Annan says world leaders have failed children

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan told world leaders on Wednesday that they had failed deplorably to meet promises made 12 years ago to improve the lot of children.

Opening a three-day special session of the General Assembly, he noted that one-third of the world’s children had suffered malnutrition before the age of five; a quarter had not been immunised against disease and almost a fifth were not in school.

”We, the grown-ups, must reverse this list of failures,” Annan said in a speech addressed principally to the dozens of child delegates sitting in the Assembly chamber alongside 70 heads of state and government and other senior officials.

The conference was called to assess progress made since the first UN Children’s Summit, held in 1990, which set targets for reducing child poverty, disease and illiteracy.

”We, the grown-ups, have failed you deplorably in upholding many of them,” Annan said.

After Annan, two girl delegates – Audrey Cheynut (17) from Monaco, and Gabriela Azurdy Arrieta (13) from Bolivia – addressed the Assembly. Annan noted that children had never before spoken at such a conference.

Cheynut and Arrieta were chosen by about 300 children who ended a three-day meeting in New York on Tuesday and addressed the Assembly along with 48 heads of state or government, 24 crown princes, vice-presidents or deputy prime ministers and 92 ministers.

Three other children ?-who had lived through wars in Bosnia, East Timor and Liberia – took part in a public Security Council debate on Tuesday on children in armed conflict, together with the director of UNICEF, Carol Bellamy.

The previous world summit set out specific goals on health, education and poverty reduction for improving the lives of children, but was less directly concerned with the impact of warfare on them.

Graça Machel, former first lady of Mozambique and wife of Nelson Mandela, told council members that ”children in up to 85 countries continue to live with the reality of abduction and forced recruitment into military groups”.

Recently, the council has begun to address the problem, through a series of general resolutions and on a case-by-case basis. But its actions have had only a limited impact, Machel said.

”Even as we meet today, the might of the international community seems unable to stop the criminal situation where tens of thousands of children from northern Uganda have been abducted and forced into military and sexual slavery over a period of more than a decade,” she said.

”Monitoring of the implementation of Security Council resolutions on children in armed conflict must be strengthened. Use your power to promote new measures, to admonish those who break international law or fail to carry out your initiatives.”

Another problem that has come centre-stage since the 1990 summit is the sexual and commercial exploitation of children. A Roman Catholic activist group, Catholics for a Free Choice, said it would launch a campaign this week calling on the UN to intervene against the abuses of children by priests.

Originally set for September 2001 but postponed after the terrorist attacks that toppled New York’s World Trade Centre, the session now falls between the UN conference on financing for development, held in Monterrey, Mexico, in March, and one on sustainable development that opens in Johannesburg on August 26.

A study prepared by Unicef for the special session said the pandemic of HIV/Aids and the poverty associated with it is hitting children with a force that no one foresaw. In Africa, in particular, it has already undone the achievements in social development of the last half century.

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Victoria Brittain
Victoria Brittain works from Manchester/London/Cambridge. Theatre/Film Company. Territory, The Meeting, The Proposal, Wrecked, Terminal. Watch Territory here Victoria Brittain & @_ReubenJohnson Victoria Brittain has over 512 followers on Twitter.
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