Child´s First Right Is to Life, Says Vatican

Holy See Prepares for U.N. Summit

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NEW YORK, MAY 8, 2002 ( The protection of children is not something arbitrary but must begin at the moment of their conception, a Vatican aide said on the eve of the United Nations children´s summit.

Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Pontifical Council for the Family, addressed a meeting of religious leaders Tuesday, as part of the U.N. special session.

The three-day summit, which opened today, has gathered 60 heads of state and government, 200 parliamentarians from 77 countries, 2,000 delegates of non-governmental organizations, over 350 children´s delegates from 132 countries, business leaders, and other personalities.

In a statement distributed during the preparatory meeting of religious leaders, Cardinal López Trujillo said the Declaration on the Rights of the Child recognizes that «the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth» and «every child has the inherent right to life.»

Yet, the cardinal continued, «many delegations and governments refuse to recognize that fact: that right to life and the truth that life does indeed begin at the moment of conception.»

Cardinal López Trujillo added that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that the «family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state.»

«Still, it seems that in almost every debate in which the role of the family is discussed, this basic and recognized truth is challenged, and too many delegations attempt to change the understanding of the makeup and role of the family in society and in the life of the child,» the cardinal added.

After recognizing every child´s right to education, Cardinal López Trujillo lamented that «we see a continued gap between rich and poor, and between the percentages of boys and girls who are allowed to attend school, and complete a course of education.»

The Vatican representative ended by emphasizing the right of children to health and housing.

In preparation for the summit, a Forum on Children was organized by UNICEF on May 5. Some 350 children participated in Tuesday´s event, in order to make recommendations for the U.N. summit´s final document, entitled «An Appropriate World for Children.»

The document is still being discussed. The most controversial topics are those referring to the resources that every country and international aid must allocate to children; the possible inclusion of the term sexual and reproductive health; and the definition of the family and child labor.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the commitments of the 1990 World Summit on Children to allocate resources to reduce infant mortality, to ensure access to education, and to protect children both within and outside war zones have not been respected.

Ten years ago developing countries committed themselves to invest 20% of their budget in social welfare, whose first beneficiaries are children. According to U.N. data, these countries are now only spending between 12% and 14% of their budget in this area.

Nevertheless, UNICEF reported that there are more children in school than ever, that polio is virtually eradicated, and that there are 3 million fewer children who die annually than was the case in 1990.

Cause for concern remains, however. Of a total of 1 billion children, 150 million are malnourished; close to 11 million die before they are age 5; more than 120 million are not in school; about 11 million die every year from curable diseases; and some 300,000 are fighting in wars.

In regard to sexual and reproductive health, several delegations, including the Vatican, are opposed to including references in the text to family planning understood as promotion of abortion, sterilization and contraceptives.

On the matter of sexual education, several delegations alerted to the danger that the final document would not make provision for parent´s opinion in the education of adolescents.

Regarding the definition of the family, entities such as the Rio Group and the European Union hope to introduce in the text the phrase «there are various forms of family,» which would allow for de facto unions and same-sex marriages, while others, such as the United States and the Vatican, insist on protecting the identity of the family as a unit formed by the marriage of one man and one woman, and their offspring.

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