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The tiny hands of an HIV-positive baby grasp hold of fingers of a man participating in the centre’s self-help group for HIV-positive adults. Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam.

“… no task nobler than giving children a better future.”

The lives of children and women are the truest indicators of the strength of communities and nations. If the youngest and most vulnerable are left to find their way alone, a country violates the rights of its people and sabotages its future as an equal partner in the global economy. Weak and dependent children and women make for weak and dependent countries. In dramatic contrast, children and women empowered by their rights make for robust and self-sufficient societies.

Comprehensive early childhood care is a key to creating a world characterized by hope and change rather than by deprivation and despair and to building countries that are thriving and free. When the UN General Assembly’s Special Session on Children convenes in September 2001, the world’s leadership will have the opportunity to stake a claim in a legacy of equality and human development.

First and foremost, they must recommit themselves, without reservation, excuse or equivocation, to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. They must do the same for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Second, they must make children — the youngest most especially — the priority at all policy tables, in all programme planning and all budget meetings.

Third, they must ensure ECD the necessary financial and political support at all levels including at the community and local levels.

Fourth, they must delegate responsibility and assign accountability for ensuring three interrelated outcomes for every child: the best possible start in life, a good-quality basic education and the opportunities to develop fully and to participate in meaningful ways in his or her community.

From now until the Special Session on Children. There are two Substantive Sessions still to come in preparation for the 2001 gathering, in January and June 2001, and a series of reviews and policy discussions at subnational, national and regional levels during that same period. These meetings provide individuals and organizations who are concerned with the rights of children to do several things:

• Hold government leaders accountable for their participation in the United Nations meeting and for the actions they pledge at the Session;

• Make certain that children’s perspectives and the views of NGOs are included in all aspects of the review process and in determining priorities for the future;

• Participate in reviews and policy discussions at various levels and publicize when, where and why they are happening;

• Share research and experiences on the lives of children and women;

• Support children and adolescents in their efforts to be heard in the process;

• Mobilize now to follow up on the decisions and action plans that come out of the meeting.

The best possible start in life. The Special Session on Children is one event in the ongoing process of making the world a better place for children, adolescents and the adults that surround them. Breaking the intergenerational transmission of poverty, violence, disease and discrimination is not an unreachable dream if we start early enough in a child’s life. Investing in the world’s youngest citizens, as part of the effort to ensure their rights, is the best choice among several — great for children and their parents and caretakers, even better for their countries. In the final analysis, making certain that every child has the best possible start in life, which is the legal and morally right thing to do, is the only reasonable choice for responsible leadership.

 

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