12 June 2001



NEW YORK, 11 June (UN Headquarters) -- Following is the text of remarks made this morning by Deputy Secretary-General Louise Fréchette at the opening of the third substantive session of the Preparatory Committee for the Special Session on Children:

At the 1990 World Summit for Children, world leaders made an urgent appeal to give every child a better future. To that end, they adopted a set of specific goals relating to children's survival, health, nutrition, education and protection, and they promised that they would always put the best interests of children first. Together with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which had entered into force just weeks before the Summit, the World Summit Declaration and Plan of Action set out an ambitious, but feasible agenda.

The time has now come to examine to what extent we have lived up to those commitments. We must also identify measures to achieve the specific and time-bound objectives that world leaders have set at the Millennium Summit last September in order to meet the needs and rights of all children, including the most vulnerable.

An extensive review process has taken place at national and regional levels to assess progress and setbacks. And in response to a request by the General Assembly, the Secretary-General has prepared for your consideration a report on the implementation of the 1990 Declaration and Plan of Action, which I have the pleasure to introduce to you.

Let me start by saying that the picture that emerges is one of mixed results. There has been real and significant progress in a number of areas. But there have also been setbacks, and, in some cases, the setbacks have been serious enough to threaten earlier gains.

Since the Summit, some 155 countries have adopted National Programmes of Action to move the agenda for children forward. As a result:

  • Some 63 countries have achieved the targeted one-third reduction in mortality among children under the age of five; while over 100 others have cut it by one fifth;
  • Deaths of young children from diarrhoeal diseases were reduced by 50 per cent over the decade, saving as many as a million young lives;
  • High and sustained levels of child immunization in most regions of the world have also continued to save millions of children;Polio is on the brink of eradication, with a 99 per cent reduction in the number of reported cases in the world compared to a decade ago;
  • Worldwide, there are more children in school than ever before -- and one result has been a rise in the adult literacy rate, from 75 per cent in 1990 to 79 per cent in 2000; and
  • There has been dramatic progress in preventing iodine deficiency disorders, the world's major cause of mental retardation, against which 90 million newborn children are now protected every year.

Moreover, thanks to the heightened awareness of child rights stirred by the Convention on the Rights of the Child -- which has been almost universally ratified -- egregious violations of children's rights are being more systematically exposed, and action is being taken to overcome them. Non-governmental organizations and the mass media are also playing an increasingly active role in drawing public attention to the need for children to be protected.

Clearly, children now have a much higher profile on the national and global political agendas. The Security Council itself has taken up children's issues, particularly that of children and armed conflict.

Yet much more needs to be done.

  • Over 10 million children still die each year, often from readily preventable diseases;
  • An estimated 150 million suffer from malnutrition;
  • Over 100 million children are still not in school, and 60 per cent of them are girls;
  • Conflicts killed 2 million children in the past decade and left many other millions disabled and psychologically traumatized;
  • Over 10,000 children are killed or maimed by landmines every year;
  • Of some 35 million internally displaced persons and refugees worldwide, about 80 per cent are children and women;
  • Children are also the victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation in rising numbers. For example, the trafficking of children, as well as women, for sexual exploitation, has reached alarming levels. An estimated 30 million children are now victimized by traffickers, who almost invariably go unpunished;
  • 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are economically active, and some 50 to 60 million of them are engaged in intolerable forms of labour, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO); and
  • The scale of the HIV/AIDS epidemic – which exceeds the worst-case projections of 1990 -- now threatens decades of gains in child survival and development, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In the most affected countries, from half to more than two-thirds of the 15-years-olds alive today will eventually die of the disease. Already, AIDS has orphaned more than 13 million children, and that figure may reach 30 million before the end of the decade.

This epidemic both exacerbates and deepens many other problems that affect much of the developing world, including poverty, discrimination, malnutrition, poor access to basic social services, armed conflict and the sexual exploitation of girls and women. Strong action is needed to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015, as agreed at the Millennium Summit last September. I hope the special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, in two weeks from now, will agree on concrete measures to achieve this goal.

Similarly, the special session on Children in September must aim at regenerating political will and commitment in order to address the remaining challenges and emerging issues affecting the well-being of our children.

We must recommit ourselves to make the needs and rights of children a priority in all development efforts. We must ensure that every child gets the best possible start in life; that every child receives a quality basic education; and that adolescents have every opportunity to develop their capacities and participate meaningfully in society.

As the report rightly stresses, compared to what we spend on armaments and luxury consumer items, the resources needed to provide for the basic needs of children are modest and affordable. What is required is a decisive shift in national investments to favour the well-being of children. Leaders at every level of government and civil society must exert the political will necessary to bring about that shift. And the special session is the time when they must show that they are doing so.

Four priorities are being proposed for the new decade: promoting healthy lives; providing quality education; protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence; and combating HIV/AIDS and the risks it poses to children. These are indeed the most urgent priorities in addressing the needs of children.

And, of course, improving the well-being of children also means a significant leap in human development as a whole. It is children who will shape the world's future, and it is through them that entrenched cycles of poverty, exclusion, intolerance and discrimination can be broken for succeeding generations.

We have the knowledge, the resources and the strategies to act. It is no longer a question of what is possible, but of what is given priority. And there is no issue more important than the survival and harmonious development of our children.

* *** *