My delegation has aligned itself with the statement of the representative of Finland presented on behalf of the European Union. I will, therefore, limit my remarks to the situation of children in Cyprus and to the actions and policies of my government.
Before delineating the efforts of my government in this area, I would like to welcome the Secretary-General’s various reports on the item, as well as, express our deep appreciation for the efforts of Ambassador Olara Otunu, Ms. Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, UNICEF, UNESCO and the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights for their truly admirable work in the area of promotion and protection of the rights of children. My delegation also joins previous speakers who have welcomed the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and reiterates its support to the important work carried out by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
It is only through the concerted efforts of national governments, international organizations and the civil society that we have succeeded in substantially improving the situation of the world’s children over the past decade along the lines of the World Declaration and Plan of Action. This progress was registered primarily in the improvement of medical care, the elimination or substantial reduction in the occurrence of many diseases and the reduction of infant mortality leading to the saving of millions of young lives every year. Yet the challenges that remain continue to demand more action. In this respect, we welcome the initiative of the Security Council to debate the question of children in armed conflict earlier this year.
My delegation also wishes to particularly welcome the contribution that UNESCO is making through the elaboration of strategies towards the protection of children from abuse and exploitation through the Internet. It is essential that the promotion of the free-flow of information not place children at a greater risk of sexual exploitation.
The policy of my government, since the establishment of the Republic in 1960, has been consistent in the pursuit of the welfare of children. We have thus achieved a significant reduction of diseases and infant mortality (nine deaths per thousand live births), the total elimination of malnutrition and of major communicable diseases, including thalassemia, which had been endemic to our region. Cyprus is considered a child-centered society as measured by societal values, parent’s investment in their children’s well-being and the constant pressure exerted on the government for the further allocation of resources for children. Children’s protection has been and continues to constitute a priority for the government.
Existing national legislation is extensive and effective. The legislative framework includes, the Children’s and Young Persons Law of 1990, the Violence in the Family Law of 1994, the Parents and Children Relations Law of 1990 and the Adoption Law of 1995. Cyprus is also a party to many international Conventions, including the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of international Child Abduction and the European Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of decisions Concerning the Custody of Children. Cyprus has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and signed the Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children adopted by the World Summit in 1990. There is an ongoing effort to keep legislation, policies and programmes for children in Cyprus in line with both international instruments. After ratification of the UN Convention in 1990, the government set up the Central Committee for the monitoring of the Convention in 1991.
One of the areas in which the government has been particularly successful is in decentralizing the administrative structure, even in the most remote areas, with the aim of providing a comprehensive educational, cultural, health and social model to the whole of the child population in Cyprus. Some facts may be worth noting: child exploitation is not a problem in Cyprus and sexual exploitation is non-existent. Education is compulsory until the age of 15 and free. There are today 112 active community centers for children. 13,5% of the national budget corresponds to the expenditure allocated to Education. The government subsidizes children’s programmes operated by NGO’s which constitute 37% of state grants. There are 107 non-governmental programmes for children throughout the government-controlled areas.
The Department of Social Welfare Services implements general preventive actions and policies for families and children. Such actions include family and individual counseling for families at risk and public assistance in the form of money payments and services.
The government has recently prepared a ‘Plan of Action for Children’ for a five year period stretching from 1999-2004. This plan is multi-dimensional and its scope far-reaching: its general objective aims to further integrate the values and principles of the Convention in the whole educational system and to enhance children’s awareness of their rights. It also strives to improve children’s health by the expansion of the mental health services and through the establishment of Child and Adolescent Departments in the major towns. Moreover, the Plan makes available the instruments needed to address the prevention of violence in the family and has put forward child supportive services. It also seeks to encourage children’s participation in decision-making, to involve them in issues that concern them and to promote research, data collection and the dissemination of information on issues related to children.
In the field of Education, school curricula have been revised giving emphasis to health education in its most inclusive sense. Particular attention has been given to Pre-primary Education and Special Education for the purpose of integrating children with special needs into the ordinary educational system while priority has recently been given to programmes aimed at sensitizing children’s awareness on the hazards of drug abuse and illicit substances. The Ministry of Education organizes regular seminars focusing on preventing drug use. The general aim of such seminars is to develop “peer groups” among students whose lifestyle and behaviour will influence other groups of young people in a positive way and convey messages for healthy lifestyles and resistance to drugs. A pilot programme (part of a greater programme adopted by European Institutions and in close cooperation with the Council of Europe, the European Commission and the WHO) aims at teaching children how to care and promote their health.
It is regrettable that my government is prevented, due to the continued Turkish military occupation of one third of the island, from applying the provisions of the current Plan for Action to the children living in the occupied areas, especially for the 49 enclaved Greek-Cypriot children which are deprived of their fundamental human right to education due to their ethnic origin. Upon finishing elementary school, these children are forced either to be deprived of secondary education, (as no school is available for Greek-Cypriots in the occupied areas) or to be separated from their parents in order to attend secondary education in the government controlled area of the country. This is a very hard choice that children should not be forced to make.
As we approach the end of this decade, nine years after the landmark 1990 World Summit for Children, we must take stock of the developments that have occurred. The World Declaration on the Survival, Protection and Development of Children and the Plan of Action provide the blueprint for our efforts at national and international level for the attainment of the noble goals enshrined in those documents.
Improvements have been registered but much more has to be done to achieve the goals of the Plan of Action. Progress on primary education has not kept pace with the increase in population, illiteracy is rampant in many regions of the globe, malnutrition, maternal mortality, the AIDS crisis and exploitation of children, whether as cheap labor, for prostitution or as soldiers, are areas which require immediate action. Endemic poverty in many parts of the world, and new forms of exploitation and violence against children (and women) present new challenges that the community of nations has an obligation to address. My country stands ready to do its part.