THIRD SESSION

                            Bangkok, 12-14 December 2006

                                INAUGURAL ADDRESS


                   His Excellency Mr. Paiboon Wattanasiritham

             Minister of Social Development and Human Security

                                  Royal Thai Government


Mr. Kim Hak-Su, Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of UNESCAP,


Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

            It gives me great pleasure to address this important session of the Committee on Emerging Social Issues of ESCAP.  On behalf of the Royal Thai Government, I wish to extend a very warm welcome to all the distinguished delegates to the Committee, especially those attending from abroad.  

            As a thematic functional body under ESCAP, the Committee is mandated with a formidable task of strengthening national commitments and actions to tackle emerging social challenges.  I am pleased that the Committee will be considering many issues that are timely and important to the countries in the region in our common endeavour to promote social development and achieve a society for all. 

The 1995 World Summit for Social Development and its ten-year review meeting held in 2005 reaffirm the vision of a “Society for All” which embraces all members of society and seeks equity for all, on the basis of non-discrimination, respect for diversity, security, and participation of all people, including disadvantaged and vulnerable people. This vision of a society for all provides the long-term framework for sustained effort for poverty reduction, social inclusion, gender equality, productive employment, and social justice.  Evidently, economic growth and social development are two sides of the same coin, both of which are mutually reinforcing. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by leaders around the world in 2000 have further enhanced the social development goals endorsed by global conferences on development in the 1990s.

              Thailand is committed to building and strengthening a society for all with the inclusion of groups which had been marginalized from the mainstream of our development process, rural and urban poor people, women, youth, older persons, persons with disabilities minority groups, and those affected by disasters and environmental degradation.  We believe that each and everyone can make a contribution to the society and has the right to share the fruits of national development.  His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand has made an extraordinary example in contributing to human development and thus enabling a society for all in our country. His Majesty has reached out to the poorest and the most vulnerable people of Thailand, regardless of their status, ethnicity or religion, listened to their problems, and empowered them to take their lives into their own hands.  His Majesty’s countless rural development projects have benefited millions of people across Thailand. The projects have promoted sustainable livelihoods, water resource management, and disaster mitigation.

              At present, Thailand has already achieved the MDG goal of halving extreme poverty between 1990 and 2015. The poverty incidence in Thailand has been reduced by two-thirds from 38.18 per cent of the total population in 1990 to 11.25 per cent in 2004. In spite of this achievement, challenges remain in many of the social development areas. We must ensure that our economic growth is inclusive, with no sector of the society marginalized, and that the quality of social services continues to be improved.

Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

                  Thailand, with a population of nearly 65 million, has been successful in its population programmes, focusing on capacity building, empowerment and improved provision of reproductive health services.  This approach has been effective in solving problems like HIV/AIDS, maternal and child health, and in responding to emerging challenges of adolescent health, and the multifaceted problems facing women, young people, older persons, and people with disabilities.  The total fertility rate of Thailand has dropped from 5.0 in 1970 to 1.9 in 2005.  Thailand has gone a long way in establishing the required primary health care infrastructure responsive to the priority health needs of the population.   To ensure the desirable progress and achievement in the implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development  (ICPD) within the context of Thailand’s dynamic socio-economic development, Thailand sees an inevitable need to undertake an integrated, more decentralized and more active participation of all sectors in society, in parallel with the health care reform.  We wish to learn from other countries’ experiences so that we would be able to map out the most effective and practical steps required.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

            Young people account for 17 per cent of Thailand’s population, and are the future of our country.  With the recent swings in the Thai economic development scene in the past decades, young people have been seriously affected.  This has been further compounded by the impact of globalization, urbanization and advances in ICT.  Youth unemployment, and the lack of opportunities and support from families and communities may provide the breeding grounds for social problems such as drug abuse, crimes, violence and social instability.  It is a matter of priority for policy makers to scale up investment in youth and ensure that young people are provided with adequate support for their education, employment, health and other development needs.  We are very pleased that the United Nations General Assembly has again reaffirmed the goals of the World Programme of Action for Youth, and has added five more priority areas for action, including youth and globalization, youth and ICTs, youth and HIV/AIDS, the involvement of young people in armed conflicts and inter-generational issues.  The Government of Thailand strongly supports the convening of a regional consultation on the implementation of the Programme of Action for Youth as called for by the United Nations in its resolution 60/2 of 2005.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

            Thailand is facing emerging challenges as its population is fast ageing.  The proportion of elderly people in the total population is expected to increase from 10.5 per cent in 2005 to 16 per cent in 2020.  The Government has taken measures to raise public awareness of the economic and social implications of ageing, including the rising needs for better social security provisions, health care and other social services.  We will continue to review our policy vis-à-vis older persons within the broader context of national socio-economic development to ensure that the concerns and needs of older persons are integrated in the national development agenda.  In this context, the Government of Thailand is currently reviewing its implementation of the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, with the participation of various stakeholders.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

            Thailand is committed to promoting and protecting the rights of persons with disabilities and has been making continuous efforts in this regard.  We enthusiastically support the adoption of the draft International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities.

            As early as 2003, the Sub-Committee on the Promotion and Collaboration on the International Issues on Disability was established within the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to develop Thailand’s proposal for the draft International Convention.  In collaboration with ESCAP and other organizations, the Government has organized technical meetings and reviewed its policies to ensure that the rights and needs of people with disabilities are met.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

                 With regards to health-related issues, Thailand has been giving primacy to social policy objectives as part of its overall development strategy. Towards this end, Thailand has implemented a policy of providing universal coverage of health care to the entire population since 2001. This has meant considerable commitment on the part of the Government towards increasing public investments in health and on strengthening primary health care services. This has resulted in significant reduction in the out of pocket expenditure on health and reduced the burden on the poor and vulnerable groups leading to better health outcomes.  In this regard, we believe that other countries in the region can follow Thailand’s progress, and we are ready to share our experiences and expertise with any member country of ESCAP.

                 Thailand is one of the few developing countries in the world where public policy has been effective in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS on a national scale. A massive programme to control HIV has reduced visits to commercial sex workers by half, raised condom usage, decreased the prevalence of STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) dramatically, and achieved substantial reductions in new HIV infections.  However, there is no room for complacency.  The past efforts need to be sustained and factors such as an increase in risky sexual behaviour and a rising number of STI cases need to be addressed effectively for the epidemic to be contained.

In response to the outbreak of avian flu, a National Strategic Plan for Avian Influenza Control and a National Strategic Plan for Influenza Pandemic Preparedness in Thailand, which cover the 3-year period between 2005-2007, were endorsed by the Royal Thai Government since January 2005 with a view to tackling the problem in a unified and sustainable manner.  The Plans focus on the immediate needs and priorities to ensure that prompt and adequate measures will be carried out to protect both humans and poultry based on the best practices Thailand has learned from extensive experiences in dealing with emerging public health threats during the past few years.  These Plans are now being assiduously carried out.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

            Despite all our efforts to promote gender equality, it is undeniable that inequality between women and men still remains.  Gender bias is a deep-rooted problem that required certain fundamental changes including the change in people’s values and perception.  Like other countries, we still have a long way to go to achieve gender equality  

           Regarding women and economic development, Thailand places great importance on ensuring economic betterment for women because we realize that when a woman is economically better off, her family will also benefit from the progress. The Royal Thai Government has made every effort to put in place income generation programmes for those at the grassroots level, many of whom are women.  Both women and men now enjoy equal access to credit and loans under various schemes such as the nation-wide village fund and small and medium enterprise incentive schemes.

            On the issue of violence against women and children, the Royal Thai Government has appointed the Sub-Committee on the Elimination of Violence against Women and Children tasked with formulating guidelines, measures and policies to alleviate such problems.  A Domestic Violence Act has been drafted which will provide a legal framework for dealing with this complex issue, once it enters into force.  In order to assist victims of violence, Thailand has set up One Stop Crisis Centres (OSCC) in hospitals in several parts of the country.  These centers are staffed with interdisciplinary personnel such as doctors, psychologists, counsellors and lawyers who are able to provide assistance to the victims.  In this regard, we are pleased that the Report of the United Nations Secretary General on the In-depth Study on All Forms of Violence Against women will be considered at this Committee session and we look forward to recommendations from the Committee.

Distinguished delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

                 Many of the challenges that we are facing in our respective countries are similar.  Cooperation and sharing information and expertise within the region will bring about benefits, especially through creating synergies and coordinated action for policies and programmes in members and associate members. 

            We believe that ESCAP plays a vital role in facilitating and pushing forward the momentum for continued regional cooperation in achieving social development goals and the MDGs.  Let us continue to work hand in hand to build societies for all.

             Finally, may I wish you every success in your deliberations.

             Thank you for your kind attention.