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Opening statement by UNICEF Representative Jesper Morch at the national workshop on the 20th anniversary of the ratification of the CRC in Viet Nam

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Date: February 23, 2010
Event: National workshop on the 20th anniversary of the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Viet Nam
Location: International Convention Center, Hanoi, Viet Nam
Speaker: Mr. Jesper Morch, UNICEF Representative in Viet Nam

jesper_speech_crc20_copyIt is a tremendous privilege for me to be here with you today to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Viet Nam’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

My own association with the Convention goes back a great deal longer than 20 years. When I joined UNICEF as a young professional in 1982, my first duty station was Geneva. One of my key assignments was to act as UNICEF’s liaison with and observer in the intergovernmental drafting group set up under UN auspices to develop a text for a Convention on the Rights of the Child, which the world had agreed to during the 1979 International Year of the Child. During those early years of exceedingly difficult negotiations in the drafting group, few of us would have dared dream that our efforts would be crowned with success: The text of the Convention ready for adoption in the UN General Assembly in November 1989, and then moving on to near universal acceptance with 193 countries having ratified the Convention by 2009 with only two countries outstanding, Somalia and USA.

I am immensely proud of my – admittedly modest - association with the Convention on the Rights of the Child throughout my almost 30 years of service in UNICEF and the United Nations. And I strongly believe that this unique document is and will remain all children’s Magna Carta for decades – possibly even centuries - to come.

I therefore feel privileged to live and work in Viet Nam, a country which has demonstrated such strong leadership for children by being the first country in Asia to ratify the CRC. As we look back at 20 years of child rights implementation, Viet Nam can be proud of the many achievements for children that resulted from this leadership.

This progress most clearly stands out in the areas of health and education, which reflect one of the core principles of the CRC, with the right to life, survival, and development. Over the past 20 years in Viet Nam, the proportion of children who die before their 5th birthday was reduced by almost half. The decline in the mortality of children under one year of age has been even greater. In education, the opportunity for all boys and girls to complete a full course of primary schooling has become a reality for most of Viet Nam’s children today. With a net enrolment rate of over 95 per cent, universal primary education is nearly achieved and an increasing number of provinces have now achieved the same for lower secondary education.

Apart from the tangible improvements in the lives of children today, Viet Nam has also succeeded in establishing adequate conditions to realize the rights of future generations of children. Here I would like to specifically mention the enormous progress that Viet Nam has made in establishing a legal and policy framework that is better harmonized with the provisions of the CRC and other international legal standards.  This progress was acknowledged in the Concluding Observations and Recommendations from the CRC Committee issued in 2003 and 2006. In fact, State obligations under the CRC have been progressively translated into national policies since the CRC ratification in 1990. The National Programme of Action for Children in particular has served as an overarching framework for the last two decades.

Viet Nam has also not hesitated to design innovative policies and to introduce courageous institutional changes, which are ultimately of great benefit to children. We are all familiar with recent examples of this such as the critical progress made in establishing social work as a profession, and the upcoming law on People with Disabilities which we hope will include specific attention to children with disabilities. Also to mention here are the critical steps taken to reform local planning by making it more participatory and locally-specific and the subsequent integration of children’s issues in key local planning documents, as well as the establishment of the Viet Nam Association for the Protection of Child Rights which shows the important emerging role of local civil society around child rights.

When I look back to 20 years of child rights implementation in Viet Nam, these achievements make me feel extremely confident that the Government of Viet Nam will keep up its efforts to do its utmost for Vietnamese children. In this regard, there are two questions that I would like to ask you all to bear in mind, as we hear from various experts and engage in dialogue today. I believe that these two questions represent the core of the future agenda for children in Viet Nam.

First, what are the major risks and vulnerabilities facing Viet Nam’s children today and for the next 20 years?

One major risk that has emerged recently is the global financial crisis. Although the timely and smooth policy response has certainly been instrumental in Viet Nam appearing relatively unscathed from the economic slowdown, the events demonstrated that many of the gains that have been achieved for children and their families can easily be reversed as a result of shocks. Viet Nam is more and more integrated into the global economy, and such global economic shocks will need to be managed in order to protect those most vulnerable to them, including the poor and the near-poor, many of whom are children. In this regard, I am very pleased that MOLISA is making a strong effort to make the national social protection strategy and implementation framework more child-sensitive.

A related issue is children’s vulnerability to climate change – we know that Viet Nam is one of the most vulnerable countries when it comes to climate change. What risks does climate change pose for children? How can we reduce their vulnerability to the impact of climate change? Thus, the issue of vulnerability of children, including vulnerability to the impact of climate change, will need to be explicitly addressed by the future policies and laws that aim to realise the rights of children.

The second fundamental question I urge you to think about today is about disparities:  to what extent are all boys and girls benefiting from economic growth and increased opportunities? Evidence shows that children from ethnic minorities for instance have significantly higher poverty, mortality, and malnutrition rates. As Viet Nam is now a middle-income country, the international expectations are higher – with our new-found prosperity, are we doing enough for these children who have been somewhat left behind? MOLISA and MPI’s recent work on new approaches to child poverty is an example of the kind of innovative and integrated strategies that are needed to address the stubborn disparities which Viet Nam has been struggling with for some time. What more can we do to innovatively and boldly eliminate disparities so that every girl and boy in Viet Nam can enjoy fully all their rights under the CRC?

In closing, I would like to mention that 2010 represents tremendous potential for Viet Nam to again demonstrate leadership on child rights. As Viet Nam develops its national and sub-national SEDPs and various sector plans, it is an unprecedented opportunity to put children at the core of the country’s socio-economic development. Not only because Viet Nam has a moral and legal commitment to realize children’s rights but also because experiences in many countries have definitively shown that investing in children now ensures stronger human development and higher economic returns in the future. In short, by addressing issues of vulnerability and disparity for children today in Viet Nam, Viet Nam’s leaders – you – can sow the seeds for sustained socio-economic development, good governance and stability, and active civic engagement for tomorrow. That’s the very best kind of leadership – leadership for children.

Thank you.