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May 14, 2002

"Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet." —French proverb


Last week I had the good fortune to attend the United Nations Special Session on Children. This was a follow-up of the 1990 World Summit for Children and provided world leaders an opportunity to review what had been achieved for children, and what had not, since the summit. In actuality, it was three events rolled into one: at one level, over 70 Heads of State presented their views on the status of children (along with a fair amount of unrelated political rhetoric); at another, over 3,000 delegates from non governmental organizations (NGO's) presented and debated a plethora of topics from AIDS to indicators of quality; and finally, over 400 young people from 100 nations exchanged their views with each other and with the adult leaders.

In coming weeks I will share some of the perspectives that came out of the Special Session. I will start off today by sharing below the message to world leaders crafted by the 400 participating children. The statement was presented by Gabriela Azurduy Arrieta (age 13) from Bolivia and Audrey Cheynut (age 17) from Monaco. [Note: This was the first time children had ever addressed the UN General Assembly.]

A World Fit for Us

We are the world's children.
We are the victims of exploitation and abuse.
We are street children.
We are children of war.
We are victims and orphans of HIV/AIDS.
We are denied good-quality education and health care.
We are victims of political, economic, cultural, religious and environmental discrimination.
We are children whose voices are not being heard: it is time we are taken into account.

We want a world fit for children, because a world fit for us is a world fit for everyone.

In this world,

We see respect for the rights of the child:
* governments and adults having a real and effective commitment to the principle of children's rights and applying the Convention on the Rights of the Child to all children;
* safe, secure and healthy environments for children in families, communities, and nations.

We see an end to exploitation, abuse and violence:
* laws that protect children from exploitation and abuse being implemented and respected by all;
* centres and programmes that help to rebuild the lives of victimized children.

We see an end to war:
* world leaders resolving conflict through peaceful dialogue instead of by using force;
* child refugees and child victims of war protected in every way and having the same opportunities as all other children;
* disarmarment, elimination of the arms trade and an end to the use of child soldiers.

We see the provision of health care:
* affordable and accessible life-saving drugs and treatment for all children;
* strong and accountable partnerships established among all to promote better health for children.

We see the eradication of HIV/AIDS:
* educational systems that include HIV prevention programmes;
* free testing and counseling centres;
* information about HIV/AIDS freely available to the public;
* orphans of AIDS and children living with HIV/AIDS cared for and enjoying the same opportunities as all other children.

We see the protection of the environment:
* conservation and rescue of our natural resources;
* awareness of the need to live in environments that are healthy and favourable to our development;
* accessible surroundings for children with special needs.

We see an end to the vicious cycle of poverty:
* anti-poverty committees that bring about transparency in expenditure and give attention to the needs of children;
* cancellation of the debt that impedes progress for children.

We see the provision of education:
* equal opportunities and access to quality education that is free and compulsory;
* school environments in which children feel happy about learning;
* education for life that goes beyond the academic and includes lessons in understanding, human rights, peace, acceptance and active citizenship.

We see the active participation of children:
* raised awareness and respect among people of all ages about every child's right to full and meaningfull participation, in the spirit of the Convention of the Rights of the Child;
* children actively involved in decision-making at all levels and in planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating all matters affecting the rights of the child.

We pledge an equal partnership in this fight for children's rights. And while we promise to support the actions you take on behalf of children, we also ask for your commitment and support in the actions we are taking -- because the children of the world are misunderstood.

We are not the sources of the problems; we are the resources that are needed to solve them.
We are not expenses; we are investments.
We are not just young people; we are people and citizens of the world.

Until others accept their responsibility to us, we will fight for our rights.
We have the will, the knowledge, the sensitivity and the dedication.
We promise that as adults we will defend children's rights with the same passion that we have now as children.
We promise to treat each other with dignity and respect. We promise to be open and sensitive to our differences.

We are the children of the world, and despite our different backgrounds, we share a common reality.
We are united by our struggle to make the world a better place for all.
You call us the future, but we are also the present.

For information about the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which also served as the unifying theme of the 2002 World Forum in Auckland, New Zealand, go the the UNICEF website at www.unicef.org.


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