Children's summit to convene Conference billed as largest ever gathering of world leaders


UNITED NATIONS -- On Manhattan street corners, signs declaring, "40,000 Children Will Die Needlessly Today" serve as grim advertisements of this weekend's U.N. World Summit for Children.

Billed as the largest gathering of world leaders ever, the summit will bring more than 70 heads of state to New York to raise international consciousness about the rights and survival of children.

Organizers of the meeting say that many of the leaders -- including President Bush -- are likely to be preoccupied with diplomacy related to the Iraq crisis. But they say they hope formal discussion of the health and educational needs of children will spur action and will lead more nations to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was passed by the United Nations last year. The United States is not among the 43 nations that has ratified the convention.

And, domestic critics of the U.S. administration say, they plan to hold Bush accountable for whatever promises he makes about the future of America's children.

While the leaders gather, children all over the world will die from entirely preventable causes, said James Grant, director of UNICEF, which is sponsoring the conference and which posted the warning signs around Manhattan.

Sunday, the world leaders will endorse a U.N. declaration on children, a draft of which calls for sweeping changes in many areas, including international lending agency policies, vaccination efforts, national education standards, the status of women, worldwide distribution of food, sanitation and environmental practices, child care and child labor issues.

Although the United States was not one of the six initiators of the summit, officials from the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services assisted UNICEF in developing the draft declaration. Nonetheless, its goals in such areas as infant mortality and literacy go further than the goals the Bush administration has set for itself.

In his speech Sunday, Bush will commit the United States to specific child health and education goals, White House sources said. Those goals will be drawn from the health goals for the year 2000 released by the HHS this summer and from goals set at the president's summit on education last year in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Despite its wealth, the United States has a higher infant mortality rate than 18 other nations.

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