The Secretary-General Address at the Opening of the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children
May 22, 2002
New York, 8 May 2002 - Distinguished Heads of State and Government, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, This is not just a Special Session on children. It is a gathering about the future of humanity. We are meeting here because there is no issue more unifying, more urgent or more universal than the welfare of our children. There is no issue more important.
None of us - not in the United Nations, not in Government, not in civil society, and certainly not the children in this room today - needs convincing that this Session must be truly special. And it will be special in at least one way: it will be the first time that children themselves will speak at such an event. I urge all the adults here to listen to them attentively. To work for a world fit for children, we must work with children. I would therefore like to address my words to them -- the children of the world.
I would like to tell you that, wherever you may live, you have the right to grow up free of poverty and hunger. You have the right to a quality education, whether you are a girl or a boy.
You have a right to be protected from infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS.
You have a right to grow up on a clean and healthy planet, with access to safe drinking water.
You have a right to live a safe life from the threat of war, abuse and exploitation.
These rights are obvious. Yet we, the grown-ups, have failed you deplorably in upholding many of them. One in three of you has suffered from malnutrition before you turned five years old. One in four of you has not been immunized against any disease. Almost one in five of you is not attending school. Of those of you who do go to school, four out of five will never reach the fifth year of classes.
So far, many of you have seen violence that no child should ever see. All of you live under the threat of environmental degradation.
We, the grown-ups, must reverse this list of failures. And we are pledged to do so. The very rights I described for you are part of the promises made in the Millennium Declaration -- a list of pledges agreed by all the leaders of the world. They promised that, by the year 2015, we will have cut by half the number of people living on less than one dollar a day. They promised that by the same year, all boys and girls of primary school age will be in school. They promised that the spread of AIDS will have been halted. They promised to work to prevent war and to protect the resources of our planet.
This gathering of the General Assembly is a reminder that these were promises made to you, the next generation.
That means a child born in the year 2000 has a right to expect to see a very different world by the time he or she is 15 years old. It means all of you have a right to see a better world in your lifetime. That better world can be built only by investing in you, the children of the world.
People may say this cannot be done.
But look at what was achieved before in the space of just 15 years.
A child born in 1954 came into a world that had never even sent a satellite into space. In the year that child turned 15, a man landed on the moon. A child born in 1964 came into a world where tens of millions of people were infected with smallpox. In the year that child turned 15, smallpox had been officially eradicated.
A child born in 1976 came into the world in one of the darkest and most brutal years of South Africa's apartheid rule. By the time that child was 15, Nelson Mandela -- who is here with us this morning -- had been released and the end of apartheid was in sight. We are delighted that today, 10 years later, Madiba is with us at this Special Session, and still working harder than anyone to give children a better future.
Finally, a child born in 1982 came into a world where there were no attempts to restrict the landmines that were being laid, from Angola to Afghanistan, which would kill and maim thousands of children. In the year that child turned 15, a treaty was signed that would ban the use of these abominable weapons.
What did these events signify? Why did these events come into being and what do they have in common? They were achieved because people had the commitment to use their minds and their hearts to work together and reach the goals they had set themselves.
If they could accomplish all these things within the span of one childhood, how can we fail to do the same with the pledges that have been agreed by all countries of the world? 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?
To the adults in this room, I would say: let us not make children pay for our failures any more. Who among us has not looked into the eyes of a disappointed child, and been humbled? The children in this room are witnesses to our words. They and their peers in every land have a right to expect us to turn our words into action -- and I repeat, they expect us to turn our words into action -- and to build a world fit for children.
Thank you very much.
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