Address by Nelson Mandela at luncheon hosted by United Nations (UN) General Secretary Kofi Annan, New York - United States

9 May 2002

Secretary-General Kofi Annan
Your Excellencies
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

It is a great privilege to be here with all of you at this occasion of the Secretary-General’s lunch for the UN Special Session for Children.

I thank you, Secretary-General Annan, for the courageous leadership you have displayed in these fragile times where in so many parts of the world peace is not yet realised.

Your vision and ability to link the well-being of children and the security of the international community is a source of inspiration.

We thank the General Assembly for prioritising issues surrounding the rights of children, and for ensuring that the Special Session went ahead despite the terrible events last year forcing the postponement of this gathering.

And, to Unicef and the Bureau of the Special Session: we thank you for all the exemplary work you do for the world’s children.

We are at a crucial conjuncture in mobilising the collective energies of humankind towards working together for a more humane, compassionate and just world. And a crucial measure of our compassion will be the manner in which we work for a better life and secure future for our children.

In 1990, world leaders met at the historic World Summit for Children. Heads of state from over 80 countries – many of who are represented today – had the vision to put the needs and rights of children as a top priority and concern.

They took innovative steps to establish concrete goals for improving the well-being of children. This work has had many positive results. More children are in primary school today than ever before; polio is on the brink of being eradicated and fewer children die each year because immunisation had been stepped up significantly.

The battle to create a better and secure life for all children throughout the world is, however, still far from won. The lives of millions of children are still blighted by poverty, war, insecurity, ill-health and lack of access to education.

Not enough has changed for the young girl in a developing country who is not in school because she is taking care of a sick parent; or for the young boy forced to become a soldier for a war that has displaced his family and destroyed his home.

This Special Session, Mister Secretary-General, was therefore crucial and timely to keep us focussed on the task ahead.

The work of the Special Session is in line with other goals each of us is working towards. The international development targets – and the millennium goals – note that access to education, health care, water and sanitation are prerequisites for strong, healthy and productive economies and nations.

The goals discussed this week simply confirm what we know. We shall not survive as nations and as communities, and our children will not have a future, unless we rise to meet those crucial challenges we face.

We have to eliminate the scourge of poverty; eradicate illness and disease; reduce the widening gap between the developed and developing world; stop conflict and war; prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and educate our citizens.

There are many heads of state present here today. I know that every day you face countless responsibilities and pressures. As leaders in your countries, you have conflicting demands on your time, and on the resources of your nation. Governments and government leaders cannot on their own achieve the goals that we are setting. The rest of society has to take co-responsibility. Partnerships have become crucial agencies for achieving our goals.

We as political leaders have to reach out to non-governmental organisations, religious leaders, business men and women, and, especially, young people themselves and create broader partnerships. Each of us, as citizens, have a role to play in creating a better world for our children. Collectively we command a great deal of power to affect change in the lives of children.

In this room, we have the wisdom, the leadership, and the experience to make great strides. It is only when we work together that we will be able to achieve the goals we set this week.

The world has the resources for us to achieve those goals. It is a matter of global commitment to harness those resources.

Each of you has the ability and the opportunity to make those ideals a reality. You have already shown your commitment to children by being at the Special Session. You are here because each one of you is a leader of the world – you have the broadness of mind and spirit, the generosity and compassion and the desire and commitment to change the dire situation of so many of our children.

History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children. The real work will only begin once we return home. Upon our return to the various corners of the earth, we need to take the actions that are necessary to make our discussions live beyond these three days.

Let us examine our policies. Let us look closely at how the programmes of government impact on the life of a child. And if we need to, let us revise our plans. And for those of us who lead governments, it is a particular challenge to encourage and persuade our ministers of finance, education and health to work together to find the means to implement our commitments.

Let us all resolve to put children at the centre of all we do. They must be the motivation for every decision we make. Because they are our future, and it is because of them that you called us together this week, Secretary-General.

And we thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation