Fifteen-year-old Nguyen Manh Dung comes from the poor countryside in Vietnam. This year, he was fortunate to be elected to the delegation of children participating the Fifth Ministerial Consultation for East Asia and the Pacific on Shaping the Future of the Children, which was held May 14-16 in Beijing.
The three-day ministerial consultation was sponsored by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Its theme was to set the guidelines for the strategies and actions needed to safeguard the interests of children over the next 10 years. At the same time, it released a UNICEF survey conducted among children of the region.
The conference attracted ministers and government officials from 24 countries and regions in the East Asia and Pacific region, as well as representatives and observers from donor countries, bilateral and multilateral agencies, the World Bank, and non-governmental organizations in the region.
A special delegation composed of six children also attended the conference. They represented Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Mongolia and China.
In his keynote speech to the conference, Chinese Vice-Premier Li Lanqing reaffirmed China’s commitment to improving legal protection of children’s rights, increasing investment in the cause and cooperation with the rest of the world in defending children’s rights.
“Children are our future. Their well being is the foundation for sustainable national growth. To love, care about and protect children has long been a national priority,” said Li.
Chinese State Councilor Wu Yi also delivered a speech, saying that the Ministerial Consultation for East Asia and the Pacific on Shaping the Future of the Children had become an important consultative forum in the development of the region’s young people.
“We should establish a wider cooperative partnership and draw up a beautiful blueprint for our next generation through love and actions,” said Wu.
Delegates from Vietnam, Malaysia, Mongolia, China, the Philippines and Cambodia also spoke during the conference, introducing the development of children and women of their countries. “Fathers play an equally important role as mothers in the education of children in the family,” said a women delegate from Indonesia.
Looking thin, small and a little bit shy, Nguyen Manh Dung also spoke, expressing the hope that people all over the world would show concern for children especially living in dire poverty and help them.
The conference summed up the great successes UNICEF made in the East Asian and Pacific region over the past years. Up till now, 90 percent of infants have been vaccinated against the main children’s diseases; 94 percent of boys and 93 percent of girls have gone to primary school. UNICEF has also made considerable headway in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS among children. By the end of June 1997, 26 countries in the region had signed the United Nation’s Children’s Rights Convention.
The conference also listed the existing disparities in the development of children. Over 33 million children aged below five are undernourished. More than 16 million infants weigh below 2.5 kg at birth. Only 61 percent of girls can receive middle school education. Among the world’s 2 million HIV/AIDS sufferers, 100,000 are children, and the number is continuously increasing.
During the conference, a UNICEF survey, “Speaking Out! Voices of Children and Adolescents in East Asia and the Pacific,” conducted among some 10,000 boys and girls between the ages of 9-17, was released.
Youngsters in the region are generally optimistic about the future. About 80 percent of respondents believe that their lives will be better than that of their parents, while some 74 percent think life in their communities will be better in the future than it is now.
Another major focus of the survey was children’ knowledge of their rights and their perception of whether those rights are being respected.
The survey shows that although 61 percent of the respondents say children have rights like adults, only one in five claims to know “a lot” about those rights.
Besides, more than 20 percent of the surveyed believe their rights to information, freedom to express ideas and opinions, and not to be hurt or mistreated are not respected in their countries.
The survey is considered the largest and most comprehensive of its kind ever carried out in the region, according to UNICEF officials.
Speaking of the development of children in China, UNICEF executive director Carol Bellamy said that disparities between the juvenile haves and have-nots in urban and rural areas still present a challenge. But China had at the same time become an active force in the global war to protect the vested interests of children, she said.
“China is the world’s most populous nation and its works with children have a global dimension, contributing very much to global advances to help children.”
Recently, China has mapped out a blueprint in the protection of children’s rights for the next 10 years, highlighting health, education, legal action and environmental protection. The scheme focuses on improving the rights of children in the less developed inland regions, the offspring of migrants in Chinese cities and ethnic minority children.
The previous four East Asian and Pacific ministerial consultations on the development of children were respectively held in Bangkok in 1991, Manila in 1993, Hanoi in 1995 and Bangkok in 1998.