Committee Takes Up Rights of the Child, Hears from Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict

The most important single challenge in addressing the plight of children in armed conflict was how to translate international instruments and local values into practice on the ground, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) was told this afternoon as it began its consideration of issues relating to the rights of the child.

Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said governments must incorporate their concerns into concrete policies and, in a concerted way, bring pressure to bear on those who were abusive to children and women in conflict situations. Political reinforcement of commitments was essential, and local value systems that sought to protect children should be promoted.

Modest steps could lead to reversal of the systematic abuse of children and women, he said. The means to resolve the situation existed. The world had become inextricably interdependent, and every country and area depended on the wider international community. That should be used to reverse the present trend and to make the world safer for all children.

As children learned to kill at an early age, they lost part of their humanity, and killing became a guiltless act, the representative of the Republic of Korea said. Their young and inherently innocent souls could not deal with the violence they were forced to experience. He called for the early adoption of an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts.

Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said tackling the sale and trafficking of children was not easy, primarily due to the scarcity of data and information available. The concepts of sale and trafficking were not properly understood, and it was difficult to draw a line between them, or even to determine if such a line existed.

She also stressed the need to demystify the Internet; to control the ways in which it was used to disseminate child pornography; and to harness the ways in which it could be useful by sharing data on paedophiles or missing children.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union and associated States, the representative of Austria condemned the spread of child pornography, particularly on the Internet. Only through the close cooperation of States, the United Nations system, non-governmental organizations and private business, including on-line services and Internet service providers, could action against child abuse, including on the Internet, be effective.

Carol Bellamy, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the Committee on the Rights of the Child had a vital role to play in promoting the rights of children. However, the success of the Convention on the Rights of the Child meant the Committee members were swamped, and she urged States parties to accept an amendment to the Convention to clear the way to increase the Committee membership from 10 to 18.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Panama (on behalf of the Rio Group), Namibia (on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Bangladesh, Rwanda and Japan. The observer for the Holy See also made a statement, as did Bacre Waly Ndiaye, Director of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Francesco Paolo Fulci, Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow, 21 October, at 10 a. m. to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this afternoon to begin consideration of issues relating to the promotion and protection of the rights of children. It had before it reports of the Secretary-General on the Convention of the Rights of the Child and on the Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as a note in which he transmits the report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Also before the Committee under this item was the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (document A/53/482), which was to be issued.

The report of the Secretary-General on the Convention of the Rights of the Child (document A/53/281) states that on 12 December 1997, the Assembly adopted a resolution (52/107) entitled “The Rights of the Child”, in which it tackled such issues as the implementation of the Convention; the prevention and eradication of the sale of children and of their sexual exploitation; the protection of children affected by armed conflict; and the elimination of the exploitation of child labour. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted in November 1989 by Assembly resolution 44/25. As of 1 August 1998, the Convention had been signed by one State and acceded to or ratified by 191 States (for background, see document A/52/348, annex).

The report states that the Commission on Human Rights, at its fifty- fourth session, called on States parties, United Nations organs, and intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as the media and the community at large, to propagate the principles and provisions of the Convention, and to encourage training on the rights of the child for those involved in activities concerning children, for example, through the programme of advisory services and technical cooperation in the field of human rights.

The report also cited several initiatives, mainly by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), such as:the launching in January 1998 of the Implementation Handbook for the Convention on the Rights of the Child; measures to prevent childhood disability; development of national plans to address commercial sexual exploitation with emphasis on the trafficking of women and children; the prevention of the recruitment of children in armed conflict, while providing access to education, vocational training, and income-generating activities; and measures to guarantee the protection of the rights of the child from economic exploitation and from performing work likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s overall development.

The report of the Secretary-General on the Committee on the Rights of the Child (document A/53/41) includes conclusions and recommendations adopted at its twelfth to seventeenth sessions. At the close of the seventeenth session on 23 January 1998, the Committee had received 113 initial reports and eight periodic reports by States parties under article 44 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and a total of 82 reports had been examined by the Committee.

According to the report, the Committee agreed that consolidating the reports on each of the six human rights treaties into one report would not be conducive to the implementation of the rights enshrined in each treaty. The periodic reports of States should focus on the issues identified in the concluding observations adopted by the Committee. Further, representatives of the States parties should be invited when their reports were being examined to enable dialogue between the Committee and the reporting State. The report also includes an overview of the Committee’s other activities; a plan of action to strengthen the implementation of the Convention; and guidelines and methodology for the periodic reports by States. The Committee calls for cooperation with the United Nations and other competent bodies; greater attention on the child and media; and the rights of children with disabilities.

The Committee recommends that special attention be devoted to the rights of the child in the areas of definition of war crimes, age of criminal responsibility, aggravating and mitigating circumstances of the crimes and the protection of the rights of the child victim within the court’s jurisdiction.

Initial country reports of more than 30 countries are included, with sections that include:principal subjects of concern, suggestions and recommendations. The countries that have submitted reports are:Algeria, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, China, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Federated States of Micronesia, Guatemala, Ireland, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritius, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Slovenia, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Togo, Uganda, United Kingdom, Uruguay and Zimbabwe, as well as dependent countries.

A note by the Secretary-General transmits the interim report prepared by Ofelia Calcetas-Santos, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (document A/53/311). The mandate of the Special Rapporteur comprises three elements:sale, prostitution and pornography.

The abuse of children was brought to the attention of the international community on an unprecedented scale during the World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Stockholm, 1996), the report states. International law concerning the trafficking of human beings generally has been evolving throughout the twentieth century, but the recent widespread reports of women and children being trafficked for prostitution have demonstrated the inadequacy of the current legal regime and response mechanisms which purport to address such atrocities.

Among notable events during the year, the report notes, was the Global March against Child Labour, a six-month-long intercontinental march. Over 15,000 people from different parts of the world left Manila in January 1998 and covered over 80,000 kilometres through more than 80 countries in Asia, the Americas, Africa and Europe. In May 1998, Interpol and ECPAT (Global Network to End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography, and the Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes) hosted a meeting of experts on child pornography at the Interpol headquarters in Lyon, France, to consider ways of combating abuse of children.

The International Federation of Tour Operators, at its annual meeting in June 1997, agreed to support the international tourism campaign to end child prostitution. Regional cooperation in the greater Mekong area on the promotion and protection of children’s rights was discussed at a joint consultation of government and political authorities and non-governmental organizations, held in Thailand in April 1997, where it was proposed that a new United Nations convention or protocol was needed to protect children from being trafficked across borders.

Among significant regional and country developments noted in the report was the alarming increase in the number of prostitutes in Eastern Europe. Prostitution has become a way of making money quickly, and the child sex industry is thriving with the increasing arrival of tourists, many from Finland and Sweden.

With the recent restrictions and operations against sex tourism in Thailand and other Asian countries, a growing number of “sex tourists” are visiting Central America. Italy was outraged by the sexual abuse and murder of a small boy near Naples in 1997, which highlighted the urgent need for national and international action to combat highly organized child pornography rings and access to paedophile material on the Internet.

Throughout the twentieth century, a succession of international treaties have been adopted to combat trafficking and related offences, such as slavery, forced labour, and creation and dissemination of pornography, the report states. The 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others consolidated four previous treaties. The statutes have concentrated on trafficking of women and children for the purposes of prostitution. The Convention on the Rights of the Child marked a significant evolution in international law, containing important safeguards against illegal adoption and transfer of children from their parents.

The Special Rapporteur notes that she has dealt extensively with issues pertaining to the commercial sexual exploitation of children in her previous reports. Another cause of trafficking, especially of babies and very young children, is inter-country adoption. The increase in such adoptions results from the shortage of children available for adoption in most developed countries.

The “need” for children has put pressure on sending countries to respond quickly to the growing demand, often without having the necessary infrastructure and mechanisms to proceed properly, the Special Rapporteur notes. This situation has led to abuses and the creation of an international market for adoptable children that are sold without the consent of their parents. Special attention should be given to the situation of unmarried or poor women, who may be forced or pressured into giving up their children.

The report states that although trafficking of children is most commonly associated with prostitution, many children are, in fact, recruited as a cheap source of labour. In many developing countries, labour “contractors” pay rural families in advance for their children whom they take away to work in cities, where many become victims of sexual abuse.

The alarming trend of increased participation of children in armed conflicts has led to a situation where children are abducted and forcibly conscripted. The development and proliferation of lightweight automatic weapons has made it possible for very young children to bear and use arms. Many more children abducted and trafficked into war zones are being used in indirect ways, as cooks, messengers and porters. Children have also been used for mine clearance, spying and suicide bombing.

One basic problem faced in effectively addressing the issues of sale and trafficking is the lack of clear definitions, which results in confusion, difficulty in drafting legislation, and weak enforcement mechanisms, the report further states. The lack of clarity persists partly because trafficking covers a wide variety of situations, not all of which involve illegal migration or exploitation.

According to the report, problems are further compounded by constantly changing and innovative forms of recruitment strategies and varying modes of deception, coercion and force employed in the process. Most countries of destination do not have response mechanisms in place to extricate children from exploitative situations arising from sale or trafficking. This is particularly true in the case of adoption, where most law enforcement agents are reluctant to intervene in what are perceived to be purely domestic problems. Likewise, most national legislations do not make any distinction between trafficking and illegal migration.

To combat trafficking in women and children, the United States and Italy recently established a Working Group on Trafficking in Women and Children, the report states. The Working Group, which held its first meeting in Rome on 14 April 1998, agreed to certain joint actions. They said the protection of the rights of victims of trafficking must be promoted through the exchange of best practices with respect to assistance, protection and social integration of victims.

They also recommended that common initiatives, including joint programme strategies for victim outreach, should be implemented. They articulated the need for training for law enforcement, immigration and border officials in source countries, to help them identify patterns and methods of trafficking and to prevent it. They also said witness protection procedures and victim services should be developed in source countries for cases of repatriation.

The Special Rapporteur also recommended:the sale and trafficking of persons must be unequivocally condemned as an affront to human dignity, since it reduces people to the level of objects of trade and commerce; international standards with regard to sale and trafficking should be set, together with international mechanisms to ensure reporting and monitoring of State activities; hospitals, clinics and care institutions should be strictly monitored, in order to reduce the risk of abduction, sale and trafficking of children; and the establishment of international and regional registers for children adopted internationally should be considered.

She also recommended international and regional registers for missing children. Programmes and initiatives should be established to address the issue of stigmatization of single mothers and to empower them to keep their children, should they so desire. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation, especially between countries sharing borders, and systematic exchange of information are imperative. Law enforcement agents and members of the judiciary in affected countries should be trained on and sensitized to issues of trafficking and the rights and needs of the victims. Also, policies should be revised to prevent further marginalization and traumatization of trafficked children.

She said victims of trafficking must be guaranteed freedom from persecution or harassment by those in positions of authority and access to free legal assistance and qualified interpreters. The State in the territory under whose jurisdiction the trafficking took place or where the trafficked child is found must take all necessary steps to prosecute all the perpetrators. She also recommended humane policy guidelines, which can accomplish much to soften legal structures and help attenuate the plight of victims.


OLARA OTUNNU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said a great debt of gratitude was owed to Gra a Machel. Her seminal report on the impact of war on children had laid the foundations of all the work on the issue.

The main activities that he had carried out covered four main areas, he said. In the area of public advocacy, it was important to create greater awareness in public, as well as official, circles, and use that awareness as a base to mobilize for action. He stressed the promoting of standards at international and local levels:it was crucial to move from the recognition of such standards to putting them into practice on the ground. It was also important to shape concrete initiatives that could be implemented on the ground, concerning use of civilians in conflict and the use of landmines, for example. Fourth, in post-conflict situations, it was important to find ways to make the needs of children a central concern.

He said that highlights of his work had included making country visits with the objective of bearing witness on the ground, using the occasion of the visit to highlight the plight of children and making concrete proposals on how their situation could be improved. He had also engaged the Security Council on the issue. In June, the Council had adopted a presidential statement on the issue, which had been a ground-breaking event. He said the Council should be used as an advocacy tool. He was also pleased to note that in the Rome preparatory deliberations for the establishment of the International Criminal Court, provisions had been made concerning rape, the recruitment of children, and attacks on places such as hospitals. Such rules of the Court should also be used as advocacy tools.

He said he was pleased with the response of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to the issue of children and armed conflict. At the regional level, he had begun a process of regional initiatives that would ensure regional commitment and political support for the issue. Efforts at media outreach were beginning to bear fruit, internationally and regionally. United Nations agencies should set the best example by their own conduct. He was talking with the Under- Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Bernard Miyet, to review procedures to strengthen arrangements in place regarding the conduct of United Nations personnel.

The most important single challenge was how to translate international instruments and local values into practice on the ground, he said. Concerned governments must incorporate their concerns into concrete policies and, in a concerted way, bring pressure to bear on those who were abusive to children and women in conflict situations.

Among his other main conclusions drawn from the work of the past year was the belief that the initiative taken by the Security Council was ground- breaking, and that the momentum must not be lost, he said. He hoped that the Council would remain informed by the commitment it had made in its presidential statement.

The role of NGOs was also indispensable in shaping the agenda, he said. The issue was too important to remain in the province of governments and international organizations. Non-governmental organizations could contribute in advocacy. Those with operational activities on the ground could respond in conflict and post-conflict situations. They could also contribute to the dissemination of information.

There were two levels of follow-up action to be taken, he said. First, the political reinforcement of commitments was essential. Governments must make it clear that they cared, and that it was important for parties to follow through on commitments that had been made. He also stressed the importance of local value systems. Along with international mechanisms, in many societies there existed local value systems that sought to protect children and called for sacrifice on their behalf. In too many places, such systems were undermined; instead, ways to strengthen them should be promoted.

In post-conflict situations, best practices must be applied on the ground, and monitoring was essential, he said. On raising the age limit for the recruitment of children, the existing standard of fifteen years old was too low. The standard should be raised to eighteen years old. Equally important was the application of such standards. It was not much use to strengthen and improve juridical standards if they were not being applied on the ground.

In the context of regional initiatives, he said he hoped that countries neighbouring areas of conflict would make commitments that would protect children; on the recruitment of children; on their abduction and use in conflict; on the flow of small arms to areas of conflict; and on the flow of landmines. All were important cross-border issues that must be addressed.

The modest steps that must be taken could lead to the reversing of the systematic abuse of children and women, he said. The means to resolve the situation existed. The world had become inextricably interdependent:no place was an island unto itself, and every country and area depended on the wider international community. That fact should be used to reverse the present trend and to make the world safer for all children.

OFELIA CALCETAS-SANTOS, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said it was gratifying that there was a manual for victims in general. Tackling the sale and/or trafficking of children was not a very easy task, primarily due to the scarcity of data and information available. That was because the concepts of sale and trafficking were not properly understood. There was no international definition of sale, a lack which made it difficult to draw the line between sale and trafficking, or even to determine if such a line existed. In most cases, elements of both were involved, making it hard to say where one ended and the other began. That was why her report dealt with sale and trafficking, without treating them as distinct categories.

The concept of sale was basically a commercial or mercantile one, where the consideration was usually the price in money, she said. There were clear parameters on the traditional concept of sale that differentiated it from other commercial transactions, such as barter or lease. Those parameters were often blurred in the case of the sale of children. Those issues had to be resolved if there was to be advocacy for international attention on that incursion into the rights of children. One such issue would refer to the consideration of whether sale referred only to transactions involving money or could include other types of exchange. Another issue involved the nature of the transfer of custody of the child from one person to another as a consequence of the sale. She proposed that some degree of permanence be injected in such transfers, either of the custody of or the parental authority over the child.

BACRE WALY NDIAYE, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said only two States had not joined the Convention on the Rights of the Child, namely, the United States and Somalia, thus ensuring, for the first time in the history of international human rights instruments, the universality called for by the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. The challenging obligations set by the Convention involved improving legislation and policies, changing mentalities and prioritizing resources for the best interests of all children, with particular attention to the most vulnerable. While the primary responsibility rested with States, worldwide solidarity was required to ensure the effective protection and promotion of the rights of the child.

With the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a new trend was developing towards a better integration of child rights into overall policies, activities and programmes of the Office, he said. Support to and reinforcement of existing efforts to prevent and combat the trafficking of women and children had become one of the main objectives of the Office. The Plan of Action of the High Commissioner to strengthen the implementation of the Convention was being implemented. The purpose of that Plan, for which contributions from States parties to the Convention had been received, was to provide substantive support to the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, with States parties assisting in transforming recommendations into reality through the provision of adequate resources, coordination with partners within the United Nations system and NGOs, and follow-up.

Exchange of Views

The representative of Austria, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked about adequate follow-up to commitments the Special Representative had gained from governments and other parties in his field visits. Some of the commitments had been quite remarkable, but how could an adequate follow-up be ensured? he asked. He also asked about developing a framework of active collaboration and cooperation within the United Nations system.

The European Union was also concerned about the issue of abuse of children and trafficking of children in particular, he said. He asked about the issue of new technology, especially the use of the Internet for child pornography. How was the United Nations system addressing that issue?

FRANCESCO PAOLO FULCI (Italy), Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council and a member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said it was essential to do more about the tragic plight of too many children in the world, which was witnessing a proliferation of abuses of children. The Committee in Geneva that monitored the Convention of the Rights of the Child — a Convention that had been ratified by 191 out of 193 States, with the exception of the United States and Somalia, for quite different reasons — was putting more emphasis on the case of children in conflict situations.

A brand new law had also just been passed by the Italian Parliament on the abuse of children, he said. Italy had transferred into action what had been suggested at Stockholm. Severe penalties were imposed on the monsters who engaged and profited from the sexual exploitation of children. His Government would carefully study the recommendation of the reports before the Committee. He also stressed the involvement of the mass media in mobilizing opinion on issues relating to children. He advocated the award of a prize, like the Pulitzer Prize, for the best coverage of the plight of children. He also asked what role the Economic and Social Council could take on the issue of children.

The representative of Guinea asked why Mr. Otunno had made the appeal to States to make the issue of children in Sierra Leone a pilot project. What was the impact of that appeal?

The representative of Japan asked the Special Representative about his office’s working relationship with other United Nations organs, such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Public Information. Japan was planning a symposium for next month, so it wanted to know about mechanisms to improve cooperation.

The representative of Portugal said the Special Representative had an important role in advocacy of children in armed conflict. But how did he do that without operation structures at the national level?How would he envisage close cooperation between those organs of the United Nations system? What criteria had he set up in selecting field visits, and how were United Nations bodies involved in his planning and selection of those visits.

The representative of C te d’Ivoire asked about the fate of children held as prisoners of war and also as common-law prisoners. Had the Special Representative done any research or survey on those children and what recommendations did he have?Also, what about children given over to banditry?Those same questions were also asked of Ms. Calcetas-Santos, the Special Rapporteur. Had there been any research on children in pornography and in prostitution, street children and begging. Also, the Special Representative had said agents had been sent to the field involved in the protection of children and the measures taken. He had brought attention to Secretariat, but was anything being done to protect children?

The representative of the United States said she hoped she would not have to hear about the United States not having signed the Convention. She agreed with Mr. Otunno about raising the age of children, but not necessarily to 18 for children in armed conflict. She was concerned that there had not been successful results to implement the existing standard of keeping the age at 15. If that was not possible, how would it be possible to implement an increase in age to 18?Regarding Mr. Otunno’s statement in his report about a more child-focused approach, which was to seek to explore preventive measures, she asked what was the collaboration between that and the humanitarian working group.

Mr. OTUNNO said that, in terms of follow-up activities, there were two levels. One, the political level, which was to reinforce his message and the commitments made on the ground. He had no power, but could only persuade people to make public statements of commitment. Delegates, however, had their own lines of communication, which they should utilize to reinforce the same message. Above all, what mattered was that the parties in conflict got that message. Obviously, they would pay attention to commitments they had made. Concerned governments and NGOs had their own lines of communication which had to be used.

Regarding his office and United Nations agencies on the ground, that was a more administrative issue, he said. It would be a priority soon. Right now, there was a lack of staff capacity. It was absurd that it took one year to recruit a P-3 staff member for a year’s contract, which was funded by voluntary contributions. Such conditions had to change.

Regarding collaboration between his office and the operational agencies, there were various levels, he said. The staff of those agencies and NGOs helped him select issues to raise on the ground. They provided information, they travelled with him and met the various interlocutors. At Headquarters, the efforts were to bring together all key actors for advice and strategies, but there was the same lack of capacity.

He also sat on the Executive Committee on Humanitarian Affairs, he said. He hoped more and more human rights agencies would increasingly seek to make those issues central to their committees. He hoped it would be possible to work that agenda into a major concern, primarily for the Economic and Social Council. The question of how to better use the forum of the Economic and Social Council to highlight issues common to those agencies had been set in motion by his colleagues.

Important as it was, if there was no follow-up, initiatives would be flashes in a pan, he said. Security Council members must engage in those issues on an ongoing basis.

He said he relied entirely on the United Nations agencies and NGOs on the ground, and that he himself had no ground presence. They relied on him and he on them. What initiative he set off had an impact on those at the frontline. That was his conception.

Regarding the idea of prizes for documentary films, he said he was very keen to explore the idea. He was all for such concrete ideas. How to strengthen advocacy capacity — that was a priority. He was in touch with various media to see how they could help.

Sierra Leone was a first case, he said. After his visit, he had appealed to the international community. He urged Member States not to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. His idea was to make Sierra Leone a pilot case, in which concerted response on children and women would be mobilized. The role of the Economic Community of West African States’ Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG) deserved financial and logistical support from the international community.