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The Special Session on Children

UN Special Session on Children posterAt the Special Session on Children (new date: 8-10 May 2002), world leaders will focus their attention on young people. Government leaders, Heads of State, NGOs, children’s advocates and children themselves will attend.

The United Nations Secretary-General will open the session with a report on the progress that has been made for children in the last 10 years. And over the course of three extraordinary days, participants will work toward an agreement on the critical actions that will be taken over the next decade on behalf of children.

The 1990 World Summit and its legacy

Copyright © UNICEF/HQ90-0099/John ChiassonMore than a decade ago, world leaders put children’s issues on both the political agenda and human rights map. The year was 1990 and the occasion was the World Summit for Children, an unprecedented event on behalf of children. The Summit adopted a Plan of Action with precise, time-bound goals to ensure the health and security of the world’s children and it launched the campaign for ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Now, it’s time to see how well governments have lived up to these commitments.

Efforts to bring the Convention into full effect in the daily lives of young children and adolescents began with the 1990 Summit. The Plan of Action addressed reducing child and maternal mortality rates, preventable diseases, illiteracy and malnutrition. There was also an emphasis on the need for children’s universal access to basic education, safe drinking water, healthy food, sanitary conditions and protection from abuse, violence and war.

Since 1990, there has been progress. In 125 countries, 80 per cent of one generation of children has been immunized against such common childhood diseases as measles and tetanus. In 1999 alone, more than two thirds of the world’s children under the age of five — 470 million — were immunized against polio. Some 12 million children are no longer at risk of mental disabilities because of an iodine deficient diet. More children are in school today than at any other time in human history. Children have formed their own parliaments and peace movements. Laws reflecting the Convention on the Rights of the Child have been enacted and enforced in many countries. And in 1997, the United Nations Secretary-General appointed the first ever Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict after a landmark report by Graça Machel, a former Minister of Education in Mozambique and the UN special expert on children in armed conflict, documented the devastation children suffer in armed conflict.

The lives of children today

Copyright © UNICEF/HQ91-0039/ ROGER LEMOYNEBut the good news is tempered. The end-decade review of progress for children shows that there is still much work to be done. The scourge of civil war and armed insurgencies continues to wreak havoc on the world’s children. Of the approximately 31 million refugees and displaced persons worldwide, the majority are children and women. Growing chasms between rich and poor have led to forced child labour, increased trafficking and sexual exploitation. According to the International Labour Organization, some 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 work in developing countries, and some 50 to 60 million children between the ages of 5 and 11 work in hazardous circumstances.

In the decade since the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, more than 2 million children have been killed and more than 6 million have been injured or disabled in armed conflicts. Tens of thousands of children have been maimed by landmines and thousands have suffered in the upsurge of conflicts fuelled by a seemingly insatiable hunger for land and natural bounties of gems and oil. The proliferation of light, inexpensive weapons has meant more child soldiers fighting adult wars. Countless others have been recruited as sex slaves or porters.

Copyright © UNICEF/HQ98-0912/ GIACOMO PIROZZIMore than 4.3 million children under age 15 have been killed by AIDS. More than 1.4 million under the age of 15 are living with HIV. Every minute, five young persons aged 15 to 24 are infected with HIV. That’s 7,000 every day. Thirteen million have been orphaned by AIDS as their parents died of the disease. At the same time, at least 30 per cent of children under five suffer from severe or moderate malnutrition. And even in the richest countries, 1 child in 10 is raised in a family living below the poverty line.

For every step forward, failures to act and unfulfilled promises have undermined progress for children. We begin 2001 with work left over from the past century and with challenges from a rash of new problems.

Visit the Special Session on Children website for detailed information and official documents.

The Special Session on Children could mark the beginning of a new era for children — one in which government leaders accept their responsibilities to children, and one in which advocacy and activism for children will become the responsibility and work of every citizen.

Watch closely and take careful note as the leaders of the world converge at the United Nations in New York 8-10 May 2002. Let them know what you expect of them.