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The Challenge of Creatin

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18In May 2002, for the first time in its history, the UnitedNations convened a special session of the General Assemblydedicated entirely to children. Attended by nearly 180 coun-try delegations, including over 60 heads of state, approxi-mately 1,700 NGO representatives from over 100 countries, andseveral hundred youth delegates, the UN Special Session onChildren (Special Session) provided governments the oppor-tunity to assess their countries’ progress on issues affecting chil-dren since the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rightsof the Child (CRC) in 1989 and the 1990 World Summit forChildren (World Summit). The Special Session also offeredstates the opportunity to reaffirm their commitment to improv-ing the well-being of all children. Despite progress since theWorld Summit in a number of areas, the Special Session rein-forced that a significant amount of work remains. The SpecialSession culminated with the production of a final outcome doc-ument entitled “A World Fit for Children,” establishing aplan of action and specific goals for improving children’slives in four priority areas: promoting healthy lives; providingquality education for all; protecting children against abuse,exploitation, and violence; and combating HIV/AIDS. Priority Areas for Children Healthcare remains an essential element in the survival anddevelopment of children, particularly in the early years oflife. Since the World Summit, which established a uniform planof action focused primarily on healthcare and basic educationfor children, over 100 countries have reduced their under-fivemortality rate by one-fifth, and 63 of these countries achievedthe World Summit goal of a one-third reduction. As a result,the lives of three million children are saved each year. Still, eachyear over ten million children die before the age of five,largely due to preventable causes. An additional 150 millionchildren suffer from malnutrition. In 2000, malnutrition wasassociated with 60 percent of all childhood deaths. Such fig-ures highlight the continued importance of improving chil-dren’s access to healthcare.While the CRC has recognized “the right of the child to edu-cation” and the World Summit set the goal of universal accessto basic education, reality has fallen short, as approximately120 million out of 700 million children of primary school ageremain out of school. Such lack of access to education height-ens the vulnerability of these children. Not only do thesechildren miss opportunities that can arise through educa-tion, but they are also at much greater risk of exploitationthrough child labor, forced prostitution, and involvement inarmed conflict.Abuse and exploitation of, and violence against, childrencontinue to be enormous problems, as children are particu-larly vulnerable to human rights violations. Political obstacles,such as not having the right to vote, as well as developmentalissues not only make children more susceptible to exploitation,but also leave them less capable of drawing attention to vio-lations of their rights once they occur. As a result, children areat great risk of becoming victims of violence and exploitation,whether as targets of trafficking for purposes of sexual exploita-tion or child labor; as victims of armed conflict, often eitherforced into fighting at a young age or caught in a war they didnot start; or as refugees fleeing their homes in hopes of a saferplace to live and survive. Today, for example, over one millionchildren enter the global sex trade industry each year, withincreasingly younger children, many under the age of 10,drawn into the sex trade. Further, an estimated 250 millionchildren between the ages of 5 and 14 work for a living, nearlyhalf of them full time. In the past decade, approximately 2 mil-lion children have died as a direct result of armed conflict, and20 million children remain displaced as a result of armed con-flict and human rights violations. Such victimization andexploitation of children are among the most tragic examplesof human rights violations today. Finally, the priorities of the Special Session and its outcomedocument reflect the reality that the HIV/AIDS epidemic issuch cause for concern that it must be recognized as its ownpriority area and not just one of the many issues under therubric of healthcare. By 2000, over 10 million young peoplewere infected. According to UN estimates, 500,000 childrenunder the age of 15 died of AIDS in 2000, while another600,000 of the same age were newly infected with HIV. In addi-tion, the HIV/AIDS crisis has led to numerous other problems,ranging from the growing number of orphans due to AIDS (in2000, an estimated 2.3 million children lost their mothers orboth parents to AIDS), who are often increasingly vulnerableto various forms of exploitation, to the global sex trade indus-try’s demand for younger and younger children as a result ofthe often mistaken belief that younger children are less likelyto be infected.The Outcome Document of the Special SessionAlthough the Special Session was the first such session ofthe UN General Assembly dedicated entirely to children, thedevelopment of international standards on the rights of thechild dates back to the early part of the 20th Century with theadoption of International Labor Organization conventions onchild labor and the prevention of trafficking, as well as otherbroader declarations, such as the Declaration of the Rights ofthe Child by the League of Nations in 1924. Since then, theinternational community has promulgated numerous decla-rations and conventions reflecting its vision of a better worldfor children, the most recent of which is the Special Session’sThe Challenge of Creating “A World Fit for Children”by Jonathan Todres*Accompanied by performers and Nobel Peace Prize laureateRigoberta Menchu, UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamyaddresses the audience at the close of the gala concert at theSpecial Session.Credit: UNICEF/HQ02-0185/Paula Bronsteincontinued on next page19outcome document. The outcome document offers a focusedset of goals on which governments can concentrate for the nextdecade in order to alleviate the suffering of millions of chil-dren, and also proposes methods for mobilizing resources toachieve these goals. Unlike the CRC, the final outcome document is not alegally binding document; however, it remains very importantin the global effort to improve the lives of children around theworld. The role over the past decade of the

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