Baby Neve has had her first visit to the UN General Assembly hall, watching on while her mother, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, spoke there for the first time to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela.

Ardern was speaking at the United Nations General Assembly hall for the first time for the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit.

She spoke of what Mandela meant to New Zealand - and her father missing Ardern's first birthday because he was a policeman on duty for the 1981 Springbok protests.

As she spoke, Neve watched on, held by her father Clarke Gayford. After speaking, Ardern herself took over, holding Neve as other leaders spoke.

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Clarke Gayford holds Neve at the United Nations General Assembly. Photo / AFP
Clarke Gayford holds Neve at the United Nations General Assembly. Photo / AFP

Gayford also tweeted about Neve's time at the UN, saying staff had even whipped up an ID card for her.

"I wish i could have captured the startled look on a Japanese delegation inside UN yesterday who walked into a meeting room in the middle of a nappy change."

He suggested it was a good story for her 21st.

The photos quickly spread in the media and on social media. Samantha Power, a former US Ambassador to the UN under former President Barack Obama, tweeted them, saying: "I cannot stress how much the @UN - and the governments that comprise it - need this."

Even the spokesman for the UN, Stephane Dujarric, issued a comment on Neve's presence, telling Reuters the UN was delighted to see her.

"Prime Minister Ardern is showing that no one is better qualified to represent her country than a working mother. Just 5 per cent of the world's leaders are women, so we need to make them as welcome here as possible," he said.

Afterward, Ardern said it was "a practical decision" to take Neve into the General Assembly.

"Neve is actually nearby me most of the time in New Zealand, she's just not always caught. But here, when she's awake, we try and keep her with me. So that was the occasion."

Neve had better luck at watching Ardern than the New Zealand media, who missed most of her speech while trying to argue for access to the almost empty media area with the bureaucrats at the door.

Ardern will give her main statement on behalf of New Zealand on Friday night, but spoke in the General Assembly hall at the Nelson Mandela Peace Summit early today, and marked the 100th year since Mandela's birth.

Ardern said Mandela had a profound impact on New Zealand, and spoke of the 1981 protests in New Zealand against apartheid.

"My father missed my first birthday because of it, he was a policeman and was called upon to work during the protests that surrounded the tour."

She recalled Mandela later visiting New Zealand for the Springboks rugby tour as President of South Africa in 1995 and describing the news of the protests in New Zealand as being "like the sun coming out".

Ardern was then 15 and remembered his dignity, as he appeared on the field to hand the trophy to the South African team.

Jacinda Ardern holds her daughter Neve at the United Nations General Assembly, flanked by her partner Clarke Gayford. Photo / AFP
Jacinda Ardern holds her daughter Neve at the United Nations General Assembly, flanked by her partner Clarke Gayford. Photo / AFP

"This was a seminal moment. If Mandela could make peace, so could the rest of South Africa. That one act of both triumph and reconciliation said so much about who Nelson Mandela was: His capacity to forgive, his commitment to reconciliation, and his ability to lead and inspire against all odds."

She said New Zealand's commitment to a peaceful, just world Mandela strived for was unwavering.

Ardern - who advocated reform of the UN and the powers of the Security Council - said the example Mandela set should be used by the United Nations.

"This means that when we see a worsening security situation, we act. For too long, the United Nations and the international community have waited to react. Instead, we must be proactive and place greater focus on conflict prevention.
 
"We must get better at identifying high risk situations and warning signs, before the conflict starts. We must not be silent in the face of intolerance, hate and discrimination. We must speak for those who do not have a voice. We must pursue equal rights for all."

She said Mandela had taught the world that no issue was insurmountable.
 
"As we remember Madiba, my hope is that we all give reason for the sun to come out."