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Reflections on the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children, ten years on

Caroline Barebwoha, centre, UNICEF Youth Participation and Engagement Consultant, with youth delegates at an event in Uganda.

By Caroline Barebwoha

Caroline Barebwoha was a youth delegate at the historic 2002 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children. The session culminated in the adoption of ‘A World Fit for Children’, a document committing the world’s nations to promoting the rights and welfare of children everywhere. Ms. Barebwoha is now a lawyer and a Youth Participation and Engagement Consultant for UNICEF. Here, she reflects on her experiences as a young advocate and how the world has changed.

KAMPALA, Uganda, 8 May 2012 – It all began at the age of 15, after winning the title of ‘best debater’ in an inter-school debating competition. After winning the award, I received a call from UNICEF informing me that I had been selected to represent Ugandan children at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children in New York in 2002. This marked the beginning of my journey as an advocate for the rights of children, youth and women.

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Special Session on Children

First, I attended a 2001 Preparatory Meeting, which brought together child delegates from all over the world under the 'Say Yes for Children' campaign.
The following year, I was one of more than 400 children who attended the Children’s Forum in New York, which took place at the UN ahead of the Special Session on Children.  We presented a statement, ‘A World Fit for Us’, at the opening of the General Assembly debate.

At the end of the session, the General Assembly adopted a plan of action for creating ‘A World Fit for Children’ – a world in which all children get the best possible start in life, have access to a quality basic education, and have ample opportunities to develop their capacities in safe and supportive environments.

Caroline Barebwoha, UNICEF Youth Participation and Engagement Consultant, attends a panel discussion at the 2011 African Youth Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Advocating for youth

After this life-changing event, I realized how much remained undone for children in my country. I decided I would fight for justice for all, especially children, youth and women, as an activist. In school, I participated in advocating for child rights, and then I studied to become a lawyer.

In 2010, I was chosen by UNICEF to speak at the first-ever African Youth Forum in Kampala, Uganda. This was another milestone in my life, as it marked the beginning of my career at UNICEF Uganda as a Youth Participation and Engagement Consultant.

In my current position, I am involved in the training of youth leaders from all over the country in children’s rights. I also train and recruit youth to participate in U-report, an SMS-based social monitoring platform – now with over 120,000 users – where they can engage in dialogue on creating positive change in their communities.

A changing world

Since the Special Session, not only has my life changed but the world has as well. Today, we see a world where more governments consult children on the issues that concern them. Children’s voices are represented and respected more than ever before, with many more children’s parliaments around the globe, as well as student councils and school clubs that promote the children’s rights to participate and express their views.

However, there are still many challenges in my country and the rest of the developing world. Chronic poverty, poor quality education, lack of basic health services and high levels of unemployment are among the biggest obstacles to improving the lives of Ugandan children today.

But despite these problems, if we unite together and continue to advocate for children’s rights, I know we can make a difference and create a ‘World Fit for Children’.




Caroline Barebwoha was among the hundreds of children who participated in the historic UN Special Session dedicated to children 10 years ago. Now, an advocate for children's rights with UNICEF, she discusses how the experience transformed her life.
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