Centre de presse


To the Vietnam's National Conference on Programmes of Action for Children

Image de l'UNICEF

Hanoi - 15 February 2001

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Colleagues and Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a great pleasure to join you for this important meeting.

It is especially gratifying to be here in this pivotal new year - a year when UNICEF and its partners are working to realise a 21st Century vision for children as we enlist citizens of every nation, from government and civil society alike, to join in a Global Movement for Children - an unstoppable crusade that will finally put the world on a path to end the poverty, ill health, violence and exploitation that threatens so many young lives.

Mr. President, governments have a central role in blazing that new path - and by its example, Vietnam has already distinguished itself by building leadership for children that is strong and broadly representative.

Vietnam was the first country in the region to take an active part in the preparatory process for the General Assembly's Special Session on Children next September - an event that offers not only an chance to review progress since the World Summit for Children, but to re-energise the international commitment to child rights.

The appointment of Madame Thanh Thanh as the Prime Minister's Personal Representative to the Special Session is only the latest affirmation that Vietnam's commitment to children extends to the highest levels - and I commend Madame Thanh Thanh and the CPCC for their effective advocacy of child rights.
Thanks to such leadership, the overall situation of children and women in Vietnam has improved considerably over the last decade. Indeed, almost all of the goals of Vietnam's first National Programme of Action for Children have been achieved. The result?

  • Under-5 and infant mortality has fallen by a third, as the national poverty level has declined and GNP has doubled.
  • Immunisation coverage is now over 90 per cent - and Vietnam has been declared polio-free. At the same time, we have seen major gains in the fight against neonatal tetanus and measles.
  • Micronutrient deficiencies are being reduced - and indeed, vitamin A deficiency has been virtually eliminated in children under 3 years of age.
  • Primary school enrolment has reached 97 per cent.
  • And substantial progress has been made in expanding access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

Mr. President, it is no coincidence that these achievements have come in a period when national laws have been brought into conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), to which Vietnam is a States Party; and that the rights of children in need of special protection are also being addressed through national legislation and programmes of action.

Yet, for all these encouraging developments, there are a number of end-decade goals that have yet to be reached. And this is a cause for concern, because they involve factors that could threaten many of the achievements of the last decade.

For example, there has been only a small reduction in the maternal mortality rate, which now stands at 95 per 100,000 live births nationwide - an unacceptably high rate for a country that has made so many other gains for women and children, especially in areas of health, nutrition and education.

Mr. President, this is a problem that needs to be high on the political agenda. It is clear that solutions must be found at the family and community level to ensure that women get the support they need - especially access to reproductive health services.

But safe motherhood is of course more than a basic necessity - it is a fundamental right affirmed by a galaxy of international instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which Vietnam has ratified, along with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Mr. President, another area of concern is malnutrition, which affects nearly 40 per cent of children under 5. Here again, the search for solutions must begin at the family and community level, where there is a need to promote such practices as exclusive breastfeeding and adequate complementary feeding, proper hygiene, and other simple preventive and curative approaches to child health.

UNICEF believes that the well-being of children must be addressed early in life, using an intersectoral approach that stresses not only health and nutrition and safe water and adequate sanitation, but a child's educational and psychosocial needs within the family - including the love, nurturing and attention that are essential for full development.

I mentioned Vietnam's progress in improving access to safe water and adequate sanitation. Those gains, while significant, have largely been confined to urban areas. In the countryside, half the rural population - many of them ethnic populations living in remote areas - still lack acceptable water and sanitation.

It is my understanding that Vietnam will continue its drive toward universal access to safe water and adequate sanitation by setting a target of 80 per cent overall coverage by 2005. With the necessary political commitment behind the new national strategy - combined with donor interest in this sector - UNICEF shares your confidence that this ambitious goal can be reached.

Mr. President, let me briefly highlight some of the other challenges facing Vietnam in the coming decade:

Having successfully tackled most of the common childhood illnesses, the Government now needs to address the current major cause of child mortality - accidents that occur on the roads, in communities, and in the home environment. UNICEF is impressed by the leadership and initiative that CPCC has taken in regard to this new issue.

An especially grave danger is HIV/AIDS, which is well on its way to becoming a major killer of Vietnam's children.

Mr. President, UNICEF believes that education must be a centrepiece of any effort to provide HIV/AIDS prevention and care, including prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

First and foremost, we must break the conspiracy of silence that has helped the disease to spread. That will occur only when families and communities learn to recognise their own particular risks and vulnerabilities - and are empowered to develop the capacity to care for those already infected while working to stop future infection.

A major priority is to work with young people to ensure that they have the requisite knowledge and skills to prevent HIV/AIDS, especially through educational programmes in secondary school.

There is also a need to address the growing problem of babies who are abandoned by their HIV-infected mothers. Ways must be found to protect these children - whose rights and needs will be far better served in new family environments rather than institutions.

Another major concern are the rising numbers of children engaged in hazardous or exploitative labour. Many work in the streets, some as criminals, while others are exploited through prostitution and sexual trafficking. A large number of these children come from troubled and impoverished families who cannot afford to keep them in school.

The problem of child labour underlines the importance of ensuring that poor families get the support they need to enroll their children in primary schools of good quality - and that they stay in school.

Distinguished Delegates, child rights cannot be fully protected and promoted without the participation of children themselves. Their involvement in matters that affect them is itself a fundamental right. It is also a key to the future, for if we are to find durable solutions to the grave problems of this new century, we must find ways to draw on the energy and the fresh perspectives of children and young people.

That is why I am so delighted to see children engaged in animated conversations about important issues in their lives. Yesterday, in fact, I had the privilege of meeting children from around the country as they were preparing their intervention to you, the country's leaders.
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates: the challenges that I have briefly touched on here are addressed in the new NPA that you will review today - and the new goals you have to set to improve the situation for children by 2010 are a fitting sequel to Vietnam's achievements of the last decade.

On behalf of UNICEF, I wish you great success in your work - and great happiness in this Year of the Snake. In other words, Chuc Mung Nam Moi! {Happy New Year}.

Thank you.