A Sustainable World Fit for Children?


Caroline recalls her experience as an adolescent at the United Nations Special Session on Children in 2002. Photo: Courtesy of UNICEF

By Maritza Ascencios

Last week UNICEF commemorated the 10-year anniversary of the adoption of ‘A World Fit for Children’ – the agenda that the leaders of some 180 nations adopted in 2002 at the close of the United Nations Special Session on Children. When world leaders meet again in Brazil for the Rio+20 Conference in just over 4 weeks, will they remember those commitments and put children at the center of sustainable development?

Caroline was one of some 400 child delegates who participated in the 2002 Special Session. Watching as she describes her experience at that gathering, her excitement is a reminder of how enthusiastic and energetic adolescents can be when they are inspired to act. She recalls that Heads of State showed respect when the children made their presentations.

Some even took notes and “for me that showed we’re not wasting time, it was not just another ‘business-as-usual’ meeting. Something was going to change for children.”

If other child delegates are looking back today, they can see that the world did change. There have been advances in promoting healthy lives and curbing deaths among children, in improving children’s access to education for girls and boys, and in reducing HIV infection rates and AIDS-related deaths. And though children still face violence, abuse and exploitation all too often, countries have continued to sign and ratify the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child since 2000.

But these advances now seem tenuous. Even though the Rio+20 Conference is structured around the concept of three mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development, the social pillar – fundamental for children – is generally overlooked. Fiscal austerity and the increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters also have consequences for children. World leaders have a responsibility to avoid the inequalities that deprive children of their rights and wellbeing, inequalities that transmit poverty from one generation of children to the next.

At the Rio+20 Conference next month, these leaders, civil society and the private sector will decide whether the positive memories of child delegates like Caroline will last, whether recent progress will suffer setbacks or not. Whether sustainable development will mean a world fit for all children.


Maritza Ascencios is an editor at UNICEF. The views expressed in this blog are hers and do not necessarily represent UNICEF’s positions.

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