Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the CRC
Friday, 20 November, 2009 – New York
Mr. Secretary-General, President of the UNICEF Executive Board, Distinguished Delegates, UNICEF’s Advocate for Children Affected by War, Ishmael Beah, ladies and gentlemen. Good morning and thank you for being here today.
Twenty years ago, in a room just down the hall from here, a historic decision was taken. On 20 November, 1989, world leaders came together in the General Assembly to adopt the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since then, the Convention has become the most ratified human rights treaty in history.
The 20th anniversary of the convention also coincides with Mali Chairing the UNICEF Executive Board, under the very capable stewardship of Ambassador Daou. This is particularly fitting, as Mali co-chaired the Committee that oversaw the finalization of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.
Much has been achieved during the past 20 years. The annual rate of under age five deaths has fallen 28 %. Between 1990 and 2006, 1.6 billion people world-wide gained access to improved water sources. More children are attending primary school than ever before and the gender gap is narrowing.
Children are no longer the missing face of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Advances are also being made in child protection, though data is still difficult to come by.
Important steps have been taken to help protect children from serving as soldiers, or trafficked into prostitution or domestic servitude. The age of children getting married is rising in some countries and the number of girls subjected to genital cutting is gradually falling.
Yet, much more remains to be done. That an estimated 8.8 million children continue to die before they celebrate their fifth birthday is simply unacceptable. They die of diseases such as pneumonia, malaria and measles. They die because they are malnourished. They die because they do not have access to clean water. They die because they do not have access to basic medicines. Other children have lost their parents to the scourge of AIDS. Many will never see the inside of a school room. Millions more lack protection against violence, abuse, exploitation, discrimination and neglect.
In my travels I have met many of these children who have shared their personal and painful stories, that are sadly all too familiar. I have spoken to girls in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo where sexual violence, pillaging, burning of homes and killing, define their daily lives. I have met girls who have been forced to become sexual slaves or sold to brothels for someone else’s gain. I have met boys who were abandoned by their families as witches in central Africa. I have met a girl who was forced into marriage at the age of only 10, to a man 3 times her age. And I have met boys who were abducted from their families and forced to wage war in their own countries, sometimes even in their own communities.
As we mark the 20th anniversary of the Convention, let us remember the unspeakable violations of rights that occur almost daily to the most innocent of innocents, children. The world must build on the progress achieved to ensure that stories such as theirs become part of the past.
CRC @ 20