(The spoken version shall take precedence)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great honor for me to be addressing you today at this historic event, the first International Forum on Motherhood and Childhood.
Your Highness, Fatima Bint Sheikha Mubarak, let me start by expressing my deep admiration for your passion and pioneering work for children. We are gathered here today because we share your commitment to the wellbeing of women and children. Thank you for bringing us together.
You chose the best possible day to host the Fatima Bint Mubarak Motherhood and Childhood Forum. The 20th November is a very special day for the children of the world. On this day we celebrate the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the most ratified treaty in the world. It is the birthday of every child’s universal rights. The right to survival, to development, to protection and to participation. The convention has created a fundamental change in how we perceive children as actors in their own right.
Looking at the state of the world around us, the situation facing many children it is easy to despair. Much progress has been made, but still we see too many children die and suffer, yet many more not reaching their full potential. Recognizing children as right holders means that we as adults take the responsibility as duty bearers. It is our duty to make sure child rights are fulfilled.
This is a moral imperative. But also it is the most pragmatic and worthwhile investment in our collective future development.
We the adults, need the children as much as they need us. We need to foster brave and responsible citizens of tomorrow. We need to prepare for ideas and innovation, which will solve not only the problems of today, but those of tomorrow as well. Children think freely, their minds not yet limited and framed by norms and expectations. Also, children have unique knowledge about what it is like to be a child in their specific context. These are competences we need to tap into. Therefore, I am delighted to see the focus on child participation so strongly on the agenda of today’s meeting. Children are agents, not passive recipients, and I look forward to the discussions around children’s innovation and creativity.
I believe we can all unite around education and embrace this as a core theme of today. Education is the most hopeful, powerful vehicle for positive change. With education, vicious circles of poverty and discrimination can be broken and sustainable development can be assured. And we know that education needs to start early in life, preparing for school long before any formal schooling starts and continue with access to quality education throughout childhood.
In addition, and this brings me to something especially close to my heart, if we want to create the best environment for learning and development, if we want to foster innovation and creativity, we need to make sure that the child is safe and that childhood can be filled with joy, love, curiosity and play.
17 years ago, I founded World Childhood Foundation, specifically with this in mind. Our vision is that every child should have a safe and happy childhood. For us that starts with ensuring it is free of violence and abuse. When a child is safe it has the first necessary conditions to develop.
Preventing violence in childhood needs to start with understanding the rights and needs of the child. But we can never isolate children from their environment. The child’s immediate surrounding: the family, the community, and society at large needs to be integral parts of any sustainable solution. Parenting is key, and many of the projects we support aim at strengthening the mothers, fathers or other primary caregivers.
Parents want the best for their children, but sometimes lack the means and knowledge to provide the necessary care and support. To me it is deeply encouraging to see how sometimes small interventions can help positively change the expected life paths of vulnerable children.
Let me share a few examples:
We work with families, for instance in Nepal or Cambodia, who driven by desperate poverty send their children to beg in the streets or end up as victims of trafficking. But by helping the parents and giving them a chance of a basic livelihood, they instead choose education and schooling for their children.
In one of our South African projects, fathers are encouraged and trained in establishing emotional supporting relationships with their children. Men, whose lives have been dominated by hardship and violence, are taught the power of positive parenting. Seeing the joy when they themselves describe the change is not only heartwarming - it shows promise for real positive change.
In yet other projects in Eastern Europe, young people who have grown up in institutions are helped to provide loving care for their own children when they become parents. This is difficult. But it is being done, thereby breaking the cycle of abandonment.
Last year, 2015 world leaders at the United Nations agreed on the sustainable development goals for 2030. To reach these goals everyone needs to play their part. Children play a central role in the agenda. Many of the goals are directly related to children, their wellbeing and development. I look forward to discussing here today new ideas and solutions for children as much as with the children.