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Press release

World leaders to take centre stage at UN Special Session on Children

NEW YORK, 5 April 2002 - The United Nations Children's Fund said today that world leaders are poised to take centre stage at the upcoming Special Session on Children this May, noting that 72 Heads of State and Government have so far committed to attending.

"The attendance figures for Heads of State and Government is a tribute to the commitment these leaders have shown to their children," said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy. "Their role in building a world fit for children is absolutely essential, and the commitments they make at the Special Session are vital to a more peaceful, equitable world."

More than 170 nations are sending delegations to the General Assembly Special Session on Children, which takes place May 8-10 in New York. Of those, more than 70 delegations will be led by a Head of State or Government, according to confirmations received as of 4 April. Additional national leaders are expected to confirm their attendance in the coming weeks.

"With five weeks to go before the session, the turnout of leaders is already outstanding," Bellamy said. She noted that the numbers are higher at this point than they were at a comparable juncture late last summer, when the Special Session on Children had been scheduled to take place in mid-September. The event was postponed after September 11.

The Special Session on Children will present a major opportunity for leaders to focus on the concrete and specific actions needed to produce gains for children - and for societies as a whole.

Leadership Roles

In addition to meeting in summit style on the first day of the conference, many world leaders in attendance will have key roles throughout the three days of plenary discussions, side events, and roundtables.

Nelson Mandela will join President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as hosts of a gala celebration of children's rights.

President Kim, who is a leader in the Global Movement for Children, will also host one of three Roundtable discussions with Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa. Mr. Mwanawasa is also president of the Organization of African Unity.

President Vicente Fox of Mexico, fresh from hosting the Monterrey Conference on Financing for Development, and President Tarja Halonen of Finland will also host a Roundtable discussion.

Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Mongolian Prime Minister Nambaryn Enkhbayar will host the third Roundtable. President Iliescu is one of only a handful of leaders attending the UN Special Session who were also present at the 1990 World Summit for Children.

Bill Gates, Jr. is expected to be joined by President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga of Sri Lanka, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, and President Eduard Shevardnadze of Georgia in a Public-Private Dialogue that will also feature additional national leaders as well as CEOs from Nokia, Cisco Systems, the Indian software giant WIPRO, and other major corporations and foundations.

Bellamy noted that religious leaders, parliamentary leaders, private sector CEOs, Nobel laureates, and the heads of major non-profit organizations and UN agencies have also committed to attending the Special Session in large numbers.

"What these leaders share is the belief that investment in children is the key to positive change in the world," Bellamy said. "Children have the power to bring people together, and the turn-out for this Special Session is a reflection of that optimism and can-do spirit."

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For further information, please contact:
Liza Barrie, UNICEF Media Chief, New York (212) 326-7593
Alfred Ironside, UNICEF Media, New York (212) 326-7261