1 August 2001


A Fitting Finale Will Focus on ‘Changing the World with Children’

NEW YORK, 30 July -– The United Nations General Assembly is preparing for its final special session of the year: a summit on the world’s children that will confront national leaders with the single question: "Can you make good on your promises?" It will cap an unprecedented 12-month period in which global leaders gathered under the auspices of the United Nations to focus on issues, such as the plight of the world's poorest countries, AIDS, urban settlements, small arms, and racism.

The special session on children, which will be held in New York from 19 to 21 September, takes place a little over a decade after world leaders proclaimed at the groundbreaking World Summit for Children that "there can be no task nobler than giving every child a better future".

That summit, held in September of 1990, was destined to become the first conference of its kind, focusing the attention of world governments on the needs and rights of the world's children. More importantly, it set a precedent with an action plan comprised of concrete, detailed, and time-bound goals focused on child survival, protection and development.

With the arrival of the special session on children, the time has come for nations to honestly and openly assess their progress towards those goals, and to commit both to completing unfinished business and tackling newly emergent challenges.

Why Children?

In June, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a progress report detailing what had been done towards the 1990 goals –- and what had been left undone. Entitled "We the Children", the report contains information from 135 national-level reviews, collectively comprising the most comprehensive picture ever assembled of the global child.

"The world has fallen short of achieving most of the goals of the World Summit for Children", wrote the Secretary-General, "not because they were too ambitious or were technically beyond reach. It has fallen short largely because of insufficient investment."

Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), agreed that investment in children is crucial. "Changing the world with children is not just a slogan. It is a statement about how human progress is best and most efficiently achieved. When nations have committed themselves to investments in children’s health, education and protection, and made those investments in ways that promote the rights of children, real progress in human development has been achieved. Where children’s rights have been given only lip service and investments have been minimal, societies have continued to struggle."

The report identifies successes, as well as setbacks, and, in some cases, real retrogression.

On the positive side, there have been many tangible results for children: this year 3 million fewer children will die than a decade ago; polio has been brought to the brink of eradication; and through salt iodization, 90 million newborns are protected each year from a significant loss of learning ability.

In addition, the following gains have been achieved:

-- Sixty-three countries achieved the Summit goal of a one-third reduction in mortality among children under five, and over 100 countries reduced under-five mortality by one fifth;

-- Deaths of young children from diarrhoeal diseases were reduced by half over the decade, from 3 million to 1.5 million, achieving a key summit goal;

-- In the area of childhood immunization, routine coverage has remained fairly high in all regions but one, saving millions of young lives;

-- Net school enrolment has increased, outpacing population growth, so that a higher proportion of children are in school now than ever before.

Despite this progress, the report also shows that:

-- More that 10 million children still die each year from preventable causes;

-- Over 150 million still suffer from malnutrition;

-- Some 100 million children are still not in school –- the majority of them girls;

-- The resources that were promised at the Summit have yet to materialize, and there has been inadequate investment in social services; and

-- The lives of millions continue to be devastated by hazardous labour, by the sale and trafficking of women and children, the militarization and prostitution of children, and by general abuse, exploitation and violence.

"We have the resources and the knowledge to overcome these challenges", Ms. Bellamy said. "Our aim at the special session is to convince world leaders that investing in children is their number one responsibility –- and that investing in children is the only lasting strategy for reducing poverty, stopping AIDS, and avoiding conflict."

Ms. Bellamy noted that the special session on children will attract the most heads of State of any of the United Nations conferences this year, precisely because leaders feel strongly about children.

"We must never forget that we are our own keepers", Ms. Bellamy said. "History will judge us harshly if we refuse to use our knowledge, our resources and our will to ensure that each new member of the human family arrives into a world that honours and protects the invaluable, irreplaceable years of childhood."

Background: Special Session of General Assembly on Children

Attendance: As of 31 July, more than 75 heads of State have committed to attending the Summit, and the number is rising daily. In addition, more than 3,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been accredited to attend, more than at any other United Nations conference.

Process: Over the past 18 months, a series of regional consultations by governments and NGOs has produced concrete regional commitments that will inform the special session and serve as regional roadmaps for improving children’s lives. These can be viewed online at Tens of thousands of individuals from around the world, including children and young people, have taken part in this highly inclusive process.

Statistics: The Secretary-General’s report, "We The Children", is also available online at A series of summary fact sheets are now available, including "Short Takes on Progress", and "Who Is the Global Child".

UNICEF: The UNICEF has been appointed by the United Nations General Assembly to act as the secretariat for the special session. The UNICEF media team, with headquarters in New York and Geneva and field offices and national committees in 160 countries, can assist news organizations in story development, accessing facts and figures, arranging interviews, and acquiring video b-roll. Accreditation for the special session is handled by the Department of Public Information (DPI). For detailed instructions, visit the special session Web pages at

Say Yes: The UNICEF is one of several children’s organizations urging people all over the world to support action for children through the Say Yes for Children campaign. By logging on to, people can vote for the three most important actions that leaders must take for children. The results -– projected to include some 20 million ballots -– will be presented at the special session. The message: people care about children and want governments to keep the promises they make to them.

What’s Ahead: Over the next seven weeks, the special session media team will be issuing weekly press updates on the Summit, including listings of who’s coming, what the key issues will be, and what else is happening around the special session on children. To be included on our mailing lists, please write to us at A key event will be the 5 September launch of The State of the World’s Children, 2002, UNICEF’s annual report on children’s issues.

During August, Ms. Bellamy will be travelling to Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Cambodia and South Africa, with possible press stops in Bangkok, Tokyo and London.

For further information, please contact:

Patsy Robertson, Special Session Media, New York (212) 326-7270; Laufey Löve, UN Department of Public Information, New York (212) 963-3507; Liza Barrie, UNICEF Media Chief, New York (212) 326-7593; Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 326-7261; and Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Media, Geneva (41-22) 909-5509.

* *** *