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United Nations Special Summit on Children

Wednesday, June 5, 2002


The 14-year-old girl from Gambia seemed to have none of the usual nerves when addressing a large room full of parliamentarians from over 100 countries, just a clear message to deliver. Chosen by young people attending the Special Session on Children - held at the United Nations from 8th - 10th May - she read out the "Children’s Forum Message". This was a group of young people from all over the world who had met and had put together their views for presentation to the parliamentarians.

In 1990 the United Nations held a World Summit on Children, bringing together more world leaders than ever before. The Summit produced an excellent set of proposals to improve the lives of children. At that time the children were there to show people to their seats - definitely seen but not heard. Twelve years later every effort had been made to ensure they were seen and heard.

Among their demands was respect for the rights of the child, an end to exploitation, abuse and violence, an end to war, the provision of health care and education and the eradication of HIV and Aids. They want to see the environment protected and an end to the vicious cycle of poverty. Speaking clearly to an attentive room she told us that children are not the source of problems in the world.

Glenys Kinnock, representing the European Union, spoke passionately of the need not only to state the problems but also discuss how to resolve them. She mentioned that the Treaty of Rome includes animals but does not include children. The next two hours were taken up with over fifty contributions, each two minutes long. Most parliamentarians found it nearly impossible to say in that time limit what they thought should be the priority for children. On the other hand, the young people had no trouble letting us know their concerns and what we should do to help them.

A young man from Guatemala said "Think about us, listen to us, let us participate in the politics of our country." A young woman from Albania told us how children there are part of the children’s rights commission but that time and effort is needed to help young people get involved. A young man from Kenya spoke forcefully, stating that promises had not been kept, age should not be an issue and young people should be respected.

Since being elected as an MP I have tried to give a high priority to children’s issues and have been keen to meet and talk with young people on the issues of the day. The areas of concern raised by young people in Sheffield are not those of war and hunger, but our young people are concerned about crime, their education and the environment. I’d like to see more opportunities for young people to have a say about issues that affect them in the city. The message from the children at the United Nations was "We are not expenses; we are investments. We are not just young people; we are people and citizens of this world." After all as the young girl from Gambia said "a world fit for children is a world fit for all of us."

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