To the UN Assembly on Children's Rights

Author: Card. Alfonso López Trujillo


Card. Alfonso López Trujillo
Pontifical Council for the Family


Among the rights of the child, the right to life is the first

This is the address of Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, to the Special session of the General Assembly of the UN in New York on children's rights during the meeting of religious leaders on 8 May. the Cardinal insisted on the basic right to life of children, the right of children to have a family and the right of parents to raise their children. the Cardinal gave his address in Spanish. Here is a translation.

There are certain truths in the world to which everyone adheres and which continue to be validated through empirical data, such as mathematical facts and scientific certainties. These truths continue to direct learning and knowledge, unlocking even greater discoveries and secrets.

Fundamental rights enshrined in the founding document

At the same time, there are certain universal truths regarding mankind and society that have been likewise recognized or established as unquestionable, which are the foundation of human rights declarations and international law and which have been enshrined in a document that for this reason bears the title the "Universal Declaration of Human Rights". What is striking is how in fact, this universality is afterwards not recognized. Thus in Article 3 of the Declaration, the defense of the right to life is affirmed, but then in various ways is rejected, especially regarding the crime of abortion.

In this dialogue involving religious leaders, it seems appropriate then to ask why those social truths, truths that are considered as real and concrete as any mathematical proof or scientific fact, appear to be so often ignored, questioned or challenged, especially within the work of the United Nations.

For example, the Charter of the United Nations states that, "We the peoples of the United Nations determined ... to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small...". The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in its first Article, proclaims, "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights...". Yet too many delegations refuse to speak of this human dignity with which we have all been endowed and in which we all share. This truth, this fact is not only the very cornerstone of the human rights outlined by the United Nations, but the very cornerstone of humanity itself. It is the recognition of our human dignity that helps bind us together and calls us to care and concern for each other. Why then is it ignored?

Among rights of the child, the right to life is the basis of other rights

The Declaration on the Rights of the Child recognizesthat, "... 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" (Preamble) and "... everychild has the inherent right to life", (Article 6). Yet, 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. Delegations and governments refuse to affirm that every child has a right to protection and special care by the fact of the dignity with which he or she has been endowed by God, and that such protection is owed to the child before birth as well as after the child is born.

It is bewildering to think that many of those same delegations that refuse to recognize the human dignity of the unborn child claim to speak for the dignity of the oppressed, or those who suffer from discrimination. Such a selective, superficial or distorted recognition and understanding of human dignity is truly a denial of one of those social truths that should never be questioned or challenged.

The family should be protected by society and the State

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also declares that, "The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State." (Article 16) That same sentiment is found inthe Preamble to the Declaration on the Rights of the Child, and has been repeated again and again in various United Nations Plans and Programs of Action. 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 make-up and role of the family in society and in the life of the child.

Children have the right to live in a family, to be protected and provided for by loving and caring parents or guardians. Everyone understands the importance of the family and the role that parents play in the lives of children.

At the same time there is a denial of parents' rights, there is a denial of their religious or social background as well as their heritage. And in those sad times when the structure of the family and the role of parents have broken down, those same people who profess the best interests of the child too often abandon their responsibilities to provide a loving, secure and nurturing environment for children and, as a principle, these best interests of the child are not observed. Another basic truth is pushed aside in the name of progressive thinking; tradition is broken down and society begins to crumble.

Everyone has the right to access to education, yet 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.

Basic rights: access to education, highest standard of health, adequate shelter

Everyone has the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Can the world say that its people have enjoyed that right? Too many people, far too many children die each day because they do not have access to the most basic of medicines or health care. Too many people suffer because they do not have clean water to drink or because they live in environments that are unsafe.

Everyone has the right to adequate shelter, yet too many children are homeless and too many people live in overcrowded homes in overcrowded cities. This hard-won right is another that is very often denied.

These are not purely religious issues but rather social issues. Nevertheless, it is the obligation of religion, which deals with the spiritual relationship that we have with God and with one another, to point out when and where the political and the secular arenas have strayed from their true path.

The purpose for the establishment of the United Nations Organization was clearly defined in its Charter. Over the course of fifty-six years, the United Nations has struggled with making that stated purpose a reality in the world. The principles set forth in the charter were more than simply ideals. They continue to guide the concrete actions of the international community towards making the world a better place for the children of today and tomorrow.


The delegation of the Holy See issued the following statement on Friday, 10 May, at the UN Session on children's Rights and asked it to be included in the Report of the Special Session as well as the verbatim record of this meeting. In these meetings there is always an effort to use the term "reproductive healthy services" to cover abortion and to give the term "family" an extension that makes any small group of persons a family. The Delegation wanted to emphasize that is "reservations and statements of interpretation remain in effect. This includes issues regarding fundamental human rights and dignity, protection, the provision of basic social services, education, health, sexuality, the family and the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents and especially the right to life from the moment of conception. The Holy See is convinced that the best interest of the child is best served in the context of the family". Here is the Declaration of the Holy See's Delegation at the UN during the 8-10 May session on children's rights.

The Holy See expresses its appreciation to the General Assembly and the Preparatory committee for the work during the past two years that has led to the successful conclusion of this Twenty-seventh Special Session of the General Assembly, dedicated to children. This Delegation also expresses thanks to their Excellencies: Ambassador Durrant, Ambassador Chowdhury and Ambassador Schumacher for their tireless efforts in leading and directing the discussions and the staff of UNICEF, acting as substantive Secretariat throughout the preparatory process.

Consensus decision on document

The Delegation welcomes the consensus decision of the assembly in the adoption of the document "A World Fit for Children", and, in conformity with its nature and its particular mission, while welcoming its adoption, the Holy See wishes to express its understanding of the document.

Nothing that the Holy See has done in this process should be understood or interpreted as an endorsement of concepts it cannot accept for moral reasons.

Reservations and statements of interpretation

This should in no way be interpreted as constituting a change in its well-known position concerning those subjects upon which the Holy See has made reservations in past UN conferences and summits. These reservations and statements of interpretation remain in effect. this includes issues regarding fundamental human rights and dignity, protection, the provision of basic social services, education, health, sexuality, the family and the rights, duties and responsibilities of parents and especially the right to life from the moment of conception.

Family is to be understood in terms of marriage

The Holy See is convinced that the best interest of the child is best served in the context of the family. The Holy see interprets references to "family" or "families" in terms of the duty to strengthen the family, the basic unit of society, and in terms of marriage as an equal partnership between man and woman, that is, husband and wife.

The Holy See requests that this statement be included in the Report of the Special Session as well as the verbatim record of this meeting.

New York, 10 May 2002.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
22 May 2002, page 7

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