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Thursday, May 13, 1999 Published at 18:33 GMT 19:33 UK


Hillary speaks out on children's rights

Hillary Cllinton met Belfast children during her UK tour

The US First Lady has made an impassioned plea for the protection of children around the world.

Hillary Clinton: "We, as adults, often fail to respect our children"
Hillary Clinton was addressing a conference in London hosted by the charity ChildLine as part of a two-day visit to the UK.

Cherie Booth, wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair, chaired the conference and also made a keynote speech.

Mrs Clinton praised the charity's work and said its efforts served as "a constant reminder to all of us about our responsibilities to children".

She added: "When we listen to the cries for help that ChildLine gets every day, we can see how often we adults fail in our fundamental obligation to respect the rights of our children."

Call for legal reform

[ image: Cherie Booth hosted the conference]
Cherie Booth hosted the conference
Ms Booth called for changes in the legal system which, she said, had left child victims more abused than ever for far too long.

A new Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill aims to end the obligation on children to give evidence in court or live via video. It will also allow them to have their say before a trial.

But campaigners like Mary MacLeod of ChildLine say the law does not go far enough.

[ image: Some want an end to live video evidence]
Some want an end to live video evidence
She said: "What we want the bill to do is to make sure that the measures, that for example children can be cross-examined pre-trial are routinely applied.

"The law at the moment as is stands depends on judges' discretion."

The message from the conference was that the courts should bend to the needs of children than children be subjected to the will of the system.

'Brutalised by war'

Aminatta Forna: "Campaigners want measures to be routinely applied"
In a wide-ranging speech, Mrs Clinton spoke on issues such as sex abuse, divorce and time-pressured domestic lives in the developed world. She also addressed the problems of prostitution, child labour and the use of child soldiers in wars around the world.

The First Lady said in her travels around the world she had come into contact with the victims of the "international trade" in children forced into domestic service or prostitution.

"I have stooped by the shoulder of a 12-year-old girl wasting away from Aids who was sent home when she was no longer of service," she said.

She spoke of children who are "being constantly brutalised by war", referring specifically to the Balkans conflict.

"None of us will easily forget the images of children crowded onto trains, robbed of their homes, their families and their childhood," she said.

"I know there are many horrible stories coming out of the Balkans and I hope we do not become immune to them."

On Wednesday, Mrs Clinton visited Galway in the republic of Ireland and Belfast in Northern Ireland where she toured a playground for children of the Troubles.

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