H.E. Dr. Abulkalam Abdul Momen, Ph.D.

Abdul-MomenAlthough almost 50 years have elapsed since the UN Declaration on the Rights of Child was adopted on November 20, 1959, the lives of billions of children are still uncertain and neglected. Out of the total global population, more than one third are children, and half of them still live in poverty and deprivation. There are over 250 million child laborers worldwide, and the Asia-Pacific region has the highest number of child laborers. Nearly 22,000 children die each year due to work-related accidents. A large number of children are being subjected to flesh trade trafficking and they suffer cruelty and deprivation. Nearly 130 million children cannot enroll in primary schools and, more importantly, the dropout rate is staggering.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Child states that “The child shall be protected against all forms of neglect, cruelty and exploitation. He (she) shall not be the subject of traffic, in any form. The child shall not be admitted to employment before an appropriate minimum age; he (she) shall in no case be caused or permitted to engage in any occupation or employment which would prejudice his (her) health or education, or interfere with his (her) physical, mental or moral development.” In 1989, world leaders decided that children needed a special convention just for them because people under 18 years old often need special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognized that children have human rights too. By agreeing to undertake the obligations of the Convention (by ratifying or acceding to it), national governments have committed themselves to protecting and ensuring children’s rights and they have agreed to hold themselves accountable for this commitment before the international community.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which will reach its twentieth anniversary in November this year, is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. Bangladesh was among the first countries to sign and ratify the CRC in 1990. In June of last year, the Government of Bangladesh presented before the CRC Committee its current efforts to harmonize the Children’s Act, passed in 1974, as well as the National Children’s Policy (1994), with the provisions and principles of the CRC. The draft amendment of the Children’s Act is finalized and is awaiting approval. The Bangladesh Government also reported that significant progress was made on birth registration, the collection of data related to children, eradicating the worst forms of child labour, improving the juvenile justice system and addressing violence against children. In Bangladesh, children are becoming more and more involved in the Government’s policy formulation and decision-making processes. Children’s opinions had been invited in the formulation of the national child labor policy and the national plan of action for children. Further, in order to realize children’s rights, government budgetary allocations have been significantly increased over the years and substantial resources have been allocated for the expansion of education, health, nutrition and social welfare sectors.

Despite these spectacular achievements by Bangladesh, and although nearly 50 years have passed since the Declaration and 20 years have passed since the Convention, those goals are yet to be achieved fully across the globe. Therefore, it is time to create public awareness on the issue, and I am pleased that DCI is taking initiative through its Child Rights Awareness Campaign. I am pleased to let you know that the newly elected Bangladesh government of Sheikh Hasina has taken a vow to achieve 100% primary school enrolment by year 2011 and it plans to achieve 100% literacy by 2014. These are ambitious goals, but with deep and sincere commitment and participation of the global community, I have no doubt that they can be achieved.

The country of Bangladesh needs resources and technology to achieve its goals, and since we live in a global community, it should be the responsibility of all to assist them in achieving their goals. If the global community comes forward, a reallocation of resources from building weapons of mass destruction plus tension and terror could be diverted to achieving the Rights of the Child, and such prioritizing could be beneficial for the global community. More importantly, the achievement of these goals is becoming more and more difficult for developing countries due to the global financial meltdown and climate change. The reason is that they are diverting their resources and budget from such goals to other sectors causing fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Therefore, DCI’s conference is a timely one and it should raise its voice so that the decision makers remain committed to achieving the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child. Thank you all for your involvement in DCI’s mission.

H.E. Dr. Abulkalam Abdul Momen, Ph.D.
President, UNICEF Executive Board
Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the United Nations
Patron, Distressed Children & Infants International (DCI)