H. E. MRS. ATSUKO TOYAMA
Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology
At the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children
10 May 2002
It is my great pleasure to speak for our children here today as a representative of the Government of Japan.
I believe that the United Nations was right to choose children as the theme for this special session at the dawn of the twenty-first century. This choice reflects our strong will and desire to start the new century with the work of laying the foundation for a better world for children.
If adults were sincerely working to build a society conducive to the well-being of children, the world would be a better place. In reality, however, children are often deprived of happiness. This may be the result of political unrest, armed conflict, poverty or just adults pursuing their own interests.
I believe that we should take this occasion to seriously consider what we can do for the world’s children and make genuine progress. The future is on the shoulders of children. Creating a world fit for children, therefore, will contribute to the future of all humankind.
Whether in developed or developing countries, we as adults have a moral duty and political responsibility to do our best for children. Developed countries especially have a significant role to play, since considerable resources are needed in this endeavor.
Japan has made every effort to promote the well-being of children, especially in the four priority areas of this special session, namely, education, protection against abuse, exploitation and violence, health and HIV/AIDS.
First, access to education is the right of all children. Education develops their potential and enables them to overcome poverty and hardship. It also contributes to cultivating global citizens. It is especially important to ensure equal access to education for girls.
Education was the cornerstone of Japan’s nation-building and post-war reconstruction. I believe that this experience could be a model for nation-building efforts in other parts of the world. Japan will promote cooperation on education with what I might call "the Japanese spirit," that is, through earnest good will without prejudice or dogmatism, making use of the experience of our educators, while considering the cultural and historical backgrounds of the countries concerned.
Uninterrupted education, even in conflict-ridden areas, should be provided to children. I met His Excellency Prof. Amin, the Minister of Education of the Interim Administration of Afghanistan, last month to discuss support we might provide in the field of education. Our discussion renewed my conviction that reopening schools and normalizing education is essential for the sustainable peace and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Second, Mr. President, I would like to emphasize that the exploitation of children is the exploitation of humankind itself.
Last December, the Government of Japan, together with UNICEF and two international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), hosted in Yokohama the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, which is now widely known as the Yokohama Congress. Through "the Yokohama Global Commitment 2001", the international community demonstrated its strong determination to take further action to eliminate the commercial sexual exploitation of children. We should now put the commitment we made in Yokohama into action.
Japan, for its part, has been making sincere efforts to tackle child abuse and child prostitution, which have become serious social problems in recent years. It enacted "the Law for Punishing Acts related to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and for Protection of Children" in November 1999. "The Child Abuse Prevention Law", which took effect in November 2000, promotes a comprehensive range of measures, from prevention of child abuse to the protection of child victims.
In addition, Japan has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention concerning the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, and the Convention concerning the Prohibition and Immediate Action for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labor. I am happy to announce that today Japan signed two Optional Protocols to the Convention of the Rights of the Child.
Third, Mr. President, access to basic health is essential for the physical and mental well-being of children.
Japan has long promoted cooperation in this area with developing countries. In the "Okinawa Infectious Disease Initiative" launched in 2000, Japan decided to allocate up to three billion dollars over five years to support action against HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria in developing countries. Japan continues to play a leading role as the Vice-Chair of the Board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and has pledged 200 million dollars to the Fund.
Furthermore, since 1993, Japan has contributed over 230 million dollars to activities aimed at eradicating polio in cooperation with UNICEF. I am pleased that the Western Pacific area was declared polio-free in the year 2000.
Fully committed to the outcome of this special session, Japan will further support the world’s children in cooperation with other governments, international organizations, and civil society including NGOs, corporate entities, and the media.
As the First Lady of Republic of Korea mentioned in her statement, the FIFA World Cup Games, hosted by Republic of Korea and Japan, will commence soon after this special session. The Games will be dedicated to the well-being of the world's children. The Government of Japan promotes cooperation with civil society by supporting the projects of NGOs, local authorities, and others in the area of basic human needs through grant assistance for grassroots projects and subsidies to NGO projects. Furthermore, my Government established "the Children's Dream Fund" last year for the purpose of supporting hands-on learning and reading groups.
Children are born into this world under unequal conditions. We must make a world where all children-who embody our hopes and dreams, and are our most precious asset--can freely develop their potential.
I appeal to all gathered here: let us share our ideas and work together for children, the messengers for our future and the creators of that future.