UN General Assembly opens landmark session on children
Bringing together some 60 heads of State and government and close to 6,000 participants – including children – the United Nations General Assembly today opened a special session that for the first time in the history of the UN’s main legislative and deliberative body is formally devoted to the situation of young people under the age of 18.
The three-day meeting at UN Headquarters in New York, which is reviewing progress made for children since the landmark 1990 World Summit for Children, marked the first time that young people presented their case directly to the Assembly.
“We are children whose voices are not being heard: it is time we are taken into account,” 13-year old Gabriela Azurduy Arrieta of Bolivia told participants. “We want a world fit for children, because a world fit for us is a world fit for everyone.”
Audrey Chenyut, 17, from Monaco emphasized that children were the engine for development “We are not the sources of problems; we are the resources that are needed to solve them,” she said. “We are not expenses; we are investments.”
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan hailed the participation of these and other young people in the special session, which is being attended by delegates from 180 countries – including nearly 400 children – and another 3,000 representatives from non-governmental organizations. “The children in this room are witnesses to our words,” he said. “They and their peers in every land have a right to expect us to turn our words into action: to build a world fit for children.”
The Secretary-General recounted a list of successes – such as the moon landing, the eradication of smallpox and the end of apartheid, which were all accomplished within recent memory. “How can we fail to do the same with the pledges that have been agreed by all the countries of the world?” he asked, referring to the goals set out in the UN Millennium Declaration adopted in 2000. “Especially as we know from experience that for every dollar invested in the development of a child, there is a seven-dollar return for all society?”
Assembly President Han Seung-soo of the Republic of Korea agreed on the need for action to reach international targets. “We must be serious and open about the challenges that remain – about the unfinished business of the last decade,” he said. “Unless we are inventive, creative and adaptable, we will be unable to respond to the issues that have emerged since 1990 or to the challenges and opportunities that may face us in the future.”
Ambassador Patricia Durrant of Jamaica, who chaired the session’s preparatory committee, reported on the proposed outcome document, entitled “A World Fit for Children.” The text contains a political declaration to mobilize support for a global movement that would help build a world fit for children. It also comprises a review of progress achieved so far, as well as an action plan which aims to provide all children with access to basic education, the best possible start in life, and ample opportunity to develop their individual capacities, she said.
Some two dozen heads of State and government, as well as numerous high-level ministers, also addressed the session today, describing their national efforts on behalf of young people and advocating global action to advance children’s rights. Reviewing progress made over the past decade, many cited sobering statistics and argued that much remains to be done to meet international goals for children’s well-being.