NEW YORK, 7 May 2002 - Some 60 heads of state and government are descending on New York this week for the United Nations Special Session on Children, but the May 8-10 meeting will be a magnet for more than just political leaders. An extraordinary array of leading figures from business, culture, the arts, academia, and religion will enliven UN headquarters as the world focuses on the future of its children.
In all, close to 6,000 people are likely to participate in the most important international conference on children in more than a decade, at which the nations of the world will commit to a series of goals to improve the health and well-being of young people.
"The Special Session is all about leadership. Political leaders are at the vanguard, and their strong commitment this week to improving the lives of children heralds a promising new era. They know that if we want to create a more stable, just and peaceful world, we must start by investing in children," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of UNICEF.
"But leadership can and must go beyond politics," Bellamy said. "That's why it's inspiring to see so many other kinds of leaders coming to New York. Their energy, commitment, expertise and focus will enliven the UN and hopefully help inspire political leaders. Together they form a powerful partnership that can truly change the world."
In addition to nearly five dozen heads of state and government, some 180 high-level national delegations will be present. In addition, more than 250 parliamentary leaders will attend the conference. But the majority of participants will come from spheres outside of politics - including business chieftains, cultural figures, Nobel Laureates, religious leaders, experts on child-related issues and leading activists for children
The Special Session is expected to conclude with global agreement on the proposed outcome document, A World Fit For Children, which contains a series of goals on child heath, education and protection, and a plan of action to attain them in the coming decade.
Nobel Laureate Carlos X. Belo, the Bishop of Dili, East Timor, will be one of a dozen leading religious figures gathering in an inter-faith meeting. Microsoft CEO and philanthropist Bill Gates, Jr., will be a featured participant in a roundtable where a dozen corporate leaders will meet heads of state to discuss ideas for private-public partnerships on behalf of children. Delegates from an estimated 800 non-governmental organizations will host and invigorate scores of supporting events focused on specific children's issues. Representatives from internationally renowned organizations like Save the Children will be on hand along with leaders from small, grass-roots groups quietly working for children in countries around the world.
Other prominent attendees include hundreds of experts in the fields of pediatrics, public health, education, water and sanitation, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, early childhood development, and other fields important to children. More than 20 cultural celebrities will play a prominent role, including UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors Harry Belafonte, Mia Farrow, Roger Moore and others. They will gather on Tuesday 7 May, the eve of the Special Session, outside UNICEF headquarters for the unveiling of a statue commemorating the humanitarian work of the late actress and UNICEF Ambassador Audrey Hepburn.
Preliminary Events Already Underway
United Nations leaders helped kick off preliminary events for the Special Session on Children on Sunday 5 May with the Children's Forum. The Forum is a mini-Special Session, where young delegates representing more than 150 countries are discussing the draft outcome document and various pressing issues relating to their health, education and protection. More than 370 children from around the world are serving as officials delegates to the Special Session, the most ever for a UN conference. They will present their views on the outcome document to the General Assembly when it opens on Wednesday 8 May.
United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan addressed the opening ceremony of the Children's Forum on Sunday. "Your presence here marks a new chapter in the history of the UN," said Mr. Annan. "So far, adults have called the shots, but now it's time to build the world with children. Your voices will be heard, I promise."
The Special Session starts the morning of Wednesday, May 8 and concludes Friday, May 10. The goal of the Special Session is to move children to the center of the world's agenda and emphasize the link between the welfare of children and the development of societies. Governments will review what has been achieved for children over the last decade and, crucially, what has not.
The series of 21 goals they are expected to adopt will focus on key issues like reducing infant and maternal morality, expanding access to clean water and sanitation and establishing universal primary education.
What is a Special Session?
A General Assembly Special Session is a formal meeting of delegates from every UN member state, dedicated to a specific topic of such importance that it requires concerted international attention and action. It is also attended by observers and representatives of non-governmental organizations. On average, the UN General Assembly calls for a special session once every two years; this will be the 27th special session.
Because of the importance of the topics addressed at Special Sessions, and the fact that the countries often commit themselves to a series of concrete actions and goals, governments usually send senior officials. When a head of state cannot attend, often another high-ranking member of government will attend in his or her place.
For further information, please contact:
Liza Barrie, UNICEF Media Chief, New York (212) 326-7593
Patsy Robertson, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 326-7270
Laufey Love, UN Department of Public Information, New York (212) 963-3507
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 326-7261
Mitchie Topper, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 303-7910
View and order the Special Session video b-roll at http://www.unicef.org/broadcast/brolls/specialsession/
A live satellite news feed will be available twice daily during the Special Session.