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Seeking ‘A World Fit for Children’

Sheila Calder

While the United Nations Special Session on Children last week in New York City should have been an easy meeting with the best interests of children in mind, it was clouded by disagreements between countries over controversial issues.

The United States and the European Union (EU) were at odds over the issues of reproductive health care services, children’s rights and the language of the “Outcome Document.” This document should serve as the mission statement for the session.

One controversy was over the wording, “reproductive health care services can, of course, include abortion.”

The United States was insisting that abortion could not be included in the document as a child’s right. At a U.S. briefing during the session, U.S. legal advisor Mike Dennis was asked why the United States would not sign onto the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He said the document was substandard to the laws of the United States, and the United States would not sign on until it met those same high standards. He said the United States would make no excuses for itself.

Jackie Sanders, from the U.S. State Department, said the United States position is “the ABCs,” that being abstinence first, faith-based behavioral change second and condom use third.

Poland and the group called “Some Developing Countries” supported the U.S. position. All argued that the health needs of adolescent girls would best be served through standard health care programs, including primary health care.

Another issue of disagreement was child’s rights.

Ambassador Hanns Schumacher of Germany, the sole coordinator for the negotiations, presented text for the “Outcome Document” stating that the Convention should “set international legal standards for the promotion and protection of the rights of children.”

The United States argued that the “well-being” of children could be achieved by means other than child rights.

Child rights in many cases displace parental rights. Negotiations on the document also included language on how to refer to the family and whether to include a strong endorsement of marriage.

One huge atrocity against children being discussed in the General Assembly was that of child labor. Over 180 million children under the age of 18 are engaged in the “worst forms” of child labor.

“Despite the increasing commitment by governments and their partners to tackle child labor worldwide, it remains a problem on a massive scale,” said Juan Somavia, director-general of the International Labor Organization. The ILO’s Convention 182 defines the worst forms of child labor as slavery, debt bondage, prostitution, pornography, the employment of children in drug trafficking and other illegal work, as well as “all other work harmful or hazardous to the health, safety or morals of children.”

In small caucus meetings over the three-day period, these issues were addressed on a more intimate level with nongovernmental organizations and delegates from countries.

One such meeting addressed the need for strengthening the family and supporting mothers as one of several solutions to the children’s issues. Another meeting was advocating health services and abortion as the only solution, stating that “abstinence was laughable and that these issues are no longer moral ones.”

Another caucus meeting presented the issue of children without parents.

There are over 13 million orphans in sub-Saharan Africa because of the HIV/AIDs epidemic. Orphanages are struggling to accommodate the children and very few have the opportunity to attend school, even though $3 will send one child to school for a year.

Some humanitarian projects were presented as ways for everyday Americans to get involved and help. Simple educational kits are being assembled, books are being gathered and money is being spent, all with the intent of supporting orphans and relieving suffering.

Although the controversy was heated and the problems overwhelming, the United Nations General Assembly was able to adopt the outcome article, titled “A World Fit for Children,” late Friday night.

Delegates were able to overcome their differences and come to a resolution of the article. Hopefully these new goals will establish a better world for the world’s children.

Sheila Calder is a former Glenwood Springs resident who attended the U.N. Special Session on Children last week. She and her family now live in Alpine, Utah.


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