Remarks by Mr. Kul C. Gautam
Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
At the Third Committee
57th Session of the UN General Assembly
New York, 11 October 2002
Mr. Chairman, distinguished delegates,
I am pleased to be here, on behalf of UNICEF, to address the Third Committee under these important items of the agenda-on the rights of the child and follow-up to the Special Session on Children.
It is a particular privilege to see you at the Chair of this Committee deliberating on these specific agenda items. I recall with great nostalgia and appreciation the strong leadership and facilitation you provided in the often exciting, sometimes exasperating, but always productive negotiations of the outcome document of the Special Session on Children.
The children of the world are indebted to you, Mr. Chairman, and to so many delegates here in this room for your contribution to drafting this masterful document: A World Fit for Children.
Let me also acknowledge how happy I am to see my friends Jaap Doek, Chairman of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict. They both provide tremendous leadership on different aspects of child rights. We at UNICEF are most grateful for their contribution in our common cause of building a better world for children.
As I am sure Jaap Doek will discuss the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child at some length, and Olara Otunnu will surely dwell on the particular plight of children affected by armed conflict, I would like to focus my remarks mostly on the follow-up to the General Assembly’s Special Session on Children.
1. Special Session on Children
I am sure all of us recall vividly the extraordinary gathering of world leaders and child rights activists in these great halls of the United Nations, just five months ago. The Special Session on Children reminded us that the great problems of our times – ranging from poverty and underdevelopment, to war and violence, discrimination and injustice, violation of human rights to degradation of the environment, cannot be solved effectively until the world places the needs and rights of children at the very centre of national development policies and international cooperation.
If the world is to have any chance of achieving the Millennium Development Goals and build the foundations for sustainable development, children should not just be part of the development agenda, they must be at the heart of all our efforts – for peace and security, growth and development, human rights and social justice.
This was the message that came out loud and clear at the Special Session on Children. This came out clearly in the statements by heads of delegation, in the outcome of the round tables, in the commitments by various constituency groups ranging from religious leaders to NGO activists, from parlimentarians to pediatricians, from Bill Gates to Nelson Mandela, and most impressively from children and young people themselves who attended every aspect of the Special Session and made their mark in the most memorable manner.
2. A World Fit for Children
The outcome document adopted by the Special Session, “A World Fit for Children”, seeks to create a child-friendly world by putting children’s “physical, social, emotional, and spiritual development” at the forefront of national and global priorities.
Governments have agreed to work with their partners to prepare specific action plans by the end of 2003 to reduce poverty, to promote healthy lives, to provide basic education, to protect against abuse, exploitation and violence, and to combat HIV/AIDS.
I am happy to report to you that already several countries in the Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean regions have prepared National Programmes of Action to implement the goals and strategies agreed at the Special Session. It is also encouraging to see many countries in other regions working towards developing a variety of follow-up plans.
In this spirit, UNICEF would like to encourage all governments to accelerate preparation of follow-up plans in their countries using whatever are the most appropriate instruments available, be they national plans of action, PRSPs or other integrated development programmes, in which to incorporate the specific goals, targets and strategies laid out in the World Fit for Children. We hope that this will be done in all countries well before the end of 2003 as stipulated in the WFFC Plan of Action.Each government has the primary responsibility to implement the WFFC, and the whole of the United Nations system is expected to provide appropriate assistance. As part of its responsibility, as the world’s lead agency for children, UNICEF is committed to play its part in helping implement, monitor and report on the follow-up to the Special Session.
Accordingly, we have provided some specific guidance to UNICEF country offices and national committees. We are also preparing a guidance note for Member States and others which we would be in a position to share with you shortly.
In developing countries, UNICEF will seek to make a major contribution to the implementation of the WFFC goals and targets through country programmes of co-operation, based around the five priorities of our Medium Term Strategic Plan.
These five priorities are: 1) integrated early childhood development including health, nutrition, water and sanitation, psychosocial care, early learning, and child protection; 2) immunization “plus”; 3) girls’ education; 4) protection of children from violence, exploitation, abuse and discrimination; and 5) fighting HIV/AIDS.
In all our activities, we will strive to ensure a close linkage with the principles and framework of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For this we will continue to work in close collaboration with the Committee on the Rights of the Child. And we will be guided by the omnibus resolution on child rights that this Committee will adopt at this session.
Furthermore, we will look to donors and members of the international community to provide strategic support to address the situation of children in the least developed and low income countries and in countries in transition. For example, UNICEF, with its partners, is working to ensure that countries in sub-Saharan Africa give high priority to investment in children as part of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). We would hope that Africa’s development partners will reinforce this in their own support to NEPAD.
3. Millennium Development Goals
The goals, targets and strategies of the World Fit for Children need to be pursued in the broader context of the Millennium Development Goals and the Millennium Declaration. As you know, most of the MDGs are identical to WFFC goals, and their achievement will be vital for poverty reduction and sustainable development, which in turn must start with investment in children.
While many of the MDGs and WFFC goals are for 2015 or 2010, there are some with earlier deadlines. Polio eradication and the elimination of gender disparity in basic education are two such goals with a 2005 deadline. If we fail to achieve or make substantial progress in these goals, the credibility of the MDGs and the WFFC will be put in doubt.
Similarly, some of the MDGs have extremely ambitious targets, such as reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds and reducing maternal mortality by three-fourths by 2015. Based on historical evidence, these ambitious goals are unlikely to be achieved if we do not build a strong foundation for them in the next few years by achieving the more modest goals of the World Fit for Children. Hence there is a need for a sense of urgency in completing plans for the implementation of WFFC.
4. HIV/AIDS and Children in Armed Conflict
In most of the poorest countries of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, none of the MDGs or WFFC goals will be achieved or sustained unless the pandemic of HIV/AIDS is tackled on a war footing. While we need to wage a war on HIV/AIDS, elsewhere we need to urgently implement cease fires to protect children from the ravages of other man-made wars and conflicts. Protecting children from HIV/AIDS and armed conflicts would be the best defensive shields we could provide for the achievement of the millennium goals and protection of child rights in the coming decade.
We have before us the urgent and the noble task of creating a “World Fit For Children”. In order to keep progress on track, we ask that this item be a regular feature in the General Assembly’s organization of work in future years.
You can count on UNICEF, in full collaboration with our sister agencies and other development partners, to assist the Secretary-General in preparing periodic progress reports on the follow-up to the Special Session on Children and on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights and its Optional Protocols, so that this Committee and the General Assembly will have a sold basis for guiding our work to create a world truly fit for children.Thank you