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World leaders 'Say Yes' for children

From 8 to 10 May 2002, more than 7,000 people participated in the most important international conference on children in more than a decade, the Special Session of the UN General Assembly on Children, at which the nations of the world committed themselves to a series of goals to improve the situation of children and young people.

The Special Session was a landmark, the first such Session devoted exclusively to children and the first to include them as official delegates. It was convened to review progress since the World Summit for Children in 1990 and re-energize global commitment to children's rights.

About 70 Heads of State and/or Government, prime ministers or their deputies, together with many high-ranking government delegations came to New York to take part in the Session. Four governments had youth representatives address the General Assembly on behalf of their respective countries (the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Togo).

In addition, the Special Session benefited greatly from an extraordinary array of leaders from civil society, including non-governmental organizations, cultural, academic, business and religious groups, and eminent personalities such as Nelson Mandela and Bill Gates, Jr.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in his opening statement to the General Assembly, addressed the children of the world. "We, the grown-ups, have failed you deplorably…" he said, adding, "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…. We, the grown-ups, must reverse this list of failures."

Carol Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director, echoed her concern for the need to accelerate progress for children. "If we want to overcome poverty and the instability it breeds, we must start by investing in our young people," she said. "I implore national leaders to seriously examine their records on children. Are you getting all your children into the classroom? Are you protecting all your children against disease? Are they safe from abuse, exploitation and violence? Unfortunately, we already know the answers. We know we have work to do."

An impressive number of government representatives - 187 - took the floor during the plenary debate at the General Assembly. Leaders took stock of progress for children made since the 1990 World Summit for Children. And most concurred with the conclusions of the Secretary-General in his end-decade report, We the Children, which stated that much work had been accomplished but much still remained to do. Speakers said they saw the Special Session as a sign of hope and the outcome document as a pledge by the international community to act together to address pressing issues and build a world fit for children, supporting a new set of goals established by participants at the Special Session.