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Public Papers - 1990

Remarks at the Opening Ceremony of the United Nations World Summit for Children in New York City

1990-09-30

Mr. Secretary-General and President Traore, Prime Minister Mulroney, and my distinguished colleagues from around the world, thank you all, and welcome to the United States.

I'm proud to address you here today as the President of this country, in which this special summit is being held. And at the outset, let me join all in expressing our appreciation to UNICEF and then to the kids here with us today.

President Traore, our thanks to you, sir. And may I extend my special respects and special thanks to the Prime Minister of Canada. It was largely his foresight and persistence that resulted in this impressive turnout.

In recent days, the world community has acted decisively in defense of a principle: that small states shall not become souvenirs of conquest. It was just 3 weeks ago that I spoke to the American people about a new world order, a new partnership of nations -- freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, more secure in the quest for peace. Today we are holding this unprecedented world summit to work for the well-being of those who will live in and lead this new world. Their voices are still faint and unheard. So, we've come together, more than 70 strong -- heads of state, chiefs of government -- chiefs of state and heads of government -- to speak for the children of the Earth.

But first, we should acknowledge that for many children the only blessing they will ever know is their innocence. The facts are as stark as they are oppressive: There are almost 3 billion young people on Earth today, and more than 14 million of them will die this year. In the next hour alone, 1,000 babies will perish. But I think we're all gathered here to defy these statistics. We've seen children -- swollen bellies. We've seen the pleading eyes of starvation. We've heard the cries of children dying of disease. So, let us affirm in this historic summit that these children can be saved. They can be saved when we live up to our responsibilities not just as an assembly of governments but as a world community of adults, of parents.

In my time as President, I've heard the heart-rending cries of AIDS babies. I've stood helpless over infants born addicted to cocaine, their tiny bodies trembling with pain. But I've also been to many classrooms across America where the influence of love and well-being can be seen instantly in bright faces and wondering eyes. From all these experiences and many more, I've learned that our children are a mirror, an honest reflection, of their parents and their world. Sometimes, the reflection is flattering. At other times, we simply don't like what we see. So, we must never turn away.

So, let me tell you what the American people intend to do. This month, our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Sullivan, announced ambitious new health objectives that we as a nation -- citizens, families, business, and government -- hope to reach by the year 2000. We seek to reduce infant mortality and low-weight births, to increase child-immunization levels and improve the health of both mothers and children. And we want to see the day when every American child is a part of a strong and stable family.

We're working in partnership with other governments and international organizations to eliminate child-killing diseases. Of course, many diseases are but a manifestation of an even more basic disorder: malnutrition. And to combat world starvation, the United States will continue to help food production in many countries, and we will send almost 150 million metric tons of food abroad this year.

And sadly, there is another child-killer loose in the world that knows no cure: AIDS. And nowhere is this killer taking more lives than in Africa. So, I've asked Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Ronald Roskens, the Administrator of AID, to go to Africa to see what else America and the world can do to advance child survival across that continent and across the world.

So far, I've spoken here just briefly of the most urgent issues of survival, but simple survival is not enough for a child lacking in health or learning, or denied the love of family and time for play. One year and two days ago, I met with the Governors of our 50 States on a single topic of national importance. We agreed to set ambitious education goals for the year 2000. For America, this is a stiff challenge, self-imposed. I see among us today many leaders who should take pride in giving the world examples of educational excellence, examples the next generation of Americans will not leave unchallenged.

But of course, education is a mystery to the 100 million children not in school. It's an outrage that so many spend their childhood in mines, in factories, in the twilight world of the streets. The United States outlawed most forms of child labor decades ago. Let us strive together to make education the primary work of all children.

So, all children must be given the chance to lead happy, healthy, and productive lives. Let me be the first to say that the United States can learn from many of the nations represented here today, but what my countrymen have learned from hard experience is that progress begins when we empower people, not bureaucracies. Programs can best enhance the welfare of children by strengthening the mutual responsibilities of public institutions and individual families. We should also look to the private sector as an essential partner. Public efforts on behalf of children should encourage experimentation among neighborhoods and local governments, not stifle it. So, when it comes to improving the welfare of children, empowerment should begin first with their parents, as President Salinas a minute ago so eloquently stated.

Saving one child is a miracle. As world leaders, we can realize such miracles, and then we can count them in millions.

My friends and colleagues, thank you very much. And may God bless the children of this world. Thank you very much.

Note: President Bush spoke at 10 a.m. in the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations. He referred to United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar de la Guerra; President Moussa Traore of Mali and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney of Canada, cochairmen of the summit; and President Carlos Salinas de Gortari of Mexico. Following his remarks, President Bush returned to Washington, DC.

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