Speakers Urge Optional Protocol to Child Rights Convention; Impact of Poverty, Malnutrition on Children’s Rights Also Highlighted
Children under eighteen years of age should not be recruited into armed forces, nor participate in armed conflict, and an optional protocol to that effect should be added to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, many speakers told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) this morning, as it continued its consideration of issues related to the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.
The representative of the Czech Republic said approximately 250,000 children below eighteen years of age were participating in more than 30 armed conflicts worldwide and 40 per cent of the victims of armed conflict were children. Unfortunately, the Convention on the Rights of the Child contained the apparently nonsensical clause that the age limit for the protection of a child was lowered from 18 to 15 years in the event the child took part in armed conflict.
The representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said the Federation was fully committed to the principle of non-recruitment and non-participation of children below the age of 18 in armed conflicts. One important mechanism in that regard would be the drafting of an optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which would include an age limit of eighteen years for participation in armed conflict.
The representative of Chile said the Convention had proved to have gaps in at least two areas of particular importance:the sale of children and their use in pornography; and the participation of children in armed conflict. He was concerned by the slow pace of the work in the two working groups established to address those gaps, which was not compatible with the importance of the issues.
Several speakers also highlighted the problem of poverty, in particular malnutrition, saying it could erode the gains that had been made so far in children’s rights. The representative of the World Health Organization (WHO) said more than 30,000 young children still died each day from the effects of disease and inadequate nutrition, or more than 11 million children each year. In some countries, more than one in five children died before they reached their fifth birthday and seven out of ten deaths of children under five years of age were from just five causes — pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria, measles and malnutrition.
Statements were also made by the representatives of Kazakhstan, San Marino, Yemen, Barbados, Australia, Liechtenstein, Philippines, United States, Colombia, Ghana, Cyprus, Norway, Mali, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, also made a statement.
The Third Committee will meet again at 3 p. m. today to conclude consideration of the issues related to promotion and protection of the rights of the child.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to continue 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 (document A/53/281) and on the Committee on the Rights of the Child (document A/53/41). Also before it was the report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (document A/53/311) and the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (document (A/53/482).
(For detailed background see Press Releases GA/SHC/3479 and GA/SHC/3480 issued 20 and 21 October respectively. )
AKMARAL ARYSTANBEKOVA (Kazakhstan) said her Government was conducting a targeted policy to promote and protect the rights of children in her country, reflected in a memorandum entitled “Implementationof the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Central Asia and Kazakhstan”. In addition, her Government and UNICEF had another initiative — “Bobek”. Both of those efforts were aimed at full implementation of the Convention in Central Asia and Kazakhstan, in the context of socially oriented economic reforms. Also, legislative instruments had been adopted that provided for the protection of the rights of children, including a new act on marriage and the family, which also reflected the provisions of the Convention.
Unfortunately, the Aral Sea was not Kazakhstan’s only tragedy. The Government had been called upon to solve the serious problems it had inherited from the cold-war era, especially the consequences of some 500 nuclear tests conducted at the former Soviet nuclear-testing ground, which continued to have an extremely harmful impact on people’s health. More than 1. 6 million people had been subjected to radiation. Beginning in 1950, infant mortality in the region had increased five to ten fold, and the average life expectancy of the population had decreased.
She said her Government was intensifying its measures to rehabilitate the population of those regions, especially children, through the adoption of relevant legislative instruments and the development of medical rehabilitation programmes. But, it needed additional resources. Also, her Government favoured the speedy conclusion of drafting the optional protocol to the Convention relating to the involvement of children in armed conflict, including a provision that persons under the age of 18 should not be involved in military conflicts.
MARINA FAETANINI (San Marino) said the question of children in armed conflict was crucially important and should be a part of the work of the Security Council. When children were involved, it was an emergency situation in need of the highest political attention. Even though a basic legislative protection already existed — which had yet to be fully implemented — the number of children in armed conflict was dramatically rising. Raising the minimum age of involvement in hostilities would not change the situation overnight, but it would certainly be a good and necessary step in the right direction.
The massacres, tortures, sexual abuse, forced prostitution, trafficking of children, child labour and mutilation of children were not coming to an end just because they were being discussed, but the words of the international community were essential in raising awareness, she said. They should be transmitted through the widest possible channels of communication. The remarkable work achieved by countless non-governmental organizations was also an irreplaceable source of information. Situations could only change when the work of non-governmental organizations and the media was included. The international ban on landmines was a good example of how fast things could change when a network to raise awareness was created and widely expanded.
WALID AL-ETHARY (Yemen) said he hoped there would be a continued focus on poverty, since children were suffering from disease and were weighed down by greedy employers. Affirming that the international community could do much to protect the rights of children, his Government was working to establish nurseries, schools, orphanages and vocational schools, as well as providing them with food, health care and education, all with the aim of reducing their suffering. His Government realized that it had much to do to reach the point already achieved by certain other countries.
Islam prohibited the sale of children, human beings and organs, he continued. Vaccinations against poliomyelitis had been thorough and were near full completion. There were also determined efforts being made to address issues relating to children in line with international instruments, which his Government had endorsed without any reservations. The fight against the prime enemy of children — poverty and disease — must continue, so that they might live in a happy world.
BETTY ANN RUSSELL (Barbados), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said one of the most disturbing factors facing children was the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Over 500,000 babies had been born with AIDS in 1997, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Six million young people were diagnosed with AIDS each year and there was a new and undesirable trend — that of households headed by children, as their parents died of the disease. CARICOM States were particularly vulnerable to the disease. She was grateful to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for its programme to expandsupport for reproductive health, particularly the prevention of sexually- transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS.
Another concern of CARICOM was the encroaching problem of world poverty, which would hamper the implementation of the World Summit for Children, she said. Malnutrition threatened to erode all the gains being made in the struggle for children’s and women’s rights. Poverty eradication, along with the advancement of women, were vital prerequisites for the removal of the threat of malnutrition. However, the prospects for poverty eradication seemed bleak in the face of the spread of the global economic crisis. Progress was also hampered by all-encompassing globalization, which had brought little prosperity to many countries of the developing world already hampered by the decline in official development assistance.
ERIC JUSTUS VAN DER-WAL (Australia) said the adoption and ratification of treaties was only a first step in eliminating the exploitation, suffering and abuse of children. His Government had undertaken a legislative initiative in relation to the protection of children from sex slavery and trafficking for the purpose for their sexual exploitation. His Government had also recently supported a workshop for Pacific governments and non-governmental organizations, which focused on the prevention of child sex tourism in the region, and was developing two bilateral instruments to formalize cooperation with regional partners in combating the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
One of the most deplorable developments in recent years was the increasing use of children as soldiers, he said. In 1998 alone, child soldiers numbered as many as 200,000. His Government was participating actively in the working group developing a draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child concerning the involvement of children in armed conflict — but was disappointed by the slow progress. On the issue of landmines, he said they killed or maimed hundreds of thousands of children, often as they went about simple tasks. His Government placed a high priority on supporting demining and rehabilitation programmes, as well as reducing the humanitarian and economic impact of landmines.
CHRISTIAN WENAWESER (Liechtenstein) said the situation of children in armed conflicts was complex. His Government welcomed the efforts of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to increase public awareness of the plight of children affected by armed conflicts. His field visits had a beneficial impact on children, provided there was an appropriate follow-up to his recommendations. The public debate by the Security Council, resulting in a Presidential Statement, was also an important political signal.
He said the continued use of anti-personnel landmines posed a particular threat to children and their well-being. In that regard, he was encouraged by the early entry into force of the Ottawa Convention. His Government expected to deposit its own instrument of ratification soon. That positive step had been overshadowed, however, by the enormous number of landmines that had to be cleared worldwide and reports of continued or resumed use of landmines in certain parts of the world. On another issue, he said it was disappointing that the optional protocol on the involvement of Children in Armed Conflict had not yet been adopted. His Government supported the so-called “Straight 18” position. As for the Statute of the International Criminal Court, he particularly welcomed the provision that made recruitment and use of children under the age of 15 a war crime.
IVANA SCHELLONGOVA (Czech Republic) said the Convention on the Rights of the Child also contained an apparently nonsensical clause. According to it, the age limit for protection for children was lowered from 18 to 15 years, in the event a child took part in armed conflict. Regrettably, the fact that the international community had not yet been able to agree on a higher standard of protection reflected the current state of affairs. For example, about 250,000 children below the age of 18 took part in more than 30 armed conflicts underway worldwide. Children represented 40 per cent of all victims of armed conflicts. Was it possible the Third Committee would not be concerned about that situation? he asked.
The problem called for measures that offered a child more favourable alternatives for a better life, she continued. In other words, when a concrete violation was encountered or a risk situation eliminated, the international community must make sure all other rights of the child, interlocked with the rights that had just been restored, were safeguarded as well. Her Government was convinced that the proposal to set the age limit anywhere below 18 years would discredit the efforts of the United Nations to protect the rights of the child. Those few Governments that had difficulties with the text of the draft optional protocol should review and, if possible, change their attitude.
LINGLINGAY LACANLALE (Philippines) said that despite unprecedented achievements, the international community was still short of reaching the targets set at the World Summit for Children. Children at risk generally belonged to families in poverty. Such underlying factors as unemployment, disintegration of the family structure, internal and external migration patterns and environmental degradation were some of the factors that exacerbated the situation of children in her country. The financial crisis in East Asia was also affecting health and education services to children.
Children below 18 years of age made up about 30 per cent of the Philippine population, she said. A centrepiece of her Government’s efforts was an action plan on human rights for children, which took a holistic development approach to safeguarding children’s rights. It was also taking part in international, regional and bilateral efforts to improve conditions for children. On the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, she said the report of the Special Rapporteur had recommended action-oriented measures to address the multifaceted aspects of the problem of trafficking. Many of those recommendations had been included in the draft resolution on traffic in women and girls, which the Philippines was submitting this year.
BETTY KING (United States) said, at its core, trafficking in women and children for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labour was a form of modern-day slavery. That growing transnational crime had severe consequences, contributing to the worldwide spread of crime, corruption and the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Her Government was strengthening efforts to combat all forms of violence against women and children around the world. Trafficking in human beings was a reprehensible human rights violation and her Government was committed to eradicating it. To that end, it had focused on programmes for prevention, victim assistance and protection, and law enforcement.
The challenges facing the international community in combating trafficking in women and children were daunting, she said. In most cases, trafficking in women and children involved forced prostitution, sweat-shop labour and exploitative domestic servitude. The problem had to be addressed with a comprehensive strategy, which began with prevention and development. Awareness had to be created among victims and potential victims had to be warned about the danger posed by traffickers. Further, because the victims lived in extreme poverty, the economic causes of trafficking had to be addressed, which included micro-credit programmes, small businesses development and job skill training.
CRISTOBAL TAPIA, a nine year-old from Chile, said he was making his speech for the boys and girls of Chile. He was here to thank the United Nations for its help in removing the suffering of children who were poor and had other problems and who were affected by wars. He hoped that the Committee would help put a smile on the faces of children, even if its meetings had to go on for a long time and his Daddy had to come home late.
JUAN LARRAIN (Chile) said the item dealt with one of the most vulnerable sectors of society. The Convention on the Rights of the Child had proved to have gaps in at least two area of particular importance:the sale of children and their use in pornography; and the participation of children in armed conflict. He was concerned by the slow pace of the work in the two working groups established to address those gaps, which was not compatible with the importance of the issue.
His country’s concern at the international level with respect to the situation of children was also expressed in the work it had carried out domestically, especially in the area of eliminating child labour, he said. His country hoped to begin the new century with the problem of child labour eradicated from its society. Since the return of democracy in 1990, minors inChile had been recognized as a group that deserved special consideration. A national action plan had been established that addressed the rights of children to survival, health and nutrition, education and protection — particularly the poorest children.
FABIO OCAZIONES (Colombia) said his country had a large number of children legally adopted abroad, but was concerned at the reports about illegal adoptions. Thousands of Colombian children had not been legally cleared to be adopted, but had been taken by foreign couples. Since 1996, there had been a committee against the trafficking of women and children, which was adopting special protective measures for minors.
He welcomed the work of the Special Representative for his efforts and said that, under the circumstances, the humanization of the conflict in his country was a commitment of his Government. The recruitment of minors was punishable by law. There were programmes in place for the education and training of minors who had been victimized by subversive groups. Victims of landmines, sexual attacks and displacement by violence were among the issues being addressed, with the help of the United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The world faced changing circumstances, he said. Whereas 20 years ago the concern had been over nutrition and health, today it was over sexual exploitation and domestic violence. Colombia had not escaped those issues. Moreover, children in Colombia had also been subjected to 30 years of armed conflict, the spread of drugs and poverty. His Government reaffirmed its commitment to the protection of children, despite all the difficulties, recognizing that the future of society and the nation depended upon them.
BEATRICE ROSA BROBBEY (Ghana) said her country had made revisions in its legal code to enhance the rights of children. A multi-disciplinary child law reform advisory committee had been established in 1995 to review, revise and update its laws on child rights, justice and welfare. The age of criminal responsibility had been raised from seven to fourteen years. Customary practices that involved servitude had been proscribed to protect children and the criminal code had been expanded to criminalize the exposure to harm or abandonment of a disabled child. Also, parents were duty bound by law to supply their wards with the necessities of health and life.
Children could be protected and their rights promoted only by a conscious effort on the part of governments to effectively implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child, she said. She commended the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) for supporting States in the implementation of the Convention. A particular area of concern was the practice of recruiting children as combatants in wars. She was happy to note that the International Criminal Court had qualified the use of child soldiers as a war crime in its Statute. Also, she hoped that the working group on the draftingof an optional protocol to the Convention on that issue would arrive at a consensus to raise the minimum age of recruitment and participation of children in hostilities from fifteen to eighteen years.
DEMETRIS HADJIARGYROU (Cyprus) said that eight years after the landmark 1990 World Summit for Children, it was important to take stock of developments. Much more needed to be done to achieve the plan of action that emerged from the Summit. For example, some of the issues needing immediate actin were:the lack of progress in primary education, which had not kept up with the increase in population; rampant illiteracy in many regions; malnutrition; maternal mortality; AIDS; and the exploitation of children, whether as cheap labour, prostitution or soldiers.
Since its independence, Cyprus had adopted and consistently pursued a policy of active promotion and protection of the rights of the child. His Government has been consistent in pursuing the welfare of children. It had achieved a significant reduction in diseases and infant mortality and the total elimination of malnutrition and major communicable diseases, including thalassaemia, which had been endemic to the region. As far as education and child labour were concerned, the legal framework had been strengthened and enforced successfully, so that every Cypriot child, even if requiring specialized care, attended a minimum of nine years of primary and secondary education — until the age of 15.
There was, however, one category of children whose fundamental right to education was utterly violated. Those were children whose parents lived as enslaved persons in that part of Cyprus occupied by Turkish military forces since 1974. Greek Cypriot schoolboys over the age of 16 who attended school in the southern part of Cyprus were not allowed to return to their homes in the northern part, not even to visit.
OLE PETER KOLBY (Norway) said that in times of financial stringency, governments needed to make sure that children in particular received d