New York, May 2002 -
Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen:
Today, at the outset of the most important international gathering on children in more than a decade, the Security Council is again affirming its commitment to children - and exercising its leadership in ensuring that the protection of child rights is at the heart of the international peace and security agenda.
Mr. President, as we speak, leaders from every corner of the world are gathering in this house to reaffirm their obligations to promote the rights of every boy and girl - and to commit themselves to creating a world fit for children, as set out in the draft Outcome Document for the General Assembly Special Session on Children.
It is an occasion at which we seek a global consensus to mobilise resources and political will to promote the survival and health of every child, to assure the right of basic quality education, assistance in combatting HIV/AIDS - and protection from harm and exploitation.
I commend the Council for its role in strengthening the protection of children in conflict situations - and indeed, the draft Outcome Document has drawn on the Council's exemplary work in this area.
I would also like to pay tribute to my fellow speakers, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, Mr. Olara Otunnu, for his tireless advocacy and to Madame Graça Machel, for her exemplary leadership in placing this vital issue on the international agenda.
Let me also acknowledge the work and efforts of numerous international and national non-governmental organisations, some of whom are present in the audience today. They are among the most important of UNICEF's partners. NGOs have shared their information and expertise on children's issues with the Council, thanks to the Arria Formula meetings organised for that purpose - and UNICEF welcomes the Council's engagement with NGOs.
Mr. President, it is only through strong partnerships that UNICEF is able to advance policies, programmes, and strategies to strengthen the protection of children in situations of armed conflict. UNICEF recently supported the Government of Afghanistan in conducting the largest ever back-to-school programme for boys and girls in Afghanistan.
UNICEF will continue to invest in education, in particular education for girls, as a means of ensuring the long-term well-being and sustainable protection of the rights of war-affected children. Education also protects children from recruitment as soldiers and helps reintegrate them into their communities after demobilisation. In this connection, UNICEF is continuing its efforts to support the demobilisation and reintegration of child soldiers in countries such as Angola, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, and Sudan.
One of the biggest challenges in conflict situations continues to be the difficulty of ensuring full and unhindered access of children to essential services. In an effort to promote access to children in conflict situations, the international football association, FIFA, and UNICEF will urge all parties to conflicts to observe Days of Immunisation during the 2002 World Cup, which starts at the end of the month. We hope that football will help these children make a start on reclaiming their childhoods.
Mr. President, children, especially girls, are extremely vulnerable to abuse, sexual violence, and rape perpetrated during armed conflicts.
The allegations of widespread sexual abuse and exploitation against refugee and international displaced children by humanitarian workers in West Africa are of great concern to us. Mr. President, UNICEF remains unwaveringly committed to ensuring the highest standards of conduct for our staff, to improving our accountability to the beneficiaries of humanitarian assistance, and to ensuring that humanitarian assistance is provided in a manner that protects children and prevents sexual exploitation and abuse.
In giving Wilmot, Eliza and Jose an opportunity to contribute to its meeting today, the Security Council has again set a high standard for leadership - in this case, by promoting the right of children to express themselves freely and to participate in matters that affect them.
The experiences of these young people remind us of the daunting challenges that still lie ahead. But in granting them a role in its proceedings, the Security Council has, in its way, helped empower a growing campaign to build a shared sense of responsibility for the well-being of every child on earth - what UNICEF and its partners call a Global Movement for Children. I am confident that their calls to you to prevent war and its devastating impact on children's rights and their capacity to fulfill their potential have been heard.
To succeed, the Global Movement must enlist not only established leaders, but people of influence representing every part of civil society, from non-governmental organisations, religious groups and private enterprise to people's movements, academia and the media, community and grassroots groups, families - and children themselves.
It is only through such broad and committed partnerships that we will reach the remaining goals of the 1990 World Summit for children as this week's Special Session affirms a comprehensive agenda for children for the first years of this new century - an agenda that includes ending the horrific abuse and exploitation of children in armed conflict.
In conclusion, Mr. President, it is my pleasure to introduce the young people you have so kindly invited to address the Security Council today.
Wilmot is 16 years old and is from Liberia, where he works actively with radio programmes and child rights networking.
Eliza, 17 years old, is from Bosnia and works as a volunteer with refugee children.
Jose, 18 years old and from East Timor, works through a local NGO and the Catholic Church to assist children living on the street.
All three are delegates to the Children's Forum - and I know they are keen to share their thoughts with the Security Council.