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Special Session on Children in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Opening Statement by Ms. Shahnaz Kianian-Firouzgar, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Central and Eastern Europe, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic States

Your Excellency, Mr. President of the Government, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Young people and children

I am delighted to welcome you all to the first ever Special Session on Children that is taking place today. 

This Special Session, organized by the Government and UNICEF, will review the situation of children throughout the country, the challenges they face and the opportunities that need to be grasped on their behalf. The aim is clear – to draw up a concrete action plan to build a country that is truly fit for children.

The words of this country’s young people are fresh in our minds, following the Youth Forum that took place last week in preparation for this Special Session. Fifty young people from every part of the country voiced their concerns and drew up recommendations for us to discuss. And we can draw on the discussions of the Technical Consultation that took place just three days ago, where 60 experts examined the situation of children across the country.

I am confident that together we – the Government, the international community, the mayors, the non-governmental organisations, the academic world, the media and young people -- will reaffirm our commitment to ensure rights for all children, with no exceptions and no child left out. We will work to ensure that all children are healthy, well educated, and protected, that all children live in a nurturing and protective environment, and that all children grow up to become responsible citizens who can contribute to the future of their country.

This Special Session is timely. This year, the Government will submit its report on how well it is implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is ratified by the Government in 1993. There has never been a better time to take stock – to look at what has been achieved for children and what remains to be done. The Convention is no mere piece of paper. It is a checklist that, if implemented, guarantees lasting progress for children and moves us closer to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

This Special Session is relevant. As the Government prepares for membership of the European Union, it is critical that the rights of all human beings, including children – an essential requirement for EU membership - are ensured. While the accession process means new opportunities as a whole, it is essential that children are at the heart of this process and that their rights are priorities when policies, legislative reforms and structures to ease the accession process are being formulated. 

This Special Session is critical. It is a milestone in a global journey towards the achievement of MDG the by 2015. This year sees the first five year review of these goals, which were set by the United Nations in 2000. They are clear goals to which your country is fully committed: eradicate poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, empower women, reduce child mortality, combat HIV/AIDS – to name just a few.

Six of the eight MDG goals can only be met if the rights of children to health, education, protection and equality are guaranteed. And that means investing in children. Investing in children is not just about financing existing services for health, education and social protection; it is a determination to ensure that our children are the first to benefit from all the resources available. This is what we term in UNICEF as “A First Call for Children”.

Our experience around the world teaches us that decentralization, for example, can only succeed if it focuses on human development and ensures that local community members – particularly the poorest, the excluded and the most vulnerable – share equally in the benefits. I call on this Special Session to put children at the centre of the decentralization process. One step would be to encourage and support mayors to develop child-friendly municipalities.

Where does UNICEF fit into all of this? First, we are the world’s leading agency for children, working in 157 countries and territories around the world. Working alongside governments, NGOs, our sister UN agencies, development partners local communities and children, everything we do aims to contribute to the achievement of the MDGs.

We have been working in the country since 1993. We have seen the country’s progress in reducing child and maternal mortality, enhancing child and youth development and ensuring that child rights are supported and implemented in the new legislature. UNICEF is pleased to be part of this national effort.

But challenges remain. Poverty, for example, with around 22 per cent of the population living below the poverty line; disparities in health, nutrition and school completion among minority children, particularly the Roma; the continuing need to develop alternatives to institutional care for children deprived of parental care; and the need to address such sensitive issues as trafficking, violence, juvenile justice and HIV/AIDS.

Earlier this month, we signed our new Programme of Cooperation with the Government, for the period 2005 - 2009. We remain committed to working with all of you on social policy, good quality monitoring and evaluation, HIV/AIDS prevention and Young People’s Health, Child Protection, Early Childhood Development and Education, as well as increased child participation. I am confident that this new programme will move us closer to a country fit for children.

I hope that this Special Session will set concrete, sustainable and time bound commitments that will not only ensure their survival, protection and development, but also a place for them in the future of this country. A bright and prosperous future requires the whole of society – you, I and everyone including children themselves to - work for children and with children. I would like to end by quoting a child who took part in the United Nations Special Session on Children in 2002 in New York: “Give us a good today, we will, in turn, give you a good tomorrow.”

So let me take this opportunity to wish you a very good “today”.

Thank you.

For more information:

Irina Ivanovska, Communication Officer, UNICEF Skopje, (+389 02) 323 1150



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