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UN's Child 'Summit' Concludes - 2002-05-10

After a three-day meeting at the United Nations in New York on issues affecting the world's children, U.N. officials say the success of the conference depends on what government leaders do when they are back home.

Laborious negotiations on a final document loomed over the meeting on children. The United States, reflecting its conservative view toward reproductive and family services, wanted no references, even implied, to abortion. It argued for abstinence as the main tool in combating problems associated with early sexual activity. Most other countries took a more liberal position.

U.N. officials, for their part, seemed to shrug off the politics. Carol Bellamy, the director of UNICEF, the U.N. Children's Fund, said the real success of the meeting will be measured in terms of what happens later in capitals around the world to improve the lives of the children.

"This is neither a success nor a failure based on whether it has an outcome document," she said. "It is a success or failure based on what happens after this meeting."

National leaders and ministers from Wednesday through Friday gave progress reports on what their governments have done since a landmark World Summit on Children in 1990. UNICEF director Bellamy noted progress to date has not been very impressive.

"If I might say, this 10-year record basically reflects less action than should have occurred over those 10 years," she said. "Lots of commitments back in 1990. More promises than action. So, if we learn anything from this, there has got to be more follow-up."

The special session on children, and the document governments struggled over, focused on four main goals: promoting healthy lives for children; giving them access to quality education; protecting children against abuse and violence, which includes the recruitment of child-soldiers; and, fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which claims the lives of thousands of youngsters every day.

Children themselves gave poignant testimony during the session. About 400 of them, many from war zones, came to New York. The children generally were sharply critical of governments. They demanded a better world and seemed to be getting ready to do political battle back home.

Many government officials showed signs of a kind of global meeting fatigue. There have been many international conferences lately. But the children appeared to love mostly everything about it. They were on center stage, many of them for the first time in their lives.