2002 Speech

Address by Education Minister Dr. Muhammad Al-Rasheed to UN special session on children

"More than a decade after the first world-wide conference on the child and the passing of a widely accepted international document outlining a child's rights, we come back again today, as leaders in our different fields, to renew our commitment for a better future for every child and to discuss, in this delicate historical juncture, what we have achieved in the field of childhood, at the national, regional and international levels, as well as what we ought to do in order to guarantee a more optimistic future for our children.

"In Saudi Arabia, we do not believe that it is an achievement worthy of us as a people and a government to simply list a child's rights in a fine document and consider it a done job. Indeed, a child's rights are a responsibility of parents, society, and the state; and these institutions are to be held accountable for these rights. We believe that a child's relationship with his parents and with the other institutions of society should not be solely a legalistic, contractual dimension based on materialistic mutual benefits, but, rather, should be founded on faith, a system of beliefs and values, love and compassion.  

"A child's first right is to be born within a legitimate marriage. This is his pre-natal right guaranteed in Islam by forbidding and outlawing sexual relationships outside marriage. A family founded on a legitimate marriage is the first cell in the building of human society; it is the nucleus and pillar of society where a child is born, nurtured and fed the seeds of good and virtue or the seeds of evil and deviation. Clause (10) of the Basic Law of Governance in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia states the following: 'The State is determined to strengthen family bonds and to protect the Arabic and Islamic values of the Saudi family, to protect its members, and to provide suitable means for the development of their talents and abilities.'

"A child's right to be born, to survive, and to grow, as ascertained in the international agreement on the rights of the child, starts at the moment he is imbued with a soul in his mother's womb, according to Islamic Shariah law. His life is God's gift and his right to live is God's prerogative that cannot be usurped by abortion. Abortion is premeditated murder, so it cannot be used as a means of birth control or family planning and should not be considered except when a mother's life is in danger.

"In Saudi Arabia, the labor law (Clauses 164 to 171) guarantees certain rights of a pregnant woman and a prenatal child. A pregnant woman is entitled to a one-month-long delivery vacation before the birth of her child and another six weeks after birth. A working woman can take a recovery and nursing vacation to breast-feed her baby as well as all other vacations her colleagues are entitled to. Employers bear the cost of medical check-ups, treatment and birth expenses and cannot fire a female worker while enjoying a pregnancy or birth vacation. And, based on Islamic precepts, Saudi law guarantees a pre-natal child's inheritance rights, so that if a father dies, inheritance cannot be distributed until the child is born, thus ensuring not only the pregnant mother's peace of mind but also the right of her yet-unborn child to his/her fair share of the inheritance.

"In Saudi Arabia, we consider children to be the nucleus and target of our country's socio-economic development. Accordingly, all resources have been mobilized to allow every child to enjoy his/her basic rights. Government and private organizations play a major role in providing educational, medical, social, recreational and developmental services to all children. National development plans have consistently included child-oriented projects and programs whose objective is to provide total support to childhood. A national childhood commission has been set up to coordinate all efforts in the field of childhood services, to develop these services and to encourage all projects and programs that serve children and guarantee their rights. 

"We believe that responsibility towards a child is a religious and legal duty placed, first and foremost, on his parents. If they die, that responsibility is transferred to relatives. If there are no relatives, society, as represented by the state and relevant organizations, must bear that responsibility, thus providing food and drink, accommodation, clothing, the protection of the physical and psychological health of the child, and the provision of his/her education.

"Relevant Saudi government agencies endeavor to find alternative custodial families for orphaned and abandoned children. This type of (alternative) custody includes the schooling of the child, the provision of educational materials to child centers and the encouragement of sports, library visitation and theatrical activities. It also provides for the production of cultural materials (publications, films, shows) and extension of guidance and counseling services to children at behavioral-problem centers, vocational training to children with special needs, and assistance to families that have disabled non-working children.

"Saudi Arabia has made education free and available to all groups of children, including those with special needs, at appropriate educational institutions. Elementary schooling in Saudi Arabia has become a necessary foundation for all children and we have employed school curricula to achieve social and cultural development for children with the aim of encouraging them to become life-long readers and seekers of knowledge and contributors to human civilization.

"Under the umbrella of children's rights, some would claim that man is the center of the universe and the satisfaction of his needs is the ultimate goal in life. We disagree with that because it disagrees with our Islamic belief that God Almighty created man and gave him the custody of the planet earth for the purpose of developing it and the setting up of justice and fairness. Thus, Man cannot deviate from the laws that his creator has made for him because they were made for his immediate benefit in life as well as his permanent happiness in the after-life.

"We believe that it is wrong to circumvent religion and sidetrack it in life, to demand total freedom, or to consider the satisfaction of physical needs and desires the measure of progress; because that, in our belief, is a way towards chaos that would endanger society's security and safety as well as the moral values that distinguish us from animals.

"We live in an era where interests are interconnected like never before and the various cultures of the world have to share one earth. And so, we look forward to a century characterized by peace, constructive cooperation, human brotherhood and founded on values, principles, mutual respect and fair equality. This necessitates that we uphold international agreements and conventions in an atmosphere of respect for the sovereignty of states and the national, religious, cultural, and historical "special-ness" of every society. This is a world that has been ravaged by disasters, disputes and wars; where the innocent have been the victims: old and young; women and children. And we see no refuge for humanity from these calamities except in the upholding of human values and the heavenly laws that aim to protect man's dignity and legitimate rights and to counter the effect of the misguided concepts that have led to the breaking-up of families and the disintegration of societies. Indeed, it is only if we uphold God's law that we can achieve our familial and societal commitments and, thus build a happy, secure life where our children can grow, learn, give and be creative.

"While we meet today in order to renew our commitment to building a better future for the world's children, we watch in horror what is happening to the Palestinian children. They are not only being denied their childhood, they are denied life itself: their homes destroyed, their bodies maimed, their parents assassinated, and their sense of nationhood confiscated. We, and most civilized nations, demand withdrawal from the occupied territories, that the Palestinian people be given the right to live in their own independent state, and that everyone be allowed to live equally in peace. Only then will the cloud of violence disappear and the region live in peace and understanding."