“We are the children whose voices are not being heard: it is time we are taken into account. We want a world fit for children, because a world fit for us is a world fit for everyone.”
“We are united in the struggle to make the world a better place for all. You call us the future, but we are also the present.”
These statements were part of the call for action by children five years ago at the Special Session on Children when the world community committed itself to the roadmap A World Fit for Children. Today, at this important crossroads five years beyond, which also coincides with the 18th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we have an excellent opportunity to take stock, and to reaffirm and strengthen our resolve to realise our commitments. The expectations and hopes of children, as expressed today, are rightly high. The international community, governments, the UN and international organisations, civil society and caregivers cannot fail to respond to their renewed call for action to meet the targets set for A World Fit for Children and the UN Millennium Development Goals. Failing to invest in children means failing to achieving development. While we are half way to 2015, we are much less than half way to achieving most of the MDGs.
There have indeed been significant improvements in terms of children’s survival, well-being and development worldwide – all of which are central to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A great deal has been achieved, important lessons have been learned and many good practices have been shared. There is reason for hope.
At the same time progress remains slow and uneven. Too many children worldwide are without birth registration and are subject to social exclusion, discrimination, violence and extreme forms of exploitation. Too many are denied access to quality health services and education. And rarely are children consulted and involved in decision-making concerning their lives.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides a common basis for our efforts. It has inspired governments worldwide to take legal, administrative and other measures to secure the rights of the child. Further efforts are needed to integrate children’s issues and concerns visibly and systematically into general programmes, policies and budgets as well as cross-cutting themes. It requires a rights based approach. Governments should follow up the call from the Committee on the Rights of the Child to incorporate the convention into national legislation on child protection. Norway did so shortly after the special session on children, in 2003. The convention became part of national law through the Human Rights Act, which states that the convention takes precedence over other national legislation in cases of conflict of laws.
As a direct result of A World fit for Children, Norway established a National Plan of Action to follow up selected goals relevant for children and young people in Norway. This was followed by the Government’s Development Strategy for Children and Young People in the South, with the aim of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. The strategy which is a guide for action covers health, education and challenges relating to protection, gender and a rights-based approach. Norway has long recognised the vital importance of education, not only as a right in itself, but as a means to improve health, protection, participation and gender equality Education also promotes the child’s possibility to realise his or her potential. Considerable support has been channelled through the UN system, particularly to UNICEF and UNESCO as well as the World Bank, and as bilateral aid. Has participated actively in the UN Girls’ Education Initiative. In 2008 Norway will host a high level international conference on education for all and focus on measures to include the many children without access to quality education
In the area of health, Norway is, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, helping to generate renewed international momentum and mobilise an effective international response through the Global Campaign for the Health MDGs, which are to reduce child mortality, improve women’s health and combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. The aim is to be more effective, better coordinated, invest more and ensure that we reach the poorest and weakest.
I would now like to highlight two thematic areas of special concern to Norway, namely the right to protection against abuse, exploitation and violence, and the right to participation.
The Norwegian Government aims to intensify the struggle to end all kinds of violence against children, both nationally and internationally. Children want a childhood free of violence. However, violence against children is still a reality in my country. One of the steps taken to deal with this problem in Norway is a new project for treating children subjected to violence in their family”, which will strengthen capacity and competence on medical and psycho-social treatment and rehabilitation, as well as increase the level of information dissemination and awareness-raising.
There is also significant improvement in the evidence base, and a recent research project has provided a broad statistical overview and analysis of children who have been subject to sexual, physical and domestic violence. In order to improve the services to these children, the Government recently established a new holistic treatment centre, a so-called “Children’s House”, which will carry out legal investigation, treatment and therapy under the same roof. Three more centres will be opened in 2008. We are also facing new challenges, such as violence against children on the internet. Trafficking in human beings is another recent challenge. Children who are victims of trafficking receive assistance in accordance with the National Plan of Action to combat trafficking. We are also working to solve the particular problems faced by refugee children and separated children seeking asylum in Norway.
At the international level, Norway has actively supported the groundbreaking UN study on violence, and we welcome the 3rd Committee’s endorsement of the proposal for the establishment of a Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General as a high level, fulltime and independent function that would coordinate efforts in close cooperation with UNICEF, WHO, OHCHR, ILO and others, as well as civil society.
Furthermore, the Strategic Review of the Machel Study on the impact of armed conflict on children, which is being undertaken to mark the study’s 10th anniversary, provides a special opportunity to advance the international agenda. Consolidated efforts on the part of multiple actors are needed to address the issues of universal implementation of international norms and ending impunity, caring for and protecting children in armed conflict, strengthening capacity, knowledge and partnerships and preventing conflict and building peace. For Norway these issues are an integral part of our overall efforts in the area of promoting peace, peace processes and peace building. Yet we are continuously striving to make sure that we adequately address the specific concerns of children and young persons and recognise them as a resource that can contribute to peace and development.
Child participation is probably the least implemented of the child rights worldwide. Child participation is both a central and a cross-cutting theme that deserves special attention at this meeting. We need to make systematic and better use of the knowledge at hand and develop capacities further on this issue. The participation of children according to their age and maturity and according to their evolving capacities is essential for improving children’s quality of life. On the one hand, the participation of children promotes commitment, responsibility and innovative thinking, and strengthens self-confidence among children. On the other hand, children bring in different ideas and attitudes, alternative analysis and new ways of identifying and solving problems, and can thus help us move forward in a more constructive manner in many issues, including environment and climate issues that also impact on them.
In Norway there is currently an increasing focus on child participation at several levels in research, policy and programme development. For example, government policy at the municipal level has led to the increased participation of very young children up to six years of age in day-care institutions. They are allowed to decide on the content of play, meals, clothing and activities to a far greater extent than before. In schools each grade has a student council, which may be consulted in various decision-making processes at the municipal level. This year the first parliamentary hearing for children took place, and several ministers, including the Prime Minster, had to answer critical questions and respond to suggestions and comments from a selected group of adolescents.
Norway also has an Ombudsman for Children. Since the inception of this independent function for child rights 25 years ago, and as the first of its kind in the world, the ombudsperson has continuously developed ways for children to be heard and to have access to child friendly protection and response mechanisms. The ombudsperson represents an independent voice on the behalf of children in matters that concern their well-being. We welcome the valuable input from the second international meeting on Independent Human Rights Institutions for Children convened yesterday.
It is up to us to ensure that this meeting will not be just another venue for repeating what we have said before, but that it will actually take the agenda of A World Fit for Children forward. We owe it to our children to put our words into action. Children and adolescents are not the source of the problems; they are part of the solution to the challenges facing humanity now and in the years to come.