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Delegates Highlight Unacceptable Burden Economic Crises, Conflicts Place on Young People, as Third Committee Discusses Children’s Rights

GENERAL ASSEMBLY THIRD COMMITTEE

 

SEVENTY-SEVENTH SESSION,

 

11TH & 12TH MEETINGS (AM & PM)

 

Briefing the committee, Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that 24,000 grave violations committed against children were recorded in 2021 and that the abduction of girls has increased by 40 per cent. She highlighted her Office’s proposal to integrate all existing initiatives related to children and armed conflict into a comprehensive international framework, underlining the importance of reintegrating child soldiers into society.

 

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, many delegates condemned the aggression of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, while the representative of that country decried that children in his country are being killed, confined and displaced by the conflict. Addressing child soldiers, the representative of Norway expressed concern that children under 18 are no longer legally treated as children if they have been conscripted into armed conflict by armed groups, which prevents their reintegration into society, she said.

 

Najat Maala M’Jid, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, expressed concern about the lack of early protection for displaced children due to conflicts in Ukraine and other countries, who are at risk of being trafficked, abducted or going missing. Adding that the climate crisis is a threat multiplier for violence against children, she said that they are among those hit hardest by its impacts, with the most vulnerable particularly affected — those with disabilities, in poverty, in a rural setting, or those relying on a close relationship with nature and its resources, such as indigenous children.

 

Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, affirmed that children in situations of poverty, conflict, and internal displacement are subjected to child labour and are at an increased risk of sale and exploitation. “They are also at risk of being left behind in terms of strategies for tackling sale and sexual exploitation, as they remain largely excluded from data-collection exercises,” she added.

 

As such, alleviating poverty is essential, Ms. Singhateh said, offering solutions such as increased support, schemes for caregivers supporting children with disabilities, ending language barriers in accessing support systems and ensuring access to health care for families and children in street settings. She called for increased national standards to deliver needed care and also deter the exploitation of children.

 

Also briefing the committee were Sanjay Wijesekera, Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Mikiko Otani, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.

 

Turning to their general debate, delegates expressed regret for giving the climate crisis burden to today’s children and future generations, calling for the distribution of financial support to the most vulnerable as well as quality and continued education for all children.

 

Citing targeted attacks on schools in Ukraine and Myanmar, the representative of Liechtenstein insisted that schools must be protected spaces. Echoing Ms. M’Jid, he lamented the burden placed on future generations by climate change.

 

Striking a similar tone, the representative of South Africa recognized the duty of providing children with an education, but underscored the difficulty that the current panoply of crises poses. Highlighting the spike in violence that women and children experienced in his country during the pandemic, he said violence “deserves to be prioritized with the same urgency as the COVID‑19 pandemic and its mitigations”.

 

The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, also acknowledged difficulties posed by the pandemic, particularly for those living in poverty or countries in conflict, and children belonging to minorities or with disabilities. She emphasized the importance of investing in educational tools and remote learning for children in these contexts.

 

Also speaking were representatives of China, Israel, India, Ireland, Cameroon, Panama, United Kingdom, Colombia, Zambia, Honduras, Cuba, Indonesia, Slovakia, Canada, Thailand and Uruguay.

 

Youth delegates of Mexico, Serbia and Slovakia also spoke.

 

The Committee will meet again on Monday, 10 October to continue its debate on the rights of children.

 

Briefing

 

VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict, highlighting 24,000 grave violations committed against children in 2021, said the violations with the highest verified numbers were killing, maiming, and recruitment, followed by denial of humanitarian access and abduction. Abduction of girls was strikingly on the increase at 40 per cent, she noted, adding that boys and girls are impacted by grave violations differently. Her office is developing studies on the impact of grave violations on children with disabilities in armed conflict and the links between climate insecurity and grave violations as well as linkages between child trafficking and grave violations. Moreover, her office also conducted a study on the gender dimensions of grave violations against children to examine how gender shapes the type of violations that different children experience. Highlighting the proposal to collect all existing initiatives related to children and armed conflict into a comprehensive international framework at the General Assembly level, she stressed the importance of the prevention of violations and sustaining peace.

 

As for reintegration, she drew attention to the Global Coalition for Reintegration for Child Soldiers’ research as well as collaboration with the World Bank to seek financing modalities for reintegration programmes. She also pointed to dialogues with national stakeholders working on child reintegration, which will be discussed during an international Symposium in Nairobi. In 2021, her office conducted dialogue with parties to conflict resulting in the release of over 12,200 children and adoption of new legislation and accountability measures, she underlined, recalling the signings of action plans with the United Nations in Mali by the Platform in August 2021 and in Yemen by the Houthis in May 2022 to end grave violations against children. During her trip to South Sudan in June, she participated in a national conference on children in armed conflict and secured a commitment for the Government to establish a child protection focal point within the Ministry of Justice. The focal point will assist prosecutors with any training needed to better implement existing laws criminalizing the six grave violations of children’s rights. She also visited Cairo, Brussels, Doha, Andorra, the United Kingdom and France and obtained concrete agreements for cooperation, such as in the agreement with the Qatar Fund for Development in Doha to support the office’s resources.

 

Interactive Dialogue

 

The representatives of Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia and others aligned with the representative of the European Union, who spoke in its capacity as observer, lamenting that Ukraine went unmentioned in Ms. Gamba’s report. She asked what measures her office is taking to ensure that children do not become further victimized by the Russian aggression, and how her office works with the International Criminal Court (ICC). The representative of Ukraine emphasized that children in the country are being unlawfully confined and killed fleeing from unjustified aggression, asking what practices are best to protect these children.

 

The representative of Norway expressed concern that children under 18 are not treated as children if they have participated in or been conscripted into militias and terrorist groups, asking how to assure that these victims are reintegrated into society as children and not punished as adults.

 

The representative of Syria said that militias are holding children captive in parts of Syria, expressing regret that Ms. Gamba’s report failed to mention this. Further, he said the report was not objective and full of errors.

 

The representative of the Russian Federation highlighted its work with Iraq and Syria to repatriate displaced persons, adding that the problem in Syria is the illegal United States occupation there.

 

Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Pakistan, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Türkiye, the United States, Germany, Estonia, the State of Palestine, France, Poland, Qatar, Mexico, Romania, India, the Philippines, Côte d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Andorra, and Albania.

 

Responding, Ms. GAMBA said international conventions and mechanisms need a framework to effectively respond to challenges posed at local levels, adding that “we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to make it operative”. On the age of adulthood, she said a child is aged 0 to 17 and 643 days, adding that these children have special rights that must be upheld. Conversely, she continued, the international community must acknowledge that children born in camps, prisons and conflicts without birth certificates cannot be refused integration. Turning to her office’s work in Ukraine, she said that it communicates regularly with the framework already set up.

 

Violence against Children

 

NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, introducing her report (document A/77/221), outlined activities undertaken by her office, including country visits to Chad, Ethiopia, Greece, Iceland, Jordan, Lebanon, Niger, and Romania. Her office has also participated in high-level political dialogues in various countries across regions as well as with regional organizations, and in critical engagements with States and regional institutions. In close cooperation with partners such as Special Representatives for Children and Armed Conflict and for Sexual Violence in Conflict, she has been addressing the lack of early identification and protection of forcibly displaced children due to conflicts in Ukraine and other countries, who are at risk of being trafficked, being abducted or going missing. In addition, as Chair of the United Nations Task Force on Children Deprived of Liberty, she said she would continue mobilizing and sharing practices on ending child immigration detention and child-sensitive justice.

 

She went on to outline the main points explored by her report, which focuses on how the climate crisis is increasing violence against children. Pointing out that the climate crisis is a threat multiplier for violence against children, she said that children – who bear the least responsibility for the climate crisis – are among those hit hardest by its impacts, with around 1 billion of them exposed to its risks. The most vulnerable children are particularly affected, including girls; children deprived of family care; those with disabilities; those living in poverty, rural areas, and humanitarian settings; and those who rely on a close relationship with nature and its resources, such as indigenous children. She went on to note that despite various commitments and policies to tackle the climate crisis, the protection of children and of their rights is not duly addressed. She called for strengthened cooperation and multilateralism, based on mutual partnerships and accountability, and underscored the need for climate and social justice for all children. Finally, she emphasized the need to listen to children, as well as empower and involve them more in decision-making processes. Further, she noted that the promise to children to put an end to violence by 2030 is regrettably very far away from being reached.

 

When the floor opened for comments and questions, delegates all welcomed the Special Representative’s report, raising questions on topics ranging from cyberbullying and ending child marriage to designing policies to prevent violence against children and involve children in the development of climate policies.

 

A number of delegates asked about how to address the mental health needs of the most vulnerable. The delegate of Niger asked about the situation of children in refugee camps in the Sahel region. The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, echoed the report’s concern about the record number of displaced children worldwide at the end of 2021 ‑ the highest number since World War II ‑ pointing out that their ranks have been swelled by the 5.2 million Ukrainian children newly displaced in 2022 due to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. She went on to ask about measures countries can take to protect children from exposure to vulnerability and violence in the context of climate change. Morocco’s delegate asked how the United Nations Task Force on Children Deprived of Liberty can continue its advocacy to end child immigrant detention. Meanwhile, the representative of Portugal asked how best a child-sensitive approach can be integrated into mental health policies and strategies. The Philippines’ delegate asked how the United Nations can enable the participation of the poorest and most disadvantaged children in climate policy and disaster risk reduction. Meanwhile, the representative of the Dominican Republic welcomed the Special Representative’s upcoming visit to his country and asked about her office’s priorities for Latin America, with an aim to putting an end to violence against children, and about how to incorporate the protection of children vis-à-vis climate change impacts. Afghanistan’s delegate asked about measures that can be taken to protect children’s rights in his country in light of reported human rights violations against women. For his part, the representative of the Russian Federation said he was “perplexed” by the report and its “constant excessive child-angle” towards climate change policy, adding that issues concerning the environment are universal and not specific to children. Moreover, children shouldn’t be pushed into civil protests.

 

Ms. M’JID replied that including the most vulnerable and most invisible requires early detection and comprehensive cross-sectoral child protection, encompassing health, justice and social protection. Responding to the views of the Russian Federation’s delegate, she said: “When we invest in children here, we are taking a life-cycle approach, a systemic approach.” Pointing out that violence against children costs 8 per cent of gross domestic product, she said such an approach made “economic sense” as well as addressed human rights concerns. On questions about mental health, she pointed out that exposure to crises and violence causes a strong impact, as borne out by the high incidence of self-mutilation observed during visits to refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. There is a need to strengthen local and national systems to deliver sustainable mental health services, she said. Turning to the participation of children in climate change issues, she pointed out that children are already acting and speaking on social media and elsewhere. “It is not that we are instrumentalizing them to become wonderful protestors; they have wonderful ideas and are already taking the lead,” she said, adding: “They are the parents of the future; us, we are already the past, and we have to have them on board.”

 

Also speaking during the interactive dialogue were representatives of Luxembourg, Mexico, Spain, Lebanon, Malta, Ireland, Romania, Costa Rica, Belgium, Colombia, Malaysia, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Syria, and Ukraine.

 

SANJAY WIJESEKERA, Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), presenting two reports of the Secretary-General — the World Fit for Children report and the report on Child, Early, and Forced Marriage — cautioned that despite significant improvements in the lives of many children, the current state of the world is not fit for all children, and progress towards the full realization of the rights of all children is lagging. He expressed concern over the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, climate change, and a multitude of conflict and other humanitarian crises on those children who are already most marginalised and experience multiple intersecting discriminations. He called for an urgent action to ensure that Government spending and tax systems directly benefit communities and children, and investments are strengthened in primary health care and education. He also urged States to take critical action to address the mental health of children, including adolescents. The three-pronged crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste has been identified by children as the defining task of the current century, and must be collectively and urgently addressed, he asserted.

 

Turning to children, early and forced marriage and outlining ways in which the COVID‑19 pandemic has impacted its risk, he said school closures deepened pre-existing gender inequalities in accessing education. Moreover, lockdown measures linked to the pandemic resulted in a surge in gender-based violence, impacting on the safety and security of girls. With health care systems around the world overwhelmed by the COVID‑19 pandemic, the rights of women and girls to have access to information and health care services were severely hampered. In this context, he detailed mitigation strategies that can limit the negative effects of the pandemic on girls, including strengthened social protection and poverty alleviation measures such as micro-credit programs, savings schemes, and cash transfers.

 

The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, stressed the importance of mainstreaming child rights into policies and considering them as rights holders. She asked about the main challenges UNICEF encountered in mainstreaming children’s rights within the European system, including on the ground. Further, she inquired about positive lessons on how children’s participation can be advanced. The European Union is fully engaged in the prevention of new forms of child labour and child sexual abuse, online and offline, she added, welcoming UNICEF’s contribution to the preparation of the Right of the Child resolution focused on the digital environment, facilitated by her Bloc and GRULAC.

 

The representative of Malaysia, pointing to difficulties in assessing whether interventions targeting persons with disabilities are having a positive impact. He asked about recommended practises that could be adopted to strengthen data collection regarding children with disabilities. Further, he asked if UNICEF had data already available to be shared with Member States.

 

The representative of Ukraine commended UNICEF’s efforts in addressing the humanitarian consequences of the Russian “full-scale, armed aggression” against her country to save children’s lives and protect those who are “severely affected by this war”. She called for strengthened joint efforts with the international community to protect Ukrainian children and take all possible measures to stop further suffering and violence against them.

 

The representative of Syria referred to the assistance his country has received in the past by UNICEF, targeting children who could not continue going to school due to the war, including initiatives condensing two years of study into one involving children with disabilities. Pointing to studies carried out in the northwest of Syria in which interviewed girls expressed fear of sexual aggression, he noted that the region is outside the control of Syrian authorities and under the control of groups “considered terrorists groups” by the United Nations. On early and forced marriage, he asked about the influence of coercive measures that lead to deterioration of the economic situation and force girls to marry early.

 

Responding, Mr. WIJESEKERA said that mainstreaming child rights required coordinated efforts within Governments, including among ministries. While digital technologies enable access to learning, such context provides potential threats as well, he said, underscoring the importance of ensuring that online space is safe for children. Adding that mainstreaming child rights includes focusing on the most vulnerable, he said children with disabilities are the last reached with services or protection measures. The recently concluded disability inclusion policy and strategy emphasizes the strong need for disaggregated data collection. A recently released report identifies specific evidence-driven issues that children with disabilities face. On conflicts, he emphasized that girls are particularly exposed to significant violence, reinforcing the importance of humanitarian action to prevent it, including sexual abuse.

 

Statements

 

Ms. EKMETZOGLOU, representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has heavily affected children everywhere, including their chance to obtain quality and safe education. School closures disrupted children’s lives and those of their families and communities and have negatively affected a whole generation, she said. Children and youth in the most vulnerable situations in every country, she added – those living in poverty or in countries in conflict, children belonging to minorities, children with disabilities, and displaced children – are paying the heaviest price. In this context, she underscored the importance of investing in quality education to promote equal opportunities and mitigate inequities. With far less access to the Internet and mobile technology than boys, girls have been seriously disadvantaged in remote learning, she said, calling for the empowerment of children in the digital environment. The effective combating of violence against children online, exploitation, cyberbullying and exposure to harmful content is key to ensuring children have a safe and positive experience online and are protected from risks, she said, pointing to the upcoming Resolution on the Right of the Child and the focus area on digital environment.

 

VICTORIA LIETA LIOLOCHA (Democratic Republic of Congo), delivering a statement on behalf of the South African Development Community (SADC), said that the group’s Member States have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as many others, such as the SADC Code of Conduct on Child Labour. The States prioritize education until 15 years of age and training to eradicate poverty, the main driver of child labour he added. He said that 25 million girls will marry before the age of 18, which drastically hinders their educational, economic and social prospects, and that climate change and economic crises have reversed progress in that area. SADC has a law to unify national legislation in ending child marriage in line with the African Union common position. Underlining progress in reducing child marriage and the re-enrolment of adolescent mothers after they give birth, he hailed the key role that religious leaders play in reducing child marriage rates and pregnancy. Emphasizing the crucial role of the family in protection of children, SADC has established family-oriented policies on anti-human trafficking, child labour, and sexual and emotional abuse.

 

MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), stating that the protection of children must no longer be an afterthought, underscored the need to create an enabling environment for the well-being of children, including through ensuring the fulfilment of children’s right to education. In addition, he underlined the need to focus on protecting children from any form of violence, including new and emerging threats of violence, such as violence in the digital world. He went on to note that the COVID‑19 pandemic has demonstrated that the failure to prepare for crisis will cause disproportionate impacts on children, adding: “We must focus to secure the future of our children.”

 

STAN ODUMA SMITH (Bahamas), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), highlighted the multifaceted impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and conflicts on implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Noting that children must adapt to unprecedented changes amid challenges, he said: “CARICOM governments have been forging ahead with the requisite plans and policies to ensure that the fallout from the challenges is minimized”, further emphasizing the role of education. In this regard, he underscored CARICOM’s commitment to transform systems by enhancing the delivery of quality and inclusive education to all children.

 

GEORGE EHIDIAMEN EDOKPA (Nigeria), on behalf of the African Group, called for protection and survival of every African child and for a world that invests in its children and guarantees equal opportunities. Voicing concern over the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic on children living in poverty, he said the pandemic undermined gains achieved in eliminating harmful practices, including child marriage and female genital mutilation, as well as the ability of States to achieve the sustainable developments goals by 2030. He stressed the importance of legislation prohibiting child marriages and measures to increase the legal age of marriage and eliminate female genital mutilation. Citing poverty as a powerful driver of various forms of violence, he highlighted the rising levels of socioeconomic inequalities, forced displacement, climate change and food insecurity. The key to protecting children is the right of the child to education, he underscored, pointing to pandemic-related measures, such as school closures, deepening inequalities, and limited access to education that continue to deprive millions of children of their right to realize their full potential. He called for ending child recruitment and use of child soldiers, protecting children’s rights in conflict, and eliminating discrimination and harmful practices.

 

MYRIAM OEHRI (Liechtenstein) stressed that schools must be protected spaces, expressing concern over attacks targeting them in Myanmar and Ukraine. Lamenting the burden placed on future generations by climate change and its adverse impacts on the rights of children, he noted that Optional Protocol 3 to the Convention on the Rights of the Child allows children, young people or their representatives to bring rights violation complaints before the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Hailing its effectiveness for children seeking justice when legal systems fail them, he called on Member States who have not yet done so to ratify the Convention and all other Optional Protocols.

 

STEPAN Y. KUZMENKOV (Russian Federation) said that, against the backdrop of the pandemic and considerable problems posed by it, the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child must not be underestimated; it must remain a guide for protecting the most vulnerable in the face of current challenges. He expressed regret about the position of one State that has not yet joined the Convention, preventing it from becoming universal in scope. He also laments attempts by Western countries deploying a neoliberal approach to the Convention, with some “actively lobbying to give children a gamut of rights, with the legal role of parents forgotten or deliberately omitted”. He expressed disapproval of such an approach, pointing out that “the immature mind of a child can be subject to nefarious manipulations by strange people without the knowledge of their family”.

 

JONATHAN DAVID PASSMOOR (South Africa), aligning himself with SADC and the African Group, said his country recognizes the value and importance of children as a fundamental investment in the State’s future. This requires providing them with education and equal opportunities, a duty that has been “difficult to sustain during the current crises the world faces”, he said. He encouraged Governments to follow South Africa’s lead and put the elimination of child labour, children’s rights to education and universal access to social protection at the heart of policymaking. Adding that South Africa experienced such an increase in violence against children and women during the pandemic, he said that “it (the violence) deserves to be prioritized with the same urgency as the COVID-19 pandemic and its mitigations”.

 

ANDREW ODHIAMBO BUOP (Kenya), aligning himself with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China and the African Group, noted his country’s determination to promote and protect the rights of children. He pointed to Kenya’s Children’s Act of 2022, which focuses on mitigation against online abuse; child trafficking and radicalization; the creation of a Child Welfare Fund; and provisions for children with disabilities, including free medical treatment, special care, education, and training. “The Government has introduced strengthened initiatives towards addressing female genital mutilation through enhancing community dialogue and alternative, safer rites of passage,” he noted. He also noted the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on children in vulnerable situations. Stressing that “children are always the most vulnerable and will continue to be the first victims of armed conflicts”, he encouraged UNICEF and other United Nations entities to assist States in ensuring their protection and empowerment.

 

FAISAL FAHAD M. BIN JADID (Saudi Arabia), drawing attention to national laws on the protection of the rights of children without restriction, said all children in his country enjoy the same level of protection and care. He pointed to the law on child protection, which presents systemic protection to children under the age of 8 from abuse and neglect. Moreover, Saudi Arabia has established a centre for receiving reports of domestic violence, including violence against children, and providing support to children under 18 who are exposed to any kind of neglect and exploitation. Stressing the importance of protecting children in cyberspace, he highlighted challenges such as bullying and digital harassment.

 

DIANE SHAYNE DELA FUENTE LIPANA (Philippines), associating herself with ASEAN, outlined the ways in which her country aims to protect children in times of armed conflict, natural disasters and other emergency situations. Its Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act affirms that “children are zones of peace”, who have a right not to know first-hand the horrors of war. Noting how children became more vulnerable to online sexual abuse and exploitation during the COVID‑19 pandemic, she called on all Member States to end that horrifying violation of children’s rights. She noted that, in 2022, the Philippines adopted a law that prohibits child marriage, adding that “listening will be important” as the Government crafts a “Magna Carta of Children”.

 

TAN ZHONG MING (Singapore), aligning herself with ASEAN, recalled that, before the COVID–19 pandemic, the number of out-of-school children of primary school age decreased from 106 million in 1986 to 63 million in 2019. However, the repercussions of the pandemic threaten to permanently set back improvements made over decades, with some 1.8 trillion hours of schooling lost between March 2020 and September 2021. Singapore has one of the lowest child mortality rates in the world and is one of the safest cities in the world, she underscored, pointing to the KidSTART programme, under which young children aged 6 and below from low-income or disadvantaged families are proactively identified and provided with early access to health, learning and development support. Moreover, the Government is investing in programmes to improve students’ digital literacy, especially as COVID-19 has irreversibly shifted the world into a much more digital one, she said.

 

JOANNA SYLWIA SKOCZEK (Poland) said her country assists children with special needs and disabilities, adding that it works with UNICEF to integrate Ukrainian child refugees into education and health care systems. Drawing attention to forced labour and human trafficking, she said Poland has turned international as well as European Union conventions addressing these crimes into law. It has set up special police units to combat these crimes, eradicate sexual abuse of children in tourism, delete child abuse content from the internet, and prosecute sex offenders.

 

Reports and Interactive Dialogues

 

MIKIKO OTANI, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, expressed alarm that children’s status as rights-holders is currently being questioned in all regions of the world, adding that the improper application of child rights in some countries is silencing their advocacy. Highlighting future items and successes, she said next year’s full-day discussion will focus on the rights of the child and the digital environment, adding that children participated for the first time in the Global Conference on Child Labour in South Africa this year. She added that the convention has been ratified or acceded to by all States except for the United States, encouraging the international community to ratify all Optional Protocols. The Committee has worked with 13 child human rights defenders on the draft “General Comment on children’s rights and the environment” as well as more than 7,000 children from 103 countries, she said.

 

In the ensuing dialogue, the representative of Spain, aligning with the European Union, detailed a national law on protecting families and improving social protection in the country. Stressing the negative impact of the climate crisis on human rights in the most vulnerable sectors, she called on States to place the rights of children at the heart of their recovery policies in areas of health and education to protect them from physical and mental violence.

 

Along similar lines, the representative of Malaysia drew attention to her country’s national action plan on the protection of the rights of children. In ensuring quality education of children, her Government continues to provide early childhood care and education, especially for low-income households, she noted, asking how the Committee is moving forward in resolving the backlog of reviews postponed due to the pandemic.

 

The representative of the European Union, speaking in her capacity as observer, asked Ms. Otani what avenues she sees to further increase the meaningful participation of children, including human rights defenders, in the work of the Committee.

 

The representative of El Salvador pointed to centres for early infants in his country, highlighting a law that offers protection to breastfeeding mothers. He asked Ms. Otani about ways to harmonize the work of the Committee against major challenges to children around the world.

 

The representative of the Dominican Republic, noting that the COVID‑19 pandemic has impacted children in low-income households, cautioned that climate change disproportionately affects small island developing States. Children in countries such as the Dominican Republic are facing situations of great vulnerability, he added, asking about Committee recommendations answering inequalities that children are facing, such as unequal access to education and health as well as violence.

 

The representative of Japan asked Ms. Otani if she sees any missed opportunities for collaboration and, if so, how Member States can help.

 

Meanwhile, the representative of the Russian Federation criticized the Committee for continuing to promote at any opportunity the Western view vis-à-vis the situation in Ukraine. Calling on the Committee to maintain the principles of neutrality and impartiality, he emphasized that during the review of the implementation of the Convention’s provisions, there were no questions about violations of human rights on the part of Ukraine. To this end, he pointed to the investigation published by Amnesty International and its observation that Ukrainian armed forces are threating the lives of children by using schools as military bases.

 

Also speaking were representatives of Norway, Indonesia, Mexico, Uruguay, Chili, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, Syria and Qatar.

 

MIKIKO OTANI, responding to delegations, addressed the issue of backlog and called on Member States to support the agreed conclusions. On harmonizing the work of the Committee against global challenges, she stressed that the Committee is a part of the United Nations human rights mechanisms. Human rights issues are part of the mandates of United Nations human rights agencies, she noted, stressing the importance of strengthening collaboration with UNICEF and other United Nations agencies. To achieve the right to education in all countries, international cooperation must be enhanced, she stressed, calling on Member States that have not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict to do so.

 

Exploitation of Children, including those involved in child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, introduced her report. She noted that children affected by poverty, street situations, rural or marginalized communities, conflict, internal displacement, unregistered births, violence and abuse, and child labour are persistently at amplified risk of sale and sexual exploitation. “They are also at risk of being left behind in terms of strategies for tackling sale and sexual exploitation, as they remain largely excluded from data-collection exercises,” she said. Noting States’ progress in protecting vulnerable groups of children against child marriage, forced labour, abuse and exploitation, she stressed that the pandemic, conflicts and climate crisis have caused “enormous strains on child protection systems” and setbacks to gains made.

 

When the vulnerability of children is linked to the status of their families, alleviating poverty is essential, she said, adding that strategies to combat this include reallocating resources, distributing support schemes for caregivers supporting children with disabilities, eliminating barriers to accessing information and services, and providing access to health-care services for families and children in street settings. To protect children in the digital space, she recommended strengthening legal and policy frameworks regulating online space to counter the sale and sexual exploitation of children. She also stressed the need to strengthen transnational law-enforcement collaboration and ensure accountability. For children living within institutional and alternative care settings, she underscored the need to regulate, adopt and strengthen national standards and allocate adequate resources to deliver quality care. Standards must also be put in place to deter exploitation of children in travel and tourism, continuously supporting and monitoring adolescents transitioning from institutional care, she said. It is essential that adequate responses to children’s vulnerability be provided at the national, regional and international levels through legislation, policies, programmes and allocation of adequate resources, she emphasized. “These responses should be equally reflected in the reporting processes and national reviews and backed up by disaggregated data to inform evidence-based policymaking,” she said.

 

During the ensuing dialogue, delegates discussed how to foster collaboration with the private sector and provide a safe environment for children to combat their sale and sexual exploitation, both online and offline. The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, asked what role policy makers could play in collaboration with religious authorities and other leaders in the fight against such human rights violations. Further, she inquired how to involve the private sector, including to prevent the exploitation of children in the context of tourism, and if there are best practises in this regard. She also asked what could be done at the national level to address child abuse and the dissemination of sensitive material on the internet.

 

The delegate of Israel said that the wide reach of the Internet allows for the expression of all behaviours and asked the Rapporteur to elaborate her views on how to prevent the use of digital tools for prostitution, considering its borderless nature.

 

The representative of Australia, outlining national plans to combat modern slavery crimes and improve transparency and accountability, echoed questions on how to foster collaborations among nations, including with the private sector to better protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse.

 

The delegate of Malta noted that child, early and forced marriages are increasing in number due to gender inequality, which is often linked with political instability, asked for recommendations on how to ensure digital literacy for children.

 

The delegate of the United Kingdom, underscoring the risks for children’s safety in cyberspace, welcomed the negotiation of a cybercrime treaty, among other initiatives, and said that efforts are also required to make sure that technology companies meet their responsibilities. She asked if the expression child sexual abuse material is more appropriate than child pornography to better support survivors of violence.

 

The delegate of Syria asked the Rapporteur to clarify Recommendation number 4, on spreading information in the language of vulnerable groups.

 

Ms. Singhateh, responding, encouraged Member States to refer to sexual abuse material as opposed to child pornography. The latter term implies a willing participation of the child in the rights violation, whereas pictures or videos under discussion define abuses or even rape, which no child would agree to. Noting States’ mechanisms to protect sexual abuse online, she said that this is an issue to address not only through legal tools, but by raising awareness of risks associated with online technology. In this regard, the educational curriculum should detail how to use technology safely. Stressing the transborder nature of such crimes, with abuses potentially being done in one country and perpetrators being in another country, she called for cooperation among Governments and among enforcement agencies. As children in marginalized communities are particularly vulnerable, she underscored the need to bridge the language barrier and share information in a language marginalized groups understand. Highlighting the different manifestations of sale and sexual abuses of children, she pointed to “the dangerous trend” of unregulated volunteering. Further, she stressed the importance of fostering collaboration among Governments as well as Governments and the private sector, encouraging industries to comply with human rights in the way they do business.

 

Also speaking in the dialogue were the representatives of Mexico, United States, Canada, Tanzania, Ghana, the Russian Federation and Malaysia.

 

Statements

 

WANG ZIXU (China) said the international community must effectuate the peaceful settlement of disputes so that children are spared from the scourge of war. For China, implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the eradication of child poverty are policy priorities. International cooperation is key, he said, calling on all countries to enhance collaboration sharing of policy experiences. China is home to 250 million children, he said, adding that its Government prioritizes their development. He outlined a number of legislative measures aimed at bringing about the all-round development of children, including the amendment of laws and regulations to protect minors and prevent juvenile delinquency. China has implemented the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols and is continuing to implement all its international treaty obligations to ensure the full protection of children’s rights.

 

OR SHAKED (Israel) put a spotlight on cyberbullying, noting that his country has launched a comprehensive strategic plan to eradicate threats against young people on social media, apps and forums. Known as the Knights of the Web patrol, launched in September and staffed by tech-savvy volunteers, this initiative advises and supports children and teenagers to help them deal with online harm. In the Human Rights Council, he added, Israel joined Argentina, Germany and Greece in launching a resolution, adopted by consensus, aimed at countering cyberbullying at the global level and galvanizing Member States into acting.

 

Ms. RAMIREZ, youth delegate of Mexico, highlighted her country’s general law on the rights of boys, girls and adolescents, which recognizes these groups as agents of change and defines specific measures to protect them from all forms of violence, both physical and psychological. She called for the implementation of the law as crucial in guaranteeing the promotion of children’s rights in all parts of the country and at all levels of Government. Turning to migration, she drew attention to the increase in arrivals of boys, girls and teenagers, many of them unaccompanied. She went on to underline the impact of the country’s sanitation crisis on children, including the shortage of access, and voiced concern over the humanitarian crisis exacerbated by the geopolitical situation. Mexico is above all concerned with the health crisis, she asserted, pointing to thousands of children left without access to education. The trends towards online learning exacerbated the exposure of children to online violence, including cyberbullying, sexual exploitation and human trafficking, she warned, stressing the importance of integrating digital learning tools into learning plans.

 

Mr. SHARMA (India), underscoring the importance of accessible and quality primary education, said that school is free and compulsory in his country up to 14 years of age, adding that private schools now reserve 25 per cent of seats for children with lesser means. The country’s Save the Girl Child, Educate the Girl Child programme addresses imbalance in the child‑sex ratio, and the Clean India Mission assures clean facilities in schools, he said. He acknowledged the benefits of digital tools in schools but said they increase exposure to cyberbullying, trafficking, and extremism. Further, affirming that terror groups take advantage of school closures due to pandemics and crises, he called on the international community to hold terrorists accountable and thus fulfil their child protection obligations.

 

Ms. EGAN (Ireland) expressed deep concern over children’s human rights violations, particularly in armed conflicts. Stressing that education is the right of every child, she said attacks on schools undermine this right and endanger both children and teachers. “Deliberate targeting, attacks on and use of schools and hospitals by armed groups can never be justified and must end,” she said, urging States to sign on to and implement the Paris Principles and Safe Schools Declaration. “We are particularly appalled that girls in Afghanistan continue to be denied their right to education. It has been over a year since Afghanistan became the only country in the world to ban girls from accessing secondary education,” she said, calling on the Taliban to reverse this decision and condemning the recent attack on the Kaaj tuition Centre in Kabul.

 

NELLY BANAKEN ELEL (Cameroon), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, emphasized that children are not expected to work for their food and education or be treated as adults. “That is why we are committed to establishing a juvenile criminal justice system and why we all are so offended to see a child sentenced to death or tried as an adult by the courts”, she said. While they should be consulted, children also should not be involved in adult struggles, she continued. Educational drop-out, child and early marriage, and exposure to sexual abuse undermining their innocence, show that “we have failed as adults, we have failed as parents, we have failed as nations”, she emphasized. She said that “turning children into soldiers of Boko Haram, soldiers of climate change, soldiers of gender equality or any other cause, no matter how noble, is an admission of resignation”. Instead, adults should provide for them, including education and health, while rethinking the role they play.

 

Mr. KOVACEVIC, a youth delegate of Serbia, encouraged States to listen to homeless children, child soldiers and victims of human trafficking, sexual violence or domestic abuse, adding that the safety and well-being of children remains a vital topic. He stressed the importance of security, quality and accessibility of education, emphasizing that, according to the World Bank, every additional year children stay in school is likely to raise their eventual earnings by 10 per cent for men and 12 per cent for women. Highlighting the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, he emphasized that every effort must be made to ensure that current generations get back on the educational track fully.

 

Ms. STOJKOVIC, another youth delegate of Serbia, noted that much attention has been paid to the safety of children on the Internet. However, physical violence remains an issue to be tackled, she said, as “children below 18 constitute more than 50 per cent of the population in countries inflicted by war”.

 

FLOR KRISTEN FLORES TELLO (Panama) said the climate reality for many children around the world is alarming, particularly for the most vulnerable, including migrants and refugees, questioning: “What future are we leaving for them?” She went on to outline legal measures taken by Panama to protect and promote the rights of children, including the passing of an early childhood law in 2020, which ensures support for children between the ages of 0 and 8, recognizing the rights of children without discriminating over their age or development level. Panama has expanded centres for early childhood care across the country and passed a law in February guaranteeing the rights of children and teenagers. Such measures raise the standards for their rights and holistic development, she added. Panama has ratified the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and will continue to work on ensuring a dignified health care system and strengthening its legal framework.

 

Mr. CROKER (United Kingdom) expressed concern about continuing and growing disparities between children living in the richest and poorest households and called for stepped‑up efforts to promote and protect the rights of children. The United Kingdom is putting girls at the heart of its foreign and development policies, using all tools – technical, influencing, evidence, and targeted spending – to drive progress. It intends to publish a new Women and Girls’ Strategy this year, framed by 3 Es: educating girls, empowering women and girls, and ending violence. Turning to protecting children from the effects of armed conflict, he said it is a moral, legal and strategic imperative and an essential element to break the cycle of violence. Further, tackling sexual violence in conflict and ensuring support for survivors, including children, remains a top priority. The United Kingdom will host an ambitious international Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative Conference from 28 to 29 November to accelerate prevention, justice and support for survivors.

 

SONIA MARINA PEREIRA PORTILLA (Colombia) highlighted her Government’s cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and International Organization for Migration as well as its participation in the Global Alliance to end violence against children. Highlighting the link between degradation of the environment and the rights of the child, she noted that children must know their rights in order to enjoy them. She reiterated her Government’s commitment to support the rights of the child as a key policy of the State.

 

NCHIMUNYA NKOMBO (Zambia), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, the African Group and SADC, recalled that in August 2022, her Government enacted the Children’s Code Act, aimed at strengthening the protection of children, including the eradication of child marriage and teenage pregnancies as well as its consequences, such as HIV infections. Zambia aims to end AIDS among children by 2030, she said, pointing to the quest to attain universal health coverage by 2030. Recognizing the important role of education in socioeconomic development, she highlighted the introduction of free education in public schools from early childhood to secondary schools, which gives an opportunity to all vulnerable children. Describing education as a powerful tool in the prevention of harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage, she stressed that the COVID‑19 pandemic increased the vulnerabilities of girls to the disruption of the education system.

 

ISABELLA RIVERA (Honduras) said her country has been dealing with violence against children and young people due to the fallout of policies implemented by previous Governments, which militarized society, criminalized public protest, and led to a link between organized crime and Government bodies. A key pillar in this process of deep change driving forward the rights of children is providing a quality education, she said. Food sovereignty is another key goal in the holistic response of Honduras to issues related to children, which includes a school meals programme as well as strategies for violence prevention, she added. This holistic approach also includes the inclusion of girls and youth in science, technology, culture, art, and sport programmes, as well as citizen security tools to ensure children are able to fully participate in society, she said.

 

ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ BEHMARAS (Cuba) stressed that global crises have exacerbated illiteracy and poverty for children, with developing countries particularly impacted. He added that the blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States hinders children’s enjoyment of human rights and the quality of their lives. Noting progress by his country, he pointed to national policies and programmes addressing health care and the protection of human rights, in an intersected approach. He reiterated his country’s commitment to promote the rights of children to be heard and participate in family decisions that affect them.

 

MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia), aligning herself with ASEAN and the Group of 77 and China, stressed that any nation that abandons its own children is a nation that abandons its future. Protecting the rights of children is of utmost importance, she continued, noting that her Government pushed forward implementation of key policies and a legal framework to fulfil the rights of children, and strengthened institutions needed to effectively address violence against children. To this end, she pointed to centres equipped with trained mental health and legal counsellors to immediately respond to reported cases of violence against children. Since 2021, a national hotline has also been available, providing victims, including children, with easier access. On progress in removing children from situations such as child labour and child marriage, she recalled that in 2019 her Government made key legislative changes to prevent child marriage and raised the minimum age of marriage from 16 to 19. During the COVID‑19 pandemic, the Government provided free vaccines to all Indonesian residents, including children, she added.

 

MICHAL SALÍNI, youth delegate of Slovakia, associating himself with the European Union, said the world must tackle unprecedented challenges in the wake of the global pandemic and climate change consequences, as well as a multitude of protracted conflicts. Slovakia firmly believes that one way to do so is through access to justice, he continued, adding that his country, along with its partners from Czechia and UNICEF, organized on 12 September 2022 an event to raise awareness of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure.

 

TOMÁŠ GRÜNWALD (Slovakia) said the “cruel reality” is that climate change is having a negative impact on children’s lives, underscoring the need for urgent climate action. Alluding to recent events in Pakistan, where 33 million people, including 16 million children, have been affected by heavy monsoon rains, and 1,100 people, including over 350 children, have lost their lives. He went on to deplore targeted attacks by the Russian Federation against children’s homes, schools, hospitals and orphanages in Ukraine, which have already led to dozens of killed or wounded children, adding that Ukrainian children suffer from multiple violations of their human rights, including the right to education.

 

RICHARD ARBEITER (Canada) expressed hope that delegates had childhoods free of conflict and hunger along with the opportunity to make individual choices and exercise their rights as children. Pointing to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said children should be recognized as active changers of society, encouraging States to act in their best interest. Noting that “the multiple intersecting crises we are all confronting are resulting in backsliding on child rights globally”, he said that while progress has been recorded, it has been uneven among regions, and he underscored that 10 million girls are at risk of child marriage in the next decade. He encouraged the international community to end this practice, which requires recognizing the inherent rights of girls and adolescents everywhere.

 

KARIN KUNJARA NA AYUDHYA (Thailand), aligning with ASEAN, alluded to a tragic event that occurred a few days before at a child development centre in his country, involving the killing of several dozen people, including children. He said such tragedies are a reminder of the vulnerability of children and the importance of protecting them. Thailand takes a multidisciplinary approach involving a range of legislative improvements, based on its core commitments under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. These include amendments to existing laws to modernize its child protection structure and reflect the evolving nature of discrimination and violence against children, including child labour and pornography. The protection and promotion of children’s rights should be extended to the digital environment, he said.

 

JUAN JOSÉ RIVA GRELA (Uruguay) stressed that the vulnerability of children to violence continues to be exacerbated by multiple overlapping crises, such as the increase in poverty, economic crisis, displacement, conflict, climate change, degradation of the environment and food insecurity. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that, prior to the pandemic, one billion children were living in multidimensional poverty; since then, the number has increased, he said. He voiced concern over issues such as child labour, child marriage, trafficking of children, child sexual exploitation, and recruitment of children by criminal groups. The poorest households are most likely to see their children drop out of their education, he said, calling this interruption in children’s education “problematic”.

 

Source: UN General Assembly