Address by the President in the High-level Commemorative Event to mark the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child
Mr. President of the 74th session of the General Assembly,
Ms. Executive Director of UNICEF,
Dear young friends,
It is an honor for me to participate in the High-level Commemorative Event to mark the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and to represent my country which was the initiator of this milestone document.
In 1979, during the International Year of the Child it was Poland that proposed the draft text and triggered the negotiations that led to the adoption of the Convention in 1989. Over the years, Poland was the driving force of this process.
Even prior to that, Poland had been promoting the well-being of children on the international arena. To mention just a few examples – in 1946, we led the establishment of UNICEF; in 1968, we inaugurated the so-called Order of the Smile – an international award given by children to adults distinguished for their work and devotion towards children and their needs. Also, in 1997 we established the Ombudsman for the Rights of Children in Poland with a wide range of prerogatives.
This tradition of engagement for the improvement of the situation of children all over the world has its foundation in the sensitivity of Polish society and our history. During the First and Second World War, children in Poland experienced trauma hard to put into words. The Polish interest for the fate of children was influenced by the legacy of Janusz Korczak and his important text “The child’s right to respect”.
Therefore, while speaking about the Convention today, it is impossible not to mention the prominence of work and life of Janusz Korczak. Born in 1878, he was a Pole of Jewish descent, doctor, educator, writer, author of a modern concept of childhood. He was the father, so to speak, of the very idea that children not only have rights, but most of all their rights have to be respected. His reasoning had a profound impact on the drafting of the Convention on the rights of the Child. This document was inspired by his vision of a child as an individual subject – not an object belonging to adults.
Nowadays, children are becoming more and more aware of their rights, and more and more involved in the decision-making process. There are Children Delegates to Parliaments, or Youth Delegates to the UN General Assembly. There are thousands of young bloggers, writers and journalists. We do not need to look very far – we have today with us the youngest GoodWill Ambassador of UNICEF, Miss Muzoon Almellehan, who showed us that all that matters are the values we stand for.
Although the values expressed in the Convention are shared universally, we still have to cope with horrific stories of children soldiers, sexually abused children, children workers, children refugees. Unfortunately too often, children are treated like objects – abused, exploited or even killed. Violence occurs in many settings, including at home, school, community, and also over the Internet. Millions of children are left behind, neglected, with little or no hopes to experience a happy, loving, childhood, or good education.
According to UNICEF, 262 million children are out of school, and 650 million girls and young women are married before they turn eighteen. The shocking data provided by the report of the UN Secretary General on children and armed conflict revealed the terrifying scale of violations against the rights of children. Growing up in the environment of hostility has an enormous impact on child’s development. It affects health, social abilities, and education.
Poland calls to highlight the issue of children in armed conflict. During our Presidency in the Security Council, we have dedicated one of the main events to this issue. Comprehensive action plans should be initiated to help children to cope in the time of hostilities and in the post-conflict environment.
Children’s voice must be heard also in light of the Agenda 2030, since they are often the most affected by poverty, homelessness, neglect, unequal access to education.
As UN Member States, we have a moral and legal responsibility to protect all children, and we should do our best to uphold their rights.
Let me conclude my statement with one of Janusz Korczak’s most memorable quotations:
“Children are not the people of tomorrow
But are people of today.
They have a right to be taken seriously,
And to be allowed to grow into whoever they are meant to be.
The unknown person inside each of them
is our hope for the future”.