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IN THE NEWS - May 4, 2002: UN Special Meeting On Children - 2002-05-03

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program, IN THE NEWS.

This Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly opens a special meeting on children. Leaders of more than seventy nations are expected to attend. The heads of several U-N agencies, including the World Health Organization and the World Food Program, also plan to take part. More than one-thousand-four-hundred delegates representing about eight-hundred non-governmental agencies are expected.

A number of civil and business leaders will attend the meeting too. Former South African President Nelson Mandela and Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will be among them. They are to speak about the involvement of private business in helping children.

The U-N General Assembly is expected to approve a final document containing twenty-one goals for improving the lives of the world’s young people. The goals were developed from targets set at the nineteen-ninety World Summit for Children.

One of the goals in the document is to expand clean water and waste systems to reach more people. Another is to reduce deaths among babies and mothers. The document also calls for providing early education for all children. And, it calls for a special effort to deal with the problem of the AIDS disease.

The U-N special meeting on children is historic for several reasons. Hundreds of children from around the world will travel to New York to attend the meeting. They will take part in a conference called “Children’s Forum” in the two days before the General Assembly meets. The children will prepare positions on issues to be considered at the special meeting. Then, two children will be chosen to present the final product of the Children’s Forum to the General Assembly. There will also be many chances for all the children to interact with world leaders during the conference.

This is the first time children have taken part in General Assembly activities in such size and number. Carol Bellamy is the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund, known as UNICEF. She said it may seem like common sense to invite children. But, she said, it is a major change for such high level meetings.

This U-N meeting also involves a large number of non-governmental organizations that have not had an official link to the U-N in the past. UNICEF invited hundreds of community groups it works with in countries around the world. These include children’s rights groups and non-profit groups that deal in development. UNICEF also invited some religion-based organizations. U-N officials say these groups will help provide a new understanding of children’s needs on a community level.

The General Assembly special meeting on children was supposed to be held last September. It was postponed after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

This VOA Special English program, In The News, was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.