SPECIAL SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS ON CHILDREN
INTERVENTION BY CARDINAL ALFONSO LÓPEZ-TRUJILLO
Thursday, 9 May 2002
The Holy See wishes to be ever faithful to the Lord’s special
predilection and tender love for children in the recognition and full respect
due to them. Children are a wonderful gift of God.
Over the centuries, countless institutions and works in favor of children
have grown up in the Christian communities and rendered a generous service in
the most diverse areas: the family, education, health, with special attention to
the poorest and neediest. The fight against poverty, which strikes children so
cruelly and sows so many victims, is one fundamental need.
During the International Year of the Family (1994), His Holiness John Paul II
wrote a significant Letter to Children. They are a source of joy and hope for
parents and for society, and they are loved by God in the Child Jesus who came
to Bethlehem as a newborn child. The Pope denounced the suffering, dangers and
threats of which children are victims: "They are hungry and poor, they are
dying from diseases and malnutrition, they are the victims of war, they are
abandoned by their parents and condemned to remain without a home, without the
warmth of a family of their own; they suffer many forms of violence and
arrogance from grown-ups" (Letter to Children). As the Pope warns, we cannot
be indifferent to the suffering of so many children.
In addition to the many forms of violence mentioned, others are spreading
with dramatic effects, such as the moral pollution of the environment that
spiritually impedes children from breathing pure air. Families and States cannot
avoid the requirements of a "human ecology" (Cf. Centesimus annus, No. 30). When
moral values are trampled on with impunity, when the atmosphere is artificially
charged with eroticism, when the meaning of human sexuality is emptied and
trivialized and children are even induced into unspeakable "lifestyles" and
behavior in an alarming climate of permissiveness, the risk of violence grows.
Albeit with considerable delay, as there have already been numerous victims, it
seems that many are starting to react, to revise their attitudes, and to
reinforce legal norms to avoid the devastating consequences.
On various occasions, the Pontifical Council for the Family has held
International Congresses on Children:
- The dignity and the rights of children (Rome, June 18-20, 1992)
- The sexual exploitation of children in prostitution and pornography (Bangkok,
September 9-11, 1992)
- The family and child labor (Manila, July 1-3, 1993)
- Street children (Rio de Janeiro, July 27-29, 1994)
- International adoption (Seville, February 25-27, 1994).
More recently, on the occasion of the Great Jubilee of the year 2000, we held
a World Congress entitled "Children, Springtime of the Family and Society"
(Rome, October 11-13, 2000). On June 5, last year, right here at the United
Nations, a symposium took place on "Children in Armed Conflict: Everyone’s
Responsibility", organized by the Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See
together with the Office of the UN Secretary General’s Representative for
Children in Situations of Conflict. It would be too long to mention the
Congresses, meetings and other activities that have been carried out by the
Church throughout the whole world.
It seems that full recognition of the child’s human dignity, of all
children, images of God, from the moment of their conception, has been lost, and
this must be recovered. The true measure of a society’s greatness is the extent
to which the society recognizes and protects human dignity and human rights and
ensures the well-being of all its members, especially children. A healthy
society with a real human countenance is in fact one in which everyone
recognizes the family as the basic cell of society and as the most important
provider and educator of children, as proclaimed in the Convention on the Rights
of the Child (1989).
It is very important to observe the central criterion mentioned several
times in that same Convention whereby "the best interests of the child" must
prevail. This enlightening criterion should not be suffocated or scoffed at by
unjust laws. The "best interests of the child" is a valuable criterion which has
its roots in the child’s personal dignity: the child is an end, not an
instrument, a means or an object (cf. Gaudium et spes, No. 24). The child is the
subject of rights, starting from the fundamental right to life from conception.
And this fact cannot be denied by anyone, as stated in §9 of the Preamble of the
Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The process of human development in all its aspects – physical,
emotional, spiritual, intellectual and social – is the result of a synergy
between the family and society. Only through their effective cooperation can
children be protected from all harm, abuse and oppression and be equipped to
share and contribute to the common good of humanity. Achieving such development
is a great, on-going undertaking which manifests the genuine spirit and the
state of health of societies, and it offers appropriate remedies for offenses
"The best interests of the child" makes it necessary for the child to
have an adequate relationship with the family, based on marriage, the cradle and
sanctuary of life, the place for personal growth, affection, solidarity, law and
the inter-generational transmission of culture. At the service of children, the
international community must be committed "to defending the value of the family
and respect for human life from the moment of conception. These are values which
belong to the basic ‘grammar’ of dialogue and human coexistence among peoples"
(Discourse of John Paul II on the occasion of the Jubilee of Families, October
Therefore, the Holy See believes that the rights of children and the
rights of the family should be articulated together. As the fundamental
institution for the life of every society, the family based on marriage must be
understood as the covenant whereby "a man and a woman establish between
themselves a partnership of their whole life ... which of its own very nature is
ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing
of children" (John Paul II, Letter to Families, Gratissimam Sane, 1994, No. 17;
cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 1055; Charter of the Rights of the Family,
1983, art. 1-3; Universal Declaration of Human Rights, art. 16).
The child, all children, in whatever situation or circumstance, should be
loved, welcomed, protected and educated with special dedication and tenderness,
and all the more when they face great or burdensome limitations and
Everything must be done so that children can be conceived, born, raised and
educated in a family that is capable of offering protection and example, in a
positive and permanent way, as irreplaceable elements of their upbringing.
The child must be considered a member of the family so that parents, open to
the gift of life with a well understood responsible parenthood, can carry out
their unrenounceable duties and be aided, not impeded, by society in their
mission (cf. Charter of the Rights of the Family, art. 1b, 3c).
Only when the family fails should society and the State provide children with
what they need, hopefully in a family-like environment that offers them
hospitality, dedication, respect and tenderness. "All children, whether born in
or out of wedlock, enjoy the same right to social protection, with a view to
their integral personal development" (Charter of the Rights of the Family, art.
Mr. President, my Delegation believes that legislation is needed to protect
children from all forms of exploitation and abuse, as in the case of incest and
pedophilia, as well as through labor, slavery, the abominable crimes of
prostitution and pornography, kidnapping, their use as soldiers or guerrillas,
or as victims of armed conflicts or of international or unilateral sanctions
imposed on some countries. All these scourges are an affront and a scandal to
humanity. These various forms of violence must not go unpunished.
Careful watch should be kept so that adoptions - both national and
international, when truly advisable and in respect for the principle of the
"best interests of the child" – will be made by married couples who give real
guarantees of stability, moral solidity, ability to accompany and exemplarity.
In this way children can be brought up properly without their development being
obstructed or their personalities being destroyed. For the integral and
harmonious development of children, as science itself teaches, it is in their
best interests to have both a father and a mother.
Mr. President, my Delegation wishes to stress that the best interests
of children is not recognized when, conditioned by the myth of overpopulation –
which the most recent data and demographic trends have shown to be unconvincing
- population policies are imposed that go against the rights of the family and
children. First of all, the fundamental right to life must be recognized.
Children are both a wealth and a hope for the human family. It is for this
reason that the Delegation of the Holy See expresses its hope that this Special
Session of the United Nations General Assembly will have many and abundant
fruits to ensure that the children of the whole world will be the "springtime of
the family and of society".