13 Nov 2014

HRH Princess Haya Opens Global Child Forum in Dubai

Your Majesty Queen Silvia of Sweden,

Your Royal Highnesses,

Your Highnesses,

Your Excellencies,

Honoured guests,


It gives me great pleasure to welcome you this morning to your event, on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. We are proud that you have chosen to have the first meeting of the Global Child Forum outside Stockholm in the UAE.   

The United Arab Emirates is all about the future, and the future is, of course, all about our children.  No country today is more devoted to giving children opportunities and helping them realise their potential more than the United Arab Emirates.  

Many nations -- and I am proud the UAE is among them -- have made children a priority. There has been remarkable progress globally in reducing mortality and disease among children and in ensuring they receive a proper education.   

After decades of rapid economic progress in the UAE, the challenges that face our young people have evolved and are much the same as those in Europe and North America -- especially the negative health consequences of prosperity.  

Child health in the UAE has improved dramatically since unification in 1971, though there are still pockets in the population where health and nutrition need to be improved. We have seen the Infant Mortality Rate drop from 18 per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 6 in 2010. Moreover, the under-five mortality rate per 1,000 live births dropped from 22 in 1990 to 7 in 2010. The UAE has already achieved the fifth Millennium Development Goal regarding improving maternal health and its Maternal Mortality Rate per 100,000 live births since 2004 is zero.  

The UAE’s policies to expand immunisation and eradicate infectious diseases and promote health programmes for children have also largely succeeded. Under the Expanded Programme on Immunisation, the overall coverage for all vaccines has exceeded 90% since 2000. Polio has been eradicated since 1994, and diphtheria since 1990. 

On the education front, the news is very encouraging, especially with regards to girls and women. The right to education in the UAE does not discriminate between males and females.  On the contrary, females record higher enrolment rates than males at all educational levels making the UAE on track to achieve gender equality in education. Education is free through university level at which the gender statistics are excellent. We are extremely pleased that the UAE has the highest percentage of young women enrolled in graduate studies in the world.  

On the other hand, there are areas that can still be improved. Poor diets and insufficient exercise have contributed to an explosion in diabetes and other non-communicable diseases throughout the Gulf, and these problems begin in childhood. We need more innovative approaches to reach and engage our children on diet and exercise. We have made progress in raising awareness through the "Fat Truth" Campaign we conducted with UNICEF to promote physical activity and better nutrition among Emirati youth.  But there is still much to do for a more lasting impact.  

Looking ahead, the UAE’s ten year National Childhood Strategy 2012/2021 was developed in cooperation between the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood, the umbrella for children and child rights in the UAE, and UNICEF. The Strategy covers four interdependent child rights themes, namely: survival, development, protection and participation. Local NGOs were also established to protect and look after children’s’ rights and their well-being, such as the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, which is the first licensed non-profit shelter that offers immediate protection and support to victims of violence, abuse and human trafficking in accordance with international human rights obligations. The UAE has passed strict laws banning child labour and trafficking of women and children, and we expect passage of an even more detailed Child Protection Law very soon. We still need to do more in areas like early childhood development and better help those with disabilities.  

There are hundreds of millions of children worldwide who are denied the opportunities we take for granted here in the UAE. Intractable poverty and hunger, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, continue to take their toll and hold them back in life. We have yet to attain the Millennium Development Goals, including those for children, in scores of countries.  

The UAE, for its part, has embraced its obligation to help those in need and last year donated more than

5 billion dollars in foreign aid, or roughly 1.25 per cent 

of its GDP, making it the leading country in the world. The only other nations that have repeatedly reached or exceed UN targets for development aid have been Sweden and the other Nordic countries, the Netherlands and 

Luxembourg. Your Majesty, you can take great satisfaction in the superb record Sweden has built over decades in humanitarian and development aid.  

UAE aid funds have paid for projects in more than 170 countries, and we view our obligations as global, not just regional. Dubai Cares -- a private initiative begun by HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum -- has made education, including gender equality, its special focus and has donated $139 million for projects, with roughly $66 million each going to African and Asian initiatives. Last year, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, announced a $120 million donation to promote vaccinations following an earlier joint pledge with the Gates Foundation of $100 million for vaccination projects in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Total contributions by the UAE to GAVI Vaccine Alliance have reached $33 million, while contributions to UNICEF to support polio eradication have been $8.7 million.  

Aid to Syrian and Palestinian refugee children has brought tens of millions of UAE and private donations, with Sheikha Jawaher Bint Mohammed Al Qasimi’s campaign Salam Ya Seghar for education and health now at $15 million.  

Finally, UAE support for orphans has been particularly generous with $188 million donated just since 2011 for housing, education and health, with $89 million donated last year alone.    

Too often international initiatives on the rights of the child are strong on platitudes but weak on delivery. There is a long history of declarations, resolutions, and campaigns that have not yielded enough tangible results for children. Yes, there has been significant progress in many parts of the world, but we so easily overlook some of the most outrageous violations of child's rights, particularly when politics blinds us.  

It is the most basic right of a child -- the right to life -- that has been infringed blatantly this year in the Middle East in Syria, Iraq and Gaza.  All these conflicts have taken the lives of children, but the worst violation of their rights took place this summer in Gaza when 490 Palestinian children were killed, 560 orphaned and 3000 injured in the Israeli bombardment. One child died in Israel as well. Even if the truce holds, you can be sure the carnage is not over for Gaza's children. According to UNICEF, over 450,000 of these children now live in areas with unexploded ordinance.   

While there were cries of outrage from nearly every major country when the UNWRA shelters in Gaza were bombed, they went unheeded, and there were no sanctions by the United Nations or leading powers. Some western media continued to carry claims that somehow these children were being used as "human shields" -- youngsters were even blown apart while playing on the beach.  

How were those children human shields? Gaza is a tiny enclave -- even smaller now that 40 per cent of it is a buffer zone. If you bombard it and prevent women and children from fleeing, you make their deaths inevitable. 

But children do not suffer in Gaza just during battle. As a UN Messenger of Peace I have focused on the MDGs, particularly the eradication of hunger and malnutrition. In most of the countries, I have visited hunger and poverty are the result of failed economics, environmental degradation, and lack of infrastructure. They are not artificially created as collective punishment as they have been in Gaza.  

According to the United Nations: "Restrictions by Israeli authorities have left 1.3 million Palestinians unable to meet basic food expenses." In Gaza, conditions are worse, with 6 out of 10 people relying on emergency food aid to survive.

WHO has found that half the children under 2 in the West Bank and Gaza are anaemic and there is also a high rate of anaemia among pregnant women. In May 2012, WHO stated that the incidence of both malnutrition and stunting among children is not improving. In fact, half the infants in Palestine today are malnourished.

I ask you: Would that be acceptable in Stockholm, Brussels or New York?   

My compliments to the Government of Sweden for taking a concrete step towards peace by recognising Palestine. We need more countries to show your courage and compassion.    

We must defend the rights of children even when the most powerful military and political forces are aligned against us. Your Majesty, I know you and your people have this level of commitment. I applaud you for it, and I wish you a very productive forum.   

Thank you.