Record number of youths to be delegates at upcoming UN session on children

Record number of youths to be delegates at upcoming UN session on children

Carol Bellamy
Marking the first time that a large number of young people will actively participate in deliberations at a major United Nations conference, over 100 children will serve as delegates at next month's landmark special session of the General Assembly, according to UN officials in New York.

"It may seem like common sense to invite young people to a conference completely dedicated to their well-being, but this is a radical change for such high-level meetings," said Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), which acts as the Secretariat for the three-day special session on children that opens on 19 September. "Children will literally be rubbing shoulders with presidents and prime ministers. They will have a chance to voice their concerns and influence the debate."

The children's attendance, along with the expected participation of more than 1,000 representatives from child-focused non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world, promises to broaden the meeting at UN Headquarters in New York far beyond the traditional core of official government representatives.

To date, 113 individuals under age 18 have registered to take part in the special session, 34 of them as members of government delegations and 79 as members of NGO delegations. Many more are expected to sign up in the coming weeks, forming an intriguing and youthful counterpoint to the more than 76 Heads of State or Government who have so far committed to attending. Several child delegates have already been selected by governments to formally address the General Assembly during the session, a truly historic breakthrough.

"Eleven years ago [at the 1990 World Summit for Children], children were given token treatment. But this summer in New York, we got to talk directly to top government representatives," said Vadim-Alexandru Pungulescu, a 17-year old from Romania, referring to his participation, along with 140 youth delegates, in a June preparatory meeting that laid the groundwork for the upcoming special session. "I still think children are not the priority they should be. In 10 years time, I won't be a child anymore, but I hope the world will be a better place in which adults will take decisions with children instead of for them."

The special session will be the first time the UN General Assembly has met to specifically address issues relating to children. It will explore the long-standing obstacles to children's well-being as well as newly emerging challenges. A key part of this process is a review of progress made since the World Summit for Children, where governments committed to specific and time-bound goals on child survival, protection and development.