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Children: Vital Partners in Globalization and the Preservation of the Earth
by Pippa H
The World Summit on Sustainable Development

The media centre in Sandton
Photo: Mandy Paton-Ash
Johannesburg, South Africa •• Aug. 28, 2002 •• SolarQuest® iNet News Service •• Stamping feet, hands being held and brave voices speaking out about issues such as rape, violence, illiteracy and poverty started out this unique forum. Small voices touched big hearts and aptly were followed by the presentation of the “Arc of Hope” by the children representatives of the world to the delegates. After a successful introduction, a strong argument was needed to validate the discussion but was disappointingly only achieved by one or two speakers.

First to address the delegates and media was John Hillary from the Save The Children foundation. By far the best speaker of the forum, John’s speech focussed mainly on “Globalization and Children’s Rights”. The Save The Children foundation is active in over 70 countries over the world and hopes to guarantee the rights of all today’s children, so that they can fulfil their potential in the struggle for development. Mr. Hillary spoke about a need for research into children’s lives, mainly the circumstances they are forced to live in and why. He pointed out that the focus should be on the poorest children who have lost a lot because of the immediate and side effects of globalization. A central concern of Mr. Hillary was that “the world seems to be moving away from commitment to a better future and that outcomes and commitments are being watered down”. He also spoke about the shocking fact that every single country in the world barring two signed the commitment at the Convention on the Rights of a Child. These two countries happen to be Somalia (who at the time had governmental legislative problems) and of course, the USA. Without full support from all countries of the world it is hard to validate a global agreement and enforce it, thus America seems to be letting the global team down. Unfortunately no official American representatives were available to argue their case so no reasons were provided for their refusal to sign. Mr. Hillary continued with his concerns over basic rights. His view is that basic rights are being changed into commodities by the increasing promotion of privatization. When private companies take over from public ones, there is a horrific inflation rate (sometimes up to 100%) which forces especially the poorer populations to seek alternatives. In the case of water for example, people turn to unhealthy water sources, thus increasing the amount of water borne diseases. But who is behind this increased promotion of privatization? The World Bank and World Trade Organization seem to be the perpetrators in the eyes of Mr. Hillary. And what are his recommendations to prevent this increase? Firstly Mr. Hillary suggested that the World Bank and World Trade Organization rethink their idea of privatization in certain sectors (i.e., water, education and health) and instead put bigger investment into them. To conclude his speech, Mr. Hillary expressed his wish for the conference that all leaders at the conference work towards a binding contract for corporate responsibility.

The next half an hour saw a string of people talking about street children. Firstly a Reverend from the Alliance for Street Children Gauteng stressed that the most important factor in sustainable development for the benefit of the youth is the continuous development of mankind. The increasing amount of street children is an example of where this is not happening. He expressed his concerns about the problems relating to AIDS, lack of financial support and conflict of issues adding to this crisis. The Reverend sees Government putting through relevant policies and implementing them as well as a change in the mindset of the business sector as solutions to the ever-increasing problem. He also highlighted the role of the media as a watchdog with the interests of society at heart. He concluded that there is a need for money to be ploughed back into society as business can only be sustained in a healthy society. The Reverend was followed by two former street children who had been saved by organisations helping street children. They highlighted that in every street child there is a responsible adult but with no protection, supervision or direction, street children are often forced into selling drugs and prostitution. Their solutions to the problem were to give street children rights and to increase the support systems they can turn to (i.e., police and social workers).

Lastly, a Nigerian involved in the book, “Lets do it, a book produced by children for children” launched the book on the children’s behalf, and entered a discussion with Madame chairperson and the Assistant Director of UNICEF about the need for child participation in the world. As he stated, “progress by children requires a global movement of children”. The forum ended off with questions from the floor and a fairly loud applause for the speakers.

Overall I felt that only Mr. Hillary succeeded in addressing the topic and produced the relevant facts. Although the whole “street children” section was interesting it was only a small sub-section of the affects of globalization and perhaps should have been focussed on in another forum and other bigger world-wide problems addressed. The forum also seemed to be fairly disorganized, as at one point Madame Chair was forced to teach the delegates and media a game whilst the relevant material was collected. However I was impressed to see that children have been given a voice globally but was disappointed to note that what they have done with this voice was not addressed.

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