A step forward
The Session finally agreed on twenty-one goals to improve the lives of children worldwide. These include reducing infant mortality and malnutrition; developing early childhood development programmes and health care systems; improving the quality of education and increasing the number of children in school; protecting children from abuse, neglect, exploitation, violence, armed conflict, forced displacement and sexual exploitation; eliminating the worst forms of child labour; implementing measures to reduce HIV/AIDS and to support orphans and children infected and affected by the virus.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are rather disappointed with some of the compromises made by governments to reach agreement on the heavily debated document. References to the Convention on the Rights of the Child have been considerably watered down compared to previous proposals. Governments also agreed to make only weak references to sexual and reproductive rights, without explicitly referring to the rights of adolescents to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health education, information and services. Other paragraphs which were dropped referred to the right to protection and humanitarian assistance for children affected by armed conflict.
UNICEF Dir. Carol Bellamy and Rigoberta Menchu at the "Change the World with Children" concert - Photo: SOS Archives
A step forward
The Special Session constituted a step forward for child rights: the agreed goals place a strong emphasis on protecting children from abuse, violence and exploitation -issues that were virtually ignored in 1990.
The Session enabled children and young people to voice their concerns and gave them an opportunity to bring their issues to the attention of world leaders. "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," states the message from the Children's Forum delivered to the UN General Assembly Special Session on Children by two child delegates.
In addition, more than 1,000 NGOs from around the world - including SOS Children's Villages - met in the framework of the Session to discuss and network at a number of events. Their contribution and impact for child well-being and the progress of children's rights cannot be denied.
The major challenge now lies ahead: the follow-up and monitoring of the Session's outcome document will be translated into national plans of action, taking into consideration the different social, cultural and economic realities. NGOs will play an important role in working with governments to develop these plans, and to support their pledges in favour of children. These policies need to involve the children themselves. As the child delegates in the Children's Forum stated: "We are not the source of the problems, we are the resources that are needed to solve them. We are people and citizens of this world."
The delegates of SOS Children's Villages are highly motivated to continue their work on behalf of children, to broaden collaboration on all levels and to take a lead role in the follow-up process. Mamady Kanté, national director of SOS Children's Villages Guinea and member of the governmental delegation in his country, states: "In times of globalisation, collaboration is important. As Hermann Gmeiner said: 'The day on which we can say with full conviction that all the children of this world are our children will be the beginning of peace on Earth.' Therefore, to join forces in elaborating action plans is an integral part of life in our SOS Children's Villages."