English | Français | Español |||
United Nations Special Session on Children Go to UNICEF homepageGo to UN homepage
Photo: Kurdish girl. Iraq, 1997. Copyright Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas
Photo: Kurdish girl. Iraq, 1997. Copyright Sebastiao Salgado/Amazonas

This page is background information, last updated in May 2002 and still available for reference. For the latest on the Special Session on Children, please go to the Special Session index.

About the Special Session | Secretary-General's report | Convention on the Rights of the Child | World Summit for Children | Follow-up actions | Monitoring progress | End-decade review results | Global Movement for Children



End-decade Review: Results

An extensive review process has taken place at national and regional levels to assess progress and setbacks in implementation of the World Summit for Children Declaration and Plan of Action. And in response to a request by the General Assembly, the Secretary-General has prepared a report on the implementation of the 1990 Declaration and Plan of Action.

The number and high quality of the reports are encouraging indicators of the commitment of Member States and members of the United Nations system to the continued implementation of the Summit Plan of Action, and ensure the successful outcome of the special session on children.

The picture that emerges is one of mixed results. There has been real and significant progress in a number of areas. But there have also been setbacks, and in some cases, the setbacks have been serious enough to threaten earlier gains.

Clear progress
  • Since the Summit, some 155 countries have adopted National Programmes of Action to move the agenda for children forward.
  • Some 63 countries have achieved the targeted one-third reduction in mortality among children under the age of five; while over 100 others have cut it by one fifth;
  • Deaths of young children from diarrhoeal diseases were reduced by 50% over the decade, saving as many as a million young lives;
  • High and sustained levels of child immunization in most regions of the world have also continued to save millions of children;
  • Polio is on the brink of eradication, with a 99 per cent reduction in the number of reported cases in the world compared to a decade ago;
  • Worldwide, there are more children in school than ever before - and one result has been a rise in the adult literacy rate, from 75 per cent in 1990 to 79 per cent in 2000;
  • And there has been dramatic progress in preventing iodine deficiency disorders, the world's major cause of mental retardation, against which 90 million newborn children are now protected every year.

Moreover, thanks to the heightened awareness of child rights stirred by the Convention on the Rights of the Child - which has been almost universally ratified - egregious violations of children's rights are being more systematically exposed, and action is being taken to overcome them. NGOs and the mass media are also playing an increasingly active role in drawing public attention to the need for children to be protected.

Clearly, children now have a much higher profile on the national and global political agendas. The Security Council itself has taken up children's issues, particularly that of children and armed conflict.

Ongoing problems

Yet much more needs to be done.

  • Over 10 million children still die each year, often from readily preventable causes;
  • An estimated 150 million suffer from malnutrition;
  • Over 100 million children are still not in school, and 60 per cent of them are girls;
  • Conflicts killed 2 million children in the past decade and left many other millions disabled and psychologically traumatized;
  • Over 10,000 children are killed or maimed by mines every year;
  • Of some 35 million internally displaced persons and refugees worldwide, about 80 per cent are children and women;
  • Children are also the victims of abuse, neglect and exploitation in rising numbers. For example, the trafficking of children, as well as women, for sexual exploitation, has reached alarming levels. An estimated 30 million children are now victimized by traffickers, who almost invariably go unpunished;
  • 250 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are economically active, and some 50 to 60 million of them are engaged in intolerable forms of labour, according to the International Labour Organization;
  • And the scale of the HIV/AIDS epidemic - which exceeds the worst-case projections of 1990 - now threatens decades of gains in child survival and development, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. In the most affected countries, from half to more than two-thirds of the 15-years-olds alive today will eventually die of the disease. Already, AIDS has orphaned more than 13 million children, and that figure may reach 30 million before the end of the decade.
Regenerating political will

The Special Session on Children must aim at regenerating political will and commitment in order to address the remaining challenges and emerging issues affecting the well being of our children.

The needs and rights of children must be made a priority in all development efforts; every child must receive the best possible start in life and a quality basic education. Adolescents must be given every opportunity to develop their capacities and participate meaningfully in society.

Compared to what is spent on armaments and luxury consumer items, the resources needed to provide for the basic needs of children are modest and affordable. What is required is a decisive shift in national investments to favour the well being of children. Leaders at every level of government and civil society must exert the political will necessary to bring about that shift. And the Special Session is the time when they must show that they are doing so.

Priorities for action

Four priorities are being proposed for the new decade : promoting healthy lives; providing quality education; protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence; and combating HIV/AIDS and the risks it poses to children. These are indeed the most urgent priorities in addressing the needs of children.

And, of course, improving the well being of children also means a significant leap in human development as a whole. It is children who will shape the world's future, and it is through them that entrenched cycles of poverty, exclusion, intolerance and discrimination can be broken for succeeding generations.

The world has the knowledge, the resources and the strategies to act. It is no longer a question of what is possible, but of what is given priority. And there is no issue more important than the survival and harmonious development of our children.

(Source: Introduction of the report of the Secretary-General, "We the children," End-decade review of follow-up to the World Summit for Children, by Louise Fréchette, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.)

Special Session home

Background information:

Agenda & activities
Preparatory process
Information for NGOs
Child rights in action
How is your country doing?
What you can do
Press centre
Under-18 zone
Contact us
Official coverage (United Nations)