actors to help develop a plan of action. Such broad cooperation had resulted in providing the children of Belize with more educational opportunities than ever. Further, laws had been recently enacted making it mandatory to report child abuse and neglect. Belize was aware that more needed to be done, and would spare no effort on behalf of its children.
RAZMIK MARTIROSYAN, Minister for Social Security of Armenia, said, despite impressive technological progress, mankind was still bearing the burden of poverty, malnutrition, under- development and terror. Those nations struggling to make strides on behalf of their children must realize that such problems could not be resolved merely through massive international financial or technical assistance. What was truly needed was the focused attention of national governments towards identifying concrete results-oriented strategies and the unswerving adherence to international humanitarian law.
He said that Armenia's national traditions determined State policy and legislation aimed at ensuring the proper growth and development of children. Armenia had drawn up detailed programmes to that end, and progress had been achieved in many areas, including a 25 per cent reduction in child mortality. He added that since 1995 not a single case of polio had been reported in Armenia. Schools had also been reformed, and areas of study had been expanded to include courses in civil and humanitarian rights, among other areas.
Despite focused policies and effective international assistance and cooperation, gaps in the protection of children remained, he said. Poverty was still a problem, and the Government was exerting every effort to address the special needs of street children, juvenile delinquents and disabled children. In addition to those problems, characteristic of nations whose economies were in transition, Armenia was still dealing with the lingering effects of conflict, the devastating earthquake of 1999 and the economic blockade. It was also dealing with the effects of the ongoing situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which had forced thousands of refugees into the country. Working to strengthen peace and towards security and peaceful resolution of the situation in the Nagorno-Karabakh region would remain at the top of Armenia's agenda.
ABDERRAHIM ZOUARI, Minister for Youth, Childhood and Sports of Tunisia, delivering the address of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, said that among his country's initiatives related to children was the enactment in 1995 of a special law for the protection of children. It had also developed implementation and follow-up mechanisms, including a body of children's delegates and a preventive organ entrusted with monitoring the cases of threatened children. The Government had also set up a space for dialogue called the "Children's Parliament", aimed at instilling at an early age the values of responsibility, tolerance, democracy and public participation.
Tunisia, he said, was a developing country, which allocated 50 per cent of its budget to the social sectors and 20 per cent to education and training. That effort had helped raise the school enrolment rate to 99 per cent. It had also led to substantial reform of the educational system, enhancing educational curricula, improving working conditions in educational institutions, and ensuring that children stayed in school until the age of 16.
The family was the best environment to educate children and care for them, he said. The only way to attain that goal was to reinforce the position of women in society, strengthen the role played by mothers in looking after the young, and developing health and population programmes to serve that purpose. Tunisia had reinforced its social options by establishing a National Solidarity Fund to support the State's efforts in bringing remote areas out of their isolation, developing general services and facilities, providing the population with employment and income opportunities, and integrating them within the country's economic cycle.
SEIN HTWA, Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement of Myanmar, said that his Government was giving top priority to the children, traditionally as well as legally. Since its accession to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Myanmar had laid down and implemented programmes at the national level for the well-being and interests of children.
In Myanmar's culture, children were valued as "treasures", he said. It had been a time-honoured tradition that Myanmar families placed emphasis on the all-round development of children to ensure their protection, upbringing and development. Children were nurtured not only by the extended family, but by the community. Among the programmes the Government had taken towards that end included immunization, the right to basic education and social rehabilitation. In addition to government efforts, NGOs also took part in those programmes, with the support of Government.
In its efforts to prevent children from sexual exploitation and abuse, the National Committee on the Rights of the Child closely cooperated with the Myanmar National Committee for Women's Affairs concerning trafficking in women and children, he said. In that respect, Myanmar also actively cooperated with other countries in the Mekong region and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) region concerning transnational trafficking in persons, particularly women and children. At the same time, those offenders who made use of children to commit offences relating to narcotic drug and psychotropic substances were liable to punishment under the Narcotics and Drug and Psychotropic Substances Law.
Future generations belonged to the children of today, he said. It was imperative to aid their development, so they were capable of enjoying the full range of rights in a rapidly globalizing world.
CRISTIAN MUNDUATE, Minister for Social Welfare of Guatemala, said that during the decade since the World Summit on Children, significant changes had taken place in her country at the social and political levels. Midway through that period -- following 36 years of internal armed conflict -- the peace agreements that constituted the country's frame of reference were concluded. Among other gains, substantial advances were made with respect to most of the goals set at the Summit.
A significant step forward was taken with the establishment of the Social Development Law and the Programme of Reproductive Health Policy, within which education, including on the prevention of and care for HIV/AIDS, was an important component. In the area of education, school enrolment had risen to 81 per cent in 2000. However, that was not enough, since deficiencies in the area of education were the main factor limiting the development of the country. That was why education had risen to the top of the social agenda, the aim being to ensure that the rate would have increased by 20 per cent by 2004.
Among the objectives of the agenda of the international community for the next decade should be access to universal basic health services, environmental protection, education and nutrition. Also, it should ensure full participation by children and adolescents in their development process and the creation of protective mechanisms, oriented towards strengthening the family. Further, it should provide for a rigorous fight against drugs and an all-out struggle against the sexual and commercial exploitation of children, together with legal reforms that severely punish adults who hurt children. She added that her Government had deposited its instrument of ratification of the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child yesterday.
KAMAL KHARRAZI, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Iran, said the hectic and intensive negotiations on the outcome documents under consideration during the session indicated, if nothing else, the formidable challenges the international community faced in trying to assess the implementation of the 1990 World Summit. That daunting task was made more difficult due to the unjust and inequitable nature of current world affairs, exemplified by the negative impact emanating from the imposition of unilateral coercive measures.
Those measures hampered many country's efforts to create safe and supportive environments for their children, he continued. That was particularly true for developing countries. Iran was of the view that the family held the primary responsibility for the protection and upbringing of children. Therefore, reaffirmation of the importance of family was paramount in the country's plans and national strategies. He added that Iran's overall policy towards children was based on Islamic precepts and values, as well as its Constitution and the commitments derived from international instruments, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
He said that provision of the necessary services, particularly in the fields of health and education, had been high on the Government's agenda. As a result, child mortality rates had continued to fall and the number of children attending schools had dramatically increased. In the country's current five-year development plan, special attention had been paid to the promotion and protection of children's rights. In that regard, the budget for programmes in the arts, education, health treatment and social security and rehabilitation had been increased by some 43 per cent.
He said that, despite unfavourable external factors, economic hardship and the long-term social and financial implications of hosting more than 2 million refugees for nearly two decades, a considerable portion of the total public expenditure was allocated to the development of children. He added that the plight of children in armed conflict should not be overlooked. The sad situation of the children in Palestine, suffering under Israeli occupation, was a clear manifestation of the horrors of foreign occupation. The special session provided a unique opportunity to address that situation, particularly in light of the recent reports of a massacre of Palestinian women and children by Israeli armed forces in the Jenin refugee camp.
PENNELOPE BECKLES, Minister for Social Development of Trinidad and Tobago, said her country had facilitated access by every child to primary and secondary education and was working towards increasing the percentage gaining access to tertiary level education. The law provided mandatory education for all children between the ages of five and 12 years. Tuition was free at public and government-assisted schools, and more than 70 per cent of children benefited from an expanded early childhood education.
In health, more than 90 per cent of the country's children were immunized against all major childhood diseases, and skilled health personnel attended almost all births, she said. The school health service was integrated into the primary health-care system, and the health education component of the school curriculum had been strengthened. Malnutrition in children had decreased, and the Government had enhanced the school nutrition programme by providing free daily hot lunches to thousands of school children at primary and secondary levels.
However, it was a matter of much concern that the targets set for maternal, child and under-five mortality rates had not been realized. In addition, HIV/AIDS had emerged as a burning issue in Trinidad and Tobago and, indeed, across the Caribbean region, which was reported to have the highest infection rate outside sub-Saharan Africa, and mother-to-child transmission of HIV was increasing. Without a doubt, HIV/AIDS was a major development challenge of the coming decade.
Children were the most vulnerable to those problems, which were related to poverty and inequity, she said. That poverty and inequity were increasing at a time of global wealth, astounding technological advances, and an emerging knowledge-based economy suggested that the real issue was neither a shortage of resources nor capacity, but one of political will, political commitment, political priority and political vision.
ABOUDRAHAMANE SANGARÉ, Minister of State, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Côte d'Ivoire, said that the session was of special importance to his country, where 52 per cent of the population was under the age of 18. Côte d'Ivoire had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, without any reservations, as well as the African Charter on the Rights and Well-Being of the Child. In 1992, it had adopted a national plan of action to implement the Convention and had set up policies to promote the rights of children. In addition, an intensive publicity campaign against HIV/AIDS had been launched, which had impacted behaviour. Likewise, the campaign against polio had yielded significant results.
Ensuring the well-being of children was not only about protecting their health, but also giving them a solid education, he said. Despite the difficulties it faced, the Government was trying to implement consistent education policies, and it had devoted 40 per cent of the budget towards education. Also, education was mandatory and free until the age of 16.
Côte d'Ivoire, he noted, was an agricultural society and, as a result, had many children working in the fields. The Government had taken measures to eliminate the trafficking in children and child labour. Publicity campaigns had been undertaken in areas where child labour was being used. A minimum age for work had been adopted, and a draft law on the trafficking in and exploitation of children was before the National Assembly. At the international level, the Government had ratified both ILO Conventions 138 and 182. The authorities were facing difficulties in combating trafficking in children given their limited resources, as well as the increasingly sophisticated methods developed by child traffickers.
He called for true partnership for the benefit of the world's children. What was lacking was the political will among those who had the ability to improve the lives of children. The child was the future of humanity.
TAMMAM EL-GHOUL, Minister of Social Development of Jordan, welcomed the entry into force of the Optional Protocol related to children in armed conflicts and the development of international standards that protected the rights of children in such situations. The international community should give more importance and commitment to that issue. Children around the world were subjected to extreme suffering due to armed conflict, violence and collective punishment, all of which threatened to drive the new generation towards violence themselves. Today, the painful circumstances under which Palestinian children were living demonstrated the need for the international community to assume the responsibility for protecting the rights of the child from being violated in various forms.
Globalization, she noted, presented challenges and opportunities that obliged the international community to work towards narrowing the economic and information technology gaps existing between nations. That could be done through: the transfer of new technologies; providing access to international markets for the goods and services of developing countries; and facilitating viable solutions to the external debt crisis of the countries of the South. The challenge for developing countries lay in best utilizing the limited resources available.
Jordan believed that using communication and information technologies for teaching and improving education were important elements towards enabling children to cope with the demands of the contemporary world, she said. The initiative launched by King Abdullah II to give priority to making information technology available to all schools in the country, as well as to enhance the skills of teachers -- as a component of the economic and social transformation programme adopted by the government -- was yet another testimony to the Government's keen interest in the development and growth of children, with a view to prepare and equip them for the challenges of life, now and in the future.
DIMITRIS THANOS, Vice-Minister for Health and Social Affairs of Greece, aligning himself with the European Union, said the present state of society fell short of the desired objectives, even in the most developed countries. Persisting factors such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, social exclusion, political instability, armed conflict and authoritarian models of behaviour placed children at great risk.
He said the urgent priority for children was to develop sustainable health and social systems and to guarantee full access to them without discrimination. Special emphasis must be given to ensuring universal access to primary education, which could be a major component in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. The capacities of families to offer guidance and protection must be strengthened.
Greece had given increasing emphasis to primary health care and prevention through reform of the National Health System, he said. During the last decade, the Government had initiated practices aimed at improving reproductive health and sexual health, highlighting such priorities as family planning, maternal health, HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases prevention and management, and sexual education and counselling. In order to tackle poverty and social exclusion, last year the Government had presented the National Action Plan on Social Inclusion, which contained benefits for large families, a third-child benefit and day-care facilities. Two new benefits had been announced: a pension for poor households in rural areas, which would enable them to care for their children; and a school benefit to keep children in school.
Greece was concerned about improving the quality of public education, he said. To that end, the Government had introduced "all day" schools and undertaken to ensure sufficient and suitable premises for all schools. All children, regardless of nationality or residential status, and even undocumented children, enjoyed a free and compulsory nine-year education.
MIGUEL ANGEL RODRÍGUEZ (Costa Rica) said that millions of adolescents were becoming parents without being prepared. To prevent that, they must be taught the responsibility that parenthood entailed. Adolescent mothers must be instructed to allow them to progress and provide better opportunities for their offspring. Costa Rica had undertaken those tasks through the "Young Love" and "Building Opportunities" programmes.
Today, there were more children in school than at any other time in history, he noted. However, 120 million children, mostly girls, did not attend school. Costa Rica had an illiteracy rate of only 4.4 per cent, and that rate was even lower among women. During the last four years, it had increased secondary education to cover 83.8 per cent of the population, the highest in Latin America. The percentage of children with disabilities that received education in regular schools, instead of segregated ones, was also increasing.
There was no substitute, he said, for the warmth of a family. At the same time, millions of children were not recognized by their fathers, which was the case with a third of Costa Rican children. Realizing that that situation was jeopardizing the basic rights of children, Costa Rica adopted an innovative reform to its family law -- the Law of Responsible Fatherhood -- the first of its kind in the world. The new Law guaranteed to all children their fundamental right to know his/her parents and to be provided with a minimum level of spiritual, emotional and, at least, material support.
All the efforts mentioned were part of the commitment by Costa Ricans to childhood and youth, which was embodied in the National Agenda for Childhood and Adolescents, he added. That Agenda represented the country's decision to grant priority to the needs, rights and opportunities of children.
AKSOLTAN ATAEVA (Turkmenistan) said the national Parliament had developed a draft law on the guarantees of rights of the child. It was aimed at realizing the country's policy in the areas of human rights, legal status of children, the guarantees of their rights and legal interests, their overall physical and spiritual development, and their upbringing as fully fledged members of society.
Annual immunizations, strengthening the sanitary control of water, control of the environment and improvement of social conditions had all led to positive results, she said. In addition, programmes for breast-feeding and control of diarrhoea, anaemia and iodine deficiency were being implemented jointly with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). A reproductive health programme implemented jointly with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) had significantly influenced child and maternal health.
The provision of free electricity, gas and water allowed the diversion of family budget resources to good nutrition, she said. To ensure food security, the population was provided with bread made from Turkmen-grown grain. The intensive development of domestic economy and the food industry had led to an increase in the variety of consumer products and a 17 per cent growth in the gross national product (GNP). Significant progress had also been achieved in reducing the mortality rate of children between the ages of 1 and 5 years, lowering the incidence of diarrhoea and liquidating iodine deficiency. Since 1997, not a single case of polio had been registered, while anaemia and maternal death had decreased sharply.
HELEN D'AMATO (Malta) said that during the past years Malta had undertaken a thorough overhaul of its child-care sector. Together with education, children deserved quality health care, including action to combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS.
In a number of countries, she said, malnutrition remained a threat, while in others the threat was obesity. Whatever the issue, it was vital that health be uppermost on the international agenda. Child slavery, child labour and sexual exploitation remained matters of concern to the international community. Although many countries were pulling together to combat child pornography, particularly on the Internet, much remained to be done in the realm of child prostitution and sexual abuse. Another source of sad reflection was the impact that the tragic consequences of conflicts and violence left on children. The "boiling cauldrons of Afghanistan and the Middle East" would undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the lives of the affected children.
The signing of international conventions regulating children's issues should not remain just a pledge, she said. Countries had to be fully committed to a more stringent implementation if the secure future of the children was to be assured. The special session was a timely opportunity for the nations of the world to take stock of their individual and collective achievements, shortcomings and responsibilities in the field of children's rights. Unless children were empowered to exercise their rights, she added, there was the real danger that their childhood might pass them by.
MARÍA ISABEL BAQUERIZO DE NOBOA (Ecuador) said that, since 1999, a year of grave economic crisis for her country, Ecuador had worked on improving living standards for all its citizens. The Government was systematically increasing social investment as part of the general State budget. In 2002, investments to benefit the most needy had accounted for 25 per cent of that budget. Social investments must be supported by international financial institutions, as well as the international community, by, among other things, increasing official development assistance and expanding debt-swapping initiatives.
Ecuador, she said, continued to take steps to protect all children from premature deaths and preventable diseases. It was enforcing its maternity law, with which many lives had been saved last year. In addition, it had virtually eliminated gender-based differences in access to education. In July 2001, her country hosted a regional meeting of indigenous children. The final declaration adopted at that meeting had called on States to adopt holistic, participatory and decentralized policies to strengthen the diversity of people and assist indigenous children and adolescents.
In a globalized world, Ecuador was no stranger to the phenomenon of migration, she noted. She called for international agreements to incorporate the rights of migrants and promote family reunification. In November 2001, in Quito, Ecuador hosted the tenth Conference of the Wives of the Heads of State and Government of the Americas. The Declaration and Action Plan adopted at the Conference were being implemented regionally.
JOHN KAPUTIN (Papua New Guinea), noting that today's children were humanity's future, said they were both the legacy and the inheritors of successive generations. In implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the international community had accepted not only that children had rights, but also that adults had obligations towards succeeding generations.
The laws protecting Papua New Guinea's children from sexual abuse, prostitution and violence had recently been comprehensively amended, he said. The new law clearly aligned national law with the Optional Protocol outlawing the sale of children, child prostitution and child prostitution. That Protocol and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict were currently under active consideration with a view to their early formal acceptance.
Beginning this year, he said, the Government had brought school education within the economic reach of every family, regardless of income or wealth, by making it possible to attend school free of charge. The proper protection and promotion of children's rights called for a holistic approach. So did the challenge of creating and maintaining an environment in which the rest of the society regarded young people as worthy successors rather than as dropouts or failures. The two challenges were very closely related and both must be met, he said.
FUAD MUBARAK AL-HINAI (Oman) said that the World Health Organization (WHO) had recently announced that his country had attained the highest rank among 191 countries in terms of the quality of health care. Also, under-five mortality rates had decreased to 2.4 per cent compared to 1990, and the percentage of immunizations against childhood diseases had reached between 99 and 100 per cent. Oman had remained free of polio for the seventh consecutive year. Despite all those achievements, it was still aiming to decrease malnutrition among children under five and to increase child participation, paying attention to education and reducing illiteracy.
He reaffirmed the importance of the document "A World Fit for Children" reflecting the role of the family, and its focus on instilling virtues and values into children. He looked forward to integrating it into Oman's future national strategies. He added that it was important to provide protection to children living under embargo and foreign occupation. He reaffirmed the necessity of protecting Palestinian children, whose rights, according to international charters and conventions, had been completely obliterated.
PETER PIOT, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said ideally children would live in a world without AIDS. But, the world was not like that. HIV existed in every corner of the planet, and children and young people were its primary targets. Every day, 6,000 people under the age of 24 were infected with the virus. Every day, 2,000 infants contracted HIV through mother-to-child transmission. Every day, over 6,000 children were orphaned by the disease, one third of them under the age of five, and 1,600 children died.
He said the tools to protect children for AIDS were known. Applying those tools required action in three ways: meeting global goals already set; enforcing the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and delivering full-scale programmes to mothers, orphans and adolescents. It was most important to be serious about targets already agreed, particularly the Millennium Development Goals and the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS that had been adopted by the Assembly's twenty-sixth special session last June. All the targets identified by those agreements were useless, unless they were used as instruments of accountability.
He said the Convention must be used as an instrument to combat AIDS. Under article 2, children had the right to be protected from stigma, yet children with AIDS were often targets of hate. The Convention also advocated the right to health information under its articles 13, 17 and 24, yet only 60 per cent of the young people in the world's most affected countries knew how to protect themselves form HIV. Children also had the right to education; yet, last year 1 million African school children lost teachers to AIDS. Under the Convention's article 24, children had the right to the highest attainable standard of health, yet life-prolonging AIDS drugs got to less than 5 per cent of the populations that needed them.
He went on to say that progress must be made on a clear set of deliverables. In wealthy countries, the risk of HIV transmission from mother to child had been cut to 2 per cent. Without intervention, that risk could be as high as 30 per cent. Even a single dose of anti-viral drug could cut that risk in half. At the same time, less than 5 per cent of the pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa had access to services for the prevention of mother-to-child transmissions. But, things were changing, particularly through a joint UNAIDS/UNICEF initiative to extend services to such women on the African continent and several other countries.
He said caring for and protecting the number of children orphaned each year by AIDS -- some 13 million -- was an enormous strain. Communities could be helped, however, through the cooperative efforts of NGOs, churches and governments to keep orphans in school, provide food supplies, setting up income-generating projects and providing psychological support. He added that it would be shamefully hypocritical to respond to the needs of orphans without addressing the causes of AIDS. Taboo and ideology still stood in the way of effective HIV prevention for young people.
ANNA KAJUMULO TIBAIJUKA, Executive Director, United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat), said children were the most vulnerable human beings on earth. A proper home was both a physical place that afforded children protection from danger and disease, as well as a psychological space that provided them with comfort and love. A home encompassed the house, neighbourhood and community that made up the child's living environment, or habitat. The tragedy of the child began when that habitat became vulnerable.
She went on to say that premature rural-to-urban migration, armed conflict, forced eviction and natural disasters were some of the more dramatic and devastating threats to a child's environment. They left far too many children exposed and homeless, without physical or psychological shelter. More chronic and more prevalent, however, particularly in slums and urban areas, were threats posed by inadequate housing, poor sanitation, unsafe drinking water, crime and AIDS.
She said the Habitat Agenda recognized that reducing the vulnerability of the child's environment was key to sustainable development. It also recognized that the needs of children living in difficult circumstances must be given special consideration. It declares that adequate shelter must be recognized as an important component of care and assistance given to children and their families. That meant more than a roof over one's head -- it also meant adequate privacy, space, physical accessibility, heating and waste management facilities. She said that UN-Habitat had launched a global community-based Shelter Initiative for AIDS orphans, the numbers of which had swelled to over 7 million in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
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