May 10 2002
UN Special Session puts children at the forefront
10/05/2002 - Government leaders and heads of state, experts, NGOs and children are currently taking part in the "UN General Assembly Special Session on Children" in New York. SOS Children's Villages representatives form part of both governmental and NGO delegations. The Special Session reaffirms the will of the international community to put the rights of the child in the forefront.
SOS Children's Villages participation
As one enters the main UN building, it is impossible to miss the impressive, colourful display of hundreds of drawings from children all over the world, which express their views on child rights. Children from a number of SOS Children's Villages, SOS Kindergartens and SOS Hermann Gmeiner Schools are among the contributors mentioned.
The Special Session on Children is probably one of the liveliest UN conferences ever: children are participating in the official meetings at the highest level for the first time. Around 300 delegates under the age of 18 participated in a "Children's Forum", which preceded the Special Session. SOS-Kinderdorf International supported this initiative.
The children elected their own representatives, who are addressing the heads of state in the official session. A number of side-events also give the young speakers the opportunity to voice their views on issues affecting children, such as child labour, children in armed conflict, HIV/AIDS, violence against children, sexual exploitation, health and education.
SOS Children's Villages participation
Ali Mahdi, Director of SOS Children's Villages Sudan and chair of the Sudanese Movement on Children, addressed the governmental delegations on Wednesday and reported on the peace process in Sudan and the difficult situation of children in armed conflict. On Thursday, he was present when the Sudanese government signed the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, committing itself to banning the recruitment of children under the age of 18 in armed forces.
Dudu Dlamini, Director of a newly-opened SOS Children's Village in Swaziland, is attending the Special Session as part of her country's governmental delegation, as are SOS Children's Villages co-workers from Jordan, Morocco, Lebanon and Guinea. Ms Dlamini states that the variety of national reports presented in the official meeting is also placing new challenges on one's own work. A number of governments have highlighted the important contribution non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are making towards child well-being in their countries.
In the side-events, NGO delegates from SOS Children's Villages are participating in the sessions dealing with the issues which affect the children they work with. These include: children with parents, refugee and street children, children in armed conflict, early childhood education, children affected by violence, discussions concerning the health, education and protection of children. The delegation is also taking an active part in establishing collaboration with other NGOs, governments and UN agencies on regional and national level.
The Special Session has been overshadowed by the fact that the outcome document "A world fit for children", which was expected to be finalised by the beginning of the Session, still needs to be completed. The document contains 21 major goals and gives guidelines for future policies affecting children. Governments have not yet reached agreement on a number of paragraphs, which make reference to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the right to sexual and reproductive health, the right to humanitarian access in armed conflict and a clear monitoring process.
Once governments have reached agreement on the outcome document, a crucial step for implementing the promises made will depend on the elaboration of the national action plans of every country. The follow-up and monitoring of commitments made is an important topic at the Session. The SOS Children's Villages delegates agree that the organisation has to play a role in this process. Lavert Zungunde, Director of the SOS Children's Village Bindura in Zimbabwe and Chairman of the National Council for the Welfare of Children, says: "I feel we should strongly unite in advocacy to assure child-friendly programmes which respect the rights of children. These plans should involve all stakeholders in the community."