To the European Meeting of Ministers for Children's Affairs
Brussels - 9 November 2001
Mr. President, Excellencies, Friends, Dear Children:
I am very pleased to join you for this vitally important meeting.
We are gathered at a time of great uncertainty. The terrorist attacks of September 11th have transformed international relations as governments seek appropriate responses both to the attacks - and to the heightened sense of vulnerability they have created.
At the same time, they have triggered an economic and social chain reaction that is darkening the future for untold millions of people, many of them already desperately vulnerable - and not only in Afghanistan but around the world.
But the terrorist attacks have done something else: they have brought the international community together as never before - and underlined the overarching importance of collective action in confronting new threats.
Indeed, as Secretary-General Kofi Annan put it, there is every reason to hope that the unity born of the events of September 11th will rally the international community to the defense of the most basic of human rights - the right of all people to live in peace and security.
Mr. President, I can think of no more eloquent affirmation of that hope than the announcement last month that the work of the Secretary-General and the United Nations itself had earned them this year's Nobel Peace Prize.
It is a reminder that the ideal of a just and peaceful world, sustained by international cooperation, remains a beacon of hope 56 years after it was proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations.
It is a vision rooted in compassion and a profound sense of responsibility to our fellow human beings - and it begins with children and the realisation of their rights. Each of us has the power to help build that world - and make it a place where every child can grow to adulthood in health, peace and dignity.
That is the premise behind the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children, which was to have opened in New York on September 19th with some 80 heads of State and Government in attendance. Its postponement was a difficult pill to swallow. But through it all, UNICEF and its partners - among whom we are proud to count the members of this assembly - have kept faith in the knowledge that together, we can change the world with children.
That is why the drive for child rights has never faltered - and with your help, substantively as well as financially, we will accelerate that drive when the Special Session on Children finally convenes in May.
Mr. President, it was more than a decade ago, at the World Summit for Children, that the largest gathering of heads of State and Government ever assembled made a solemn promise - to advance the cause of humanity by giving every child a better future.
In so doing, they acknowledged that the well-being of children requires political action at the highest level - and, they said, "we are determined to take that action."
Because of political action at the highest level, the world has witnessed gains for children in the fight against preventable diseases and malnutrition, in increased access to education, in the promotion of breast-feeding and early childhood care and development, and in access to safe water.
Because of political action at the highest level, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is now the most widely ratified human rights instrument in history.
Because of political action at the highest level, we have seen changes in national law and public policy that have set the stage for improving the lives of children the world over, including the Optional Protocols to the CRC on the plight of children in armed conflict and children who are trafficked and abused; the entry into force of a global ban on anti-personnel landmines, and the approval of an International Criminal Court that will challenge the impunity of war crimes, especially where children are victimised.
And we have seen the cause of children come of age at the Millennium Summit, which strongly reaffirmed the need for breakthrough progress toward such goals as reduction of maternal and under-5 mortality, increases in primary school enrolment, and the imperative of mounting effective worldwide campaigns against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major infectious diseases.
Mr. President, all of this constitutes remarkable progress, literally unimaginable half a century ago. And none of it would have come to pass without the vital partnerships that have developed between governments, donors, international institutions and diverse elements of civil society, including children and families, non-governmental organisations, the private sector and the business community, and religious and grassroots groups.
Yet for all the many millions of young lives that have been saved, and for all the lives that have been bettered, it is clear that overall gains have fallen far short of the national commitments and international obligations that grew out of the World Summit.
Excellencies, the completion of that legacy is largely in your hands. Your leadership is vital if we are to realise the remaining goals for child survival and development that were set at the World Summit - and mobilise a global alliance dedicated to achieving a breakthrough in human development based on specific actions for children.
Much remains to be done.
Poverty is not only an economic issue where children are concerned. For children, poverty often means physical, emotional or intellectual impairment, which can add up to a lifetime of lost opportunity - and a legacy of poverty for succeeding generations.
Poverty is why more than 10 million children die every year before their 5th birthday of preventable causes like measles, acute respiratory infections and tuberculosis; why some 250 million children must work to survive, many of them the objects of sexual exploitation and abuse; why some 120 million children, the majority of them girls, are not in school; and why preventable complications in pregnancy and childbirth kill and disable nearly 600,000 women and girls of child-bearing age a year - more than any other set of causes.
Mr. President, eradication of the worst manifestations of poverty is not only a moral imperative. It is a practical and affordable possibility - and it starts with investing in children.
The Member States of the European Union and other developed countries acknowledged as much when they committed themselves to the International Development Targets on child poverty, education and health.
UNICEF is strongly committed to the achievement of the IDTs, not only because they are feasible in every way, but because we have long recognised the value of targets and goals for mobilising political will.
The draft outcome document for the Special Session, A World Fit for Children, offers a solid foundation for stepping up progress toward the 2015 International Development Targets and Millennium Summit goals. It has been under negotiation for several months, but steady progress has been made to the point that 80 to 90 per cent of it has been agreed to as of 14 September.
UNICEF is convinced that education - especially education for girls - is the No. 1 prerequisite for achieving the International Development Targets.
Only education can put young women on a path to economic and social empowerment; help them make the most of their abilities; and provide a means for changing attitudes about violence while promoting equality.
We know from hard empirical evidence that girls who are educated generally have healthier and better-educated children; that they are more likely to understand what they must do to protect themselves and their families against HIV/AIDS and other diseases; and that they tend to have smaller families.
Ensuring quality education and basic literacy will also open the doors to information technology and the new economy - and prevent the "digital divide" from becoming a new gender divide.
But girls' education is more than a cost-effective investment; more than an economic issue; more than a desirable aspiration that societies should try to provide. Education is a human right, proclaimed by global agreements ranging from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Convention on the Rights of the Child
Mr. President, these and other investments in children are not short-term propositions. They require a visionary and long-term commitment. That is why UNICEF has urged ministers of finance, from developing and developed countries alike, to take steps to ensure the long-term future of their countries by putting the well-being of children at the heart of the budgetary process.
At the same time, UNICEF welcomes the ongoing efforts by the European Union to elevate children to a high place on its political agenda, which accelerated after last year's Lisbon Summit - and an informal meeting last November in Paris of ministers for children's affairs.
We are especially gratified by the proclamation, at last year's Nice Summit, of the Charter on Fundamental Rights, whose Article 24 specifically addresses child rights - and by the European Parliament's adoption of a resolution on child protection and child rights. That measure, approved in July, stresses the importance of efforts by the EU and its Member States to ensure that the Special Session on Children supports implementation of all new treaties designed to strengthen child protection.
Mr. President, UNICEF has every hope that the European Union will continue its leadership role by working to ensure that child survival, protection and development be an imperative not just for the children of Europe, but children the world over.
To this end, UNICEF hopes that meetings of ministers responsible for children's policies can be held on a regular basis to monitor the progress for children within Europe as well as outside Europe. The substantive involvement should be maximised and non-European Member States should be allowed to participate in these discussions.
Based on the end-decade Report by the Secretary-General of the situation of children after the World Summit for Children, UNICEF has identified five priority areas where we believe can make the biggest impact on the lives of children. They are: girls' education; integrated early childhood development (ECCD); immunisation; fighting HIV/AIDS; and improved protection of children from violence, exploitation, abuse and discrimination.
In pursuing these priorities, UNICEF will use its global presence, its country programme capacity and its voice to help change the world with children - putting children at the heart of every agenda and finding effective ways to ensure that children's voices are heard.
UNICEF is guided by a vision of the world where leaders commit to use their power and influence to assure, for every child, the rights and opportunities to grow to adulthood in dignity, security and self-fulfilment - goals set out in UNICEF's Medium Term Strategic Plan (2002-2005) as well as the draft outcome document for the Special Session.
Mr. President, there is a serious need to maintain the momentum toward child rights, especially because of the delay of the Special Session on Children. The Berlin Conference in preparation for the Special Session was an important contribution to this effort.
UNICEF is hopeful that additional follow-up action will include development of a Regional Plan of Action. An example of this kind of approach includes the upcoming regional consultation on 20 and 21 November in Budapest in preparation for the Yokohama Congress on sexual trafficking and abuse.
Moreover, UNICEF hopes the EU will continue its effort to include children on its agenda. The Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC) that will take place in Germany in 2004 offers an opportunity to reflect a focus on children in the European Treaty - a matter that will be addressed at the forthcoming EU Summit in Laeken.
Mr. President, Excellencies: The gains for children of the last decade would not have been possible without the combination of strategies, resources and action that the United Nations and its agencies have worked to promote - and development cooperation, vigorously supported by the Member States of the European Union, has been the key.
I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance that UNICEF attaches to the EU's steadfast support for the protection and promotion of child rights - a commitment emphatically displayed by government ands civil society alike.
The EU's reaffirmation of its pledge to maintain overall development aid at the highest possible level, its dedication to multilateralism and to collaborative support for bilateralism - these are all vital ingredients in ensuring the survival, protection, and full development of children.
These are difficult times. But I remain ever confident that UNICEF's strong partnership with the EU will continue to make a difference for development - and for the children of the world.