Leaders address Assembly session on children as talks continue on action plan

Leaders address Assembly session on children as talks continue on action plan

The General Assembly's special session on children - a landmark review of progress since the 1990 World Summit on Children - entered its second day today with top-level debate in plenary meetings while negotiations continued on an action plan slated for adoption at the conclusion of the conference on Friday.

The General Assembly's special session on children - a landmark review of progress since the 1990 World Summit on Children - entered its second day today with top-level debate in plenary meetings while negotiations continued on an action plan slated for adoption at the conclusion of the conference on Friday.

Close to 70 speakers were scheduled to take part in the formal debate today, including 10 heads of State and government, who shared their national experiences and discussed international efforts to improve the well-being of the world's young people. The Assembly also heard from heads of several UN agencies directly involved with youth-related issues.

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), called the deaths of poor children "a blot on our conscience." She urged special attention to newborns, advocating "a combined approach to the mother and her baby." In addition, she called for specific focus on the needs of teenagers, who were making choices - about tobacco, diet and alcohol - which would have "massive implications" for their health.

James T. Morris, the Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), said 300 million of the world's children's were scarred by hunger. "What would you say to a hungry child?" he asked those present. "If I had to give a simple and honest answer… I would say: We - all of us adults - have failed you." While there was no single solution to the problem, WFP's global school feeding programme was one successful response. For just 19 US cents per day, the agency could "provide a meal in school that both helps end childhood hunger and promotes education," he said.

The special session opened on Monday, hearing statements by 24 heads of State or government, as well as 12 Vice-Presidents, Deputy Prime Ministers or Crown Princes, and numerous other high-level speakers. Two children, who had been selected by the Children's Forum held prior to the Assembly session, also addressed the plenary. A number of African leaders urged special attention to the continent's problems and their impact on children. Many underscored in particular the devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on Africa's young people.

There was a broad consensus among the speakers from different continents on the need for political will to implement programmes benefiting children, especially those involving access to health care, education and acceptable standards of living. Many participants decried the impact of poverty on children and advocated macroeconomic measures, such as debt relief and an end to trade barriers, as a means to achieve progress that would ultimately benefit the young.

Today, delegates continued to work in closed-door sessions to iron out remaining points of contention in a draft outcome document entitled, "A World Fit for Children."