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Speech by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas on the 60th anniversary of Kindernothilfe

08.11.2019 - Speech

Allow me to get straight to the point by addressing the most important people today, whose needs should be paramount far more often.

Boys and girls,

“I wish I could work instead of getting married.”

“I wish my school would open again.”

“I wish I could wash the dust off.”

Those were some wishes children made for Christmas – wishes that Shampa from Bangladesh, Koumbéré from Mali and Ikhlas from Iraq confided to UNICEF staff last year. 

Ms Rau,

Ms Weidemann,

Kindernothilfe Media Prize nominees,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Not having to get married as a minor, being allowed to go to school and being able to wash off the dust of the refugee camp are some of the wishes of the 420 million children – one in every five worldwide – growing up amidst war and conflict.

Their wishes shock and move us. They make us feel sad and angry because while they are apparently easy to meet, far too often they remain distant dreams in this world of ours. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

I could now tell you a lot about our work worldwide in the Federal Foreign Office.

I could tell you how we really struggle to achieve peace in Syria, Yemen or Iraq.

I could talk about the resistance we encounter in the Human Rights Council and particularly in the Security Council when we call for women and girls to have the right to self‑determination, for the rights of minor refugees to be upheld and for schools in war zones to be protected.

I could speak about how we work closely with Kindernothilfe and other partners to ensure that the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is currently marking its 30th anniversary, is implemented in Germany and worldwide. 

And I could point out that children are better off globally than they were in 1959 when Kindernothilfe was founded. Far more children now start school than was the case 60 years ago. Child mortality has halved in the last 30 years alone, as has the number of girls who are forced to marry. These are all major and wonderful achievements. 

But they are not enough.

They are not enough as long as almost half a billion children fear for their lives in wars and conflicts.

They are not enough as long as over 260 million never get to attend school.

They are not enough as long as hundreds of thousands of children live in poverty, including here in Germany, one of the richest countries in the world. And they are not enough as long as tens of thousands of children continue to suffer violence, neglect and marginalisation year in, year out. 

Nelson Mandela once said that “the true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children”. He was right. But moreover, how we treat children is not only a question of character. It is the key issue as regards the future of each and every society because the children of today will shape this future. And how we treat them will determine their lives and thus our future – for better or worse. 

Ms Rau,

Ms Weidemann,

Kindernothilfe staff and supporters,

Naturally, I am aware that I certainly do not need to convince you. Thanks to your hard work, an organisation that started working 60 years ago with a mere five sponsors has become one of the largest children’s rights organisations in Germany.

Kindernothilfe gives a voice to the boy and girls whom I quoted at the start of my speech – to people who are not otherwise heard.

Kindernothilfe is not afraid to speak up, for example when it urges us members of the German Government to make children’s rights an even greater priority, such as in development cooperation, or raises shortcomings that still exist when it comes to implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child including here in Germany. But what seems most important of all to me is that Kindernothilfe’s hard work has given over seven million girls and boys all over the world a better start in life and the chance of a better future.

On behalf of the entire German Government, I would like to thank all those who support Kindernothilfe, the sponsors and all of your organisation’s partners around the world. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

No two children are the same. I have two of my own and that goes for them. 

I experienced this a few months ago when I met the sons and daughters of Federal Foreign Office staff. I was interested to find out how they feel when their family constantly moves country and they have to change school and leave their friends behind. Their answers were as diverse as each and every one of us. What one boy described as a sad loss was an exciting new start for one of the girls. 

This diversity and individuality are at the heart of our constitution when it puts human dignity – and not “adult dignity” – above everything else. 

Ladies and gentlemen,

This constitution – our Basic Law – is more than a collection of legal principles. It forms the foundation of our society’s values. So yes, that is why we talk here every year about how children’s rights must be included in the Basic Law. It is good that the Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection has decided to present a bill on this issue by the end of the year. And I hope that when we meet again next year, children’s rights will finally be part of the Basic Law. 

This is not only about giving children’s rights the utmost importance in terms of the law. It involves a real paradigm shift, a new way of thinking in society. 

It means treating children in a different way, that is, really listening to them as regards any decisions that affect them. And that would come to pass if children’s rights were enshrined in the Basic Law. 

This means conducting debates and politics in a different way – for children, but most importantly, with them – even if some people find this hard to imagine. And I can already say that like every change, this one too will be contested by those who would prefer to leave everything as it is. We already see this in the debate on the Fridays for Future demonstrations. But this very example also shows why we can and must have faith in children’s ability to speak and act for themselves. 

They have a special feeling for the challenges of their time because it is their future that is at stake. On the path to this future they need people who support, empower and encourage them. They need people who help children in need, people like you and your supporters, Ms Weidemann. Or to put it more poetically, they need companions and dream makers. 

Thank you very much.

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