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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



The World Summit for Children

A little more than a decade ago, the largest group of world leaders ever convened at that time sat down at an immense circular table at the United Nations and discussed, in frank and impassioned terms, their responsibilities to children - and about the future.

As the high-level conversation at the World Summit for Children showed, no two subjects are more intertwined. And there was no more dramatic affirmation of the centrality of children to our common future than the Summit's adoption of a set of specific, time-bound goals to ensure the survival, protection and development of children in the 1990s.

Proclaiming that "there can be no task nobler than giving every child a better future" (see World Declaration on the Survival, Development and Protection of Children, para. 25), the 71 heads of State and Government and 88 other senior delegates promised to protect children and to diminish their suffering; to promote the fullest development of the human potential of every child; and to make them aware of their needs, their rights and their opportunities. "We do this", the leaders declared, "not only for the present generation, but for all generations to come" (see World Declaration, para. 25).

A better world for children

In adopting the World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children and Plan of Action for Implementing the Declaration (A/45/625, annex), world leaders promised something else of immense importance: that they would always put the best interests of children first - in good times and bad, whether in peace or in war, in prosperity or economic distress.

For those who were in New York in September 1990, the World Summit for Children was a transcendent experience. It was heightened by the fact that the Convention on the Rights of the Child (General Assembly resolution 44/25), adopted in 1989, had entered into force just weeks before, ratified more quickly and by more countries than any previous human rights instrument.

The dreams and aspirations of a better world for children were embodied in the Summit goals for child survival and development which, taken together, represented the clearest and most practical expression of much of what the Convention on the Rights of the Child is about.

Ambitious but feasible

The World Declaration and Plan of Action set out an ambitious but feasible agenda and specified that it be implemented by the year 2000. To this end, the Summit called for a series of actions at the national and international levels to support the achievement of 27 specific goals relating to children's survival, health, nutrition, education and protection.

The Summit agenda was influenced by resolutions endorsed by the World Health Assembly, the World Conference on Education for All and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Executive Board, as well as by policy statements by United Nations bodies, the Bretton Woods institutions and international non-governmental organizations. This broad ownership was to prove crucial in the follow-up process, as well as in the reaffirmation of the Summit goals by the other major Summits and Conferences of the 1990s.

Follow-up and monitoring

It is often said that in many United Nations conferences, goals are ever set but never met, and that commitments on paper are rarely translated into action on the ground.

In a decade spanned by a succession of United Nations development summits and conferences, the World Summit for Children stands out not only because it was the first major gathering but because its systematic follow-up procedures and rigorous monitoring have left an indelible imprint - and more than a decade later, the list of Summit follow-up actions continues to grow.

National action

These include the submission, by some 155 countries, of national programmes of action (NPAs) aimed at implementing the Summit goals; many have prepared subnational action plans as well. Over 100 countries have conducted monitoring surveys with the capacity-building support and active involvement of many United Nations agencies, multilateral and bilateral donors, universities, research institutions and NGOs.

Responding to the call of the Summit, a record 192 countries have now ratified or signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Moreover, the Secretary-General has reported periodically to the General Assembly on progress towards achieving the Summit goals, including a major mid-decade review in 1996. And each year since the Summit, UNICEF has prepared progress reports on the implementation of Summit goals and disseminated them through its flagship publications, The Progress of Nations and The State of the World's Children.

In 2000, a wide-ranging end-decade review process culminated in the preparation of substantive and comprehensive national progress reports by more than 130 countries. The breadth and quality of this follow-up response have greatly informed and enriched the SG's report on end-decade review, and made it possible to form objective assessments of the decade's achievements, its setbacks, and the lessons learned for the future.

(Source: Paragraphs 1-15, We the Children: End-decade review of the follow-up to the World Summit for Children. Report of the Secretary-General.)

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The world's goals for children 1990-2000

World leaders meeting at the 1990 World Summit for Children established 27 specific goals related to children's survival, health, nutrition, education and protection. The goals were to be met by the year 2000.

In May 2002, world leaders will convene at the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on Children to review the progress in meeting the goals and to agree on new goals for the next decade.

Find out how much progress has been made!.