GENEVA, 15 April (UN Information Service) — The Commission on Human Rights this afternoon continued its debate on the rights of the child. Issues such as child prostitution, child pornography, trafficking in children, and child soldiers were raised.
Delegates spoke of the need to implement children’s rights to education, health, and safety. Poverty was identified as the main cause of the scourges affecting children.
Many speakers also noted the importance of the right to a childhood, since not only did this contribute to the happiness of children, but it also taught them to interact with others and to grow up healthily. The family provided children with a stable background; therefore, it needed to be protected in order to protect children. Without the family, children were most vulnerable to all forms of exploitation.
The Committee adjourned its plenary at 5 p. m. for a meeting of the Working Group in charge of reviewing and formulating proposals for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The Working Group adopted its report and forwarded it to the Commission. China, Russian Federation, Philippines, Argentina, Norway, El Salvador, Poland, Pakistan, Sudan, Czech Republic, Italy, Uruguay, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Indonesia, Iraq, Egypt, New Zealand and the Dominican Republic addressed the Committee this afternoon.
The Commission resumed its discussion on the rights of the child in an evening session from 6 p. m. to 9 p. m.
Report of Working Group on World Conference against Racism
Document E/CN. 4/1999/WG. 1/CRP. 1 contains the draft report of the Sessional open-ended Working Group to review and formulate proposals for the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. The report details the organization of work, the main issues discussed, a debate on procedural questions and an annex containing proposals made by the African Group.
The Working Group has discussed seven objectives in the context of the fight against racism, and has found many ways and means of combating the latter. Manners in which to better ensure the application of existing standards and the implementation of the existing instruments is also elaborated. The ways of increasing the level of awareness about the scourges of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance have also emerged from the debate, as have concrete recommendations on ways to increase the effectiveness of the activities and mechanisms of the United Nations through programmes aimed at combating racism. A review of the political, historical, economic, social, cultural and other factors leading to racism is also elaborated, and concrete recommendations to further new national, regional and international measures are detailed. Concrete recommendations are drawn up for ensuring that the United Nations has the financial and other necessary resources for its actions to combat racism.
DU ZHENQUAN (China) said there were 191 State parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, making it the most universally endorsed international instrument. This showed the world’s concern and support for children. Protection of children so that they grew up in a good environment was an important foundation for the progress and development of human society. Poverty was one of the root causes of the violation of the rights of the child; narrowing the gap between rich and poor countries and the rich and poor within each country was a prerequisite for improving the situation of children.
Mr. Zhenquan said today there were problems which caused concern and worry such as trafficking in and abduction of children, illegal adoptions, child labour, sexual violation, pornography, children in armed conflict, and refugee children. The international community was deeply concerned about the suffering of children and had shown its determination to solve these problems by taking measures at national and international levels to guarantee the rights of the child. China supported the work of the two Working Groups on the draft optional protocols to the Convention. China believed in the struggle against such hideous acts as the sale of children and their sexual exploitation. Tackling market demand and eliminating sources of supply were of equal importance. China also appealed to the parties involved in armed conflicts to strictly comply with international humanitarian laws. It believed survival, protection and development of children were the foundations for improving the quality of the population, and were important integral parts of the development of mankind.
SERGUEI TCHOUMAREV (Russian Federation) drew the attention of the Commission to the Kosovar refugees who had been bombed and killed by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). They had included children. The NATO bombardments, which had not been approved by the Security Council, should end. The Russian Federation underlined the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was wrong to use children as soldiers, and States should establish an age of at least 18 to be involved in the armed forces. That age should never be below 18. The sexual exploitation of children also needed to be addressed. If the problems were addressed, there could be positive results. Others problems that should be addressed were the sale of children into prostitution and pornography. Failure could not be permitted.
Mr. Tchoumarev said the Russian Federation wanted an effective implementation of the Vienna Declaration. This would show that children were a top priority. Adoption of the family code was of particular importance. It included a special chapter about the rights of minor children — the right to be brought up in a family and to be cared for by parents. There should, however, be further controls on migrant children. Illegal adoption should be cracked down upon. Since 1993, the Russian Federation had adopted annual State reports on the status of children. This allowed the authorities to chart the progress of children in the country.
ROSALINDA TIRONA (Philippines) said there was a need to define the legal framework for truly global action of all national policy making concerning children in situations of war, as well as in peace. Children should have no part in fighting wars as combatants, and the minimum recruitment age should be 18. The involvement of children in conflicts should not be taken simply as a violation of their rights. It was imperative for children to be accorded primary education, economic security, family life, and the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health to enable them to enjoy their rights. All States and institutions should intensify activities in enhancing awareness and overcoming discrimination against children with disabilities, and to use holistic approaches in pursuing their welfare. Many laws had been put in place to uphold the rights of the child, yet much remained to be done. Legislation was not enough to prevent violations of the rights of the child. There was a need for the political will to implement them.
HERNAN PLOROTTI (Argentina) said that in accordance with the principles contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, much had been done, but much remained to remedy the plight of children around the world, for example in the case of street children, and child prostitutes. The international community needed to do everything possible to erase this last scourge, and to halt the sale of and trafficking in children. There was a need for mechanisms to protect children from these crimes. The rights of the child protected in the Convention started at the moment of conception. Much had been done in Argentina to defend the rights of children, both at the legislative and political level. Expeditious monitoring was necessary in all countries that had ratified the Convention, so as to apply swift remedies where necessary. Children had the right to identity, and this should incite governments to make greater efforts to halt child trafficking, as well as to aid in identifying and finding missing children. Child labour was an insult to their humanity and identity.
HEDDY ASTRUP (Norway) said frequent reports of the abhorrent situation that many children faced illustrated their vulnerability. Pictures of children waving real machine guns — bigger than they are — as toys, reports of children labouring in harsh physical environments, and children subjected to physical and sexual abuse as subjects of trade, reminded the world of what was left to be done and that children had particular needs. Norway appreciated the holistic nature of the provisions in the Convention which included both economic, social and cultural rights, as well as civil and political rights.
Mr. Astrup said Norway welcomed the report of the Special Representative on Children in Armed Conflict and fully supported his work which identified areas in which the Security Council should be able to take children’s needs into account, for instance peacekeeping operations. Millions of children today, particularly those who lived in areas ravaged by armed conflict, were having their childhood stolen from them. Norway welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education. Also, important work was being carried out by the Working Group on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. Norway hoped the Working Group would be able to reach an agreement on the draft optional protocol at its next session. Norway gave priority to initiatives taken to combat child labour.
MARIO CASTRO (El Salvador) said basic rights such as food, housing and education should be provided in all States. This had not been met for most children around the world. The Government of El Salvador had proposed several initiatives to assist children in need. These projects reintroduced street children to education, for example. For children who were trapped in the vice of glue sniffing, education was often only a dream. In El Salvador, child labour was prohibited, and the International Labour Office had helped implement that law. Huge networks of child pornography and child prostitution were discovered in many nations. This issue needed to be addressed. Present international law set the age of recruitment into armed forces at 15. That age should be raised.
IRENA KOWALSKA (Poland) said there was no country where the society did not consider the welfare of a child to be a special value, demanding particular respect and care. However, reality was less positive and every now and then, the welfare of children was neglected and their rights were violated. The first and main protector of the child’s right was the family. Therefore, parents were to be recognized as the child’s first and most important educators. Parents were responsible for creating a family atmosphere full of love and respect for universal human values; they supported their children in personal growth and social education. Poland believed that the children’s rights listed in the Convention on the Rights of the Child should be implemented with respect for parental authority and in accordance with Polish customs and traditions which described people’s places inside and outside the family.
Mr. Kowalska said today the family was affected by widespread and fast social and cultural changes. Many parents met the needs of contemporary life, however a difficult economic situation of a family often led to the disintegration of natural family bonds, which in turn resulted in pathological social phenomena such as alcoholism, drug addiction, teenager prostitution and child trafficking. The above phenomena constituted a violation of the children’s right to grow in love and safety. Poland proposed that the Commission create an international document on protecting family rights.
BASHARAT JAZBI (Pakistan) said that, without a sound and secure childhood, there could not be a stable and productive adulthood. Despite the Convention on the Rights of the Child, millions of children continued to suffer human rights violations worldwide, for example, in armed conflicts. Exploitation of children as objects of sexual gratification was the bane of the modern world. The explosive growth of the Internet had added another dangerous dimension to this problem. Of the myriad of threats to the welfare of children, including armed conflict and sexual exploitation, the most pervasive remained poverty and its attendant ills.
Mr. Jazbi said poverty first impacted on the child’s nutrition and health. It was a sad state of affairs that whilst some countries were obliged to dump surplus staples, children were dying for lack of food in the developing world. Poverty also prevented the right to education, and caused child labour. Efforts to combat this, on the legislative and public level, had been implemented in Pakistan. The exploitation of children had many facets, one of which was the use of child labour as a pretext for the promotion and justification of protectionist policies. It was imperative that the developing countries should demonstrate their willingness to eradicate child labour by providing financial and technical assistance, and by giving higher priority to goods from developing countries.
ALI ELTAYEB HAROUN (Sudan) said his country was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In recognition of the importance of this Convention, the Government accorded great attention to children and necessity to cater for their rights through creating a conducive family environment. The Constitution of Sudan stipulated that the State protect the children and youth. Education policies were aimed at creating a physically and educationally capable generation. The Sudan had established the National Council for Child Care as one of the leading institutions in the field of child care. The Government had published and disseminated the Convention in local languages. Basic education had become compulsory, including pre-school education, and child culture centres had been set up to promote the skills and talents of the children.
Mr. Haroun recalled the miserable conditions of Sudanese children living in areas under the control of the rebel movement. It was no secret that the rebels were clandestinely exploiting these children through forced conscription and using them as human shields. The international community should condemn such acts. The Government of the Sudan had spared no effort in putting an end to the war in the southern part of the country and had signed the Khartoum Peace Agreement with the southern warring factions, with the exception of the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army which had refused to join in. The El Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, which in August 1998 was bombed by the United States, was one of the biggest providers of pharmaceutical supplies in the country. The bombing had resulted in severe shortages of vitally needed medicines such as anti-malaria pills, antibiotics and infants medicines.
MIROSLAV SOMOL (Czech Republic) said his country would like to see the Convention on the Rights of the Child universally ratified and progressively implemented. On child labour, the International Labour Office had adopted the Convention on Intolerable Forms of Child Labour. The Czech Republic agreed that the worst forms of child labour should be prohibited by international law. The issue of child soldiers had also been of great concern to the Czech Republic. The Statute of the International Criminal Court was welcomed, especially because it included the provision making it a war crime to use child soldiers under the age of 15. The Czech Republic stressed that an age limit below 18 for involvement of children in armed conflicts would be a failure of the international community.
CLAUDIO MORENO (Italy) said his country was engaged in the humanitarian assistance of people involved in the dramatic exodus from Kosovo. Women and children were the main victims. It was hoped that aid to children would prevent the consequences of post traumatic stress disorder. In parallel, there was implementation of a programme of medical aid, assistance and rehabilitation of the children present in the refugee camps. Italy had contributed 23 million euros to aid women, children and handicapped persons. These children were exposed to the loss of their identity, as well as to health problems, due to their vulnerability in this situation. Such a huge group of children provided fertile ground for the breeding of a culture of exploitation.
CARLOS SGARBI (Uruguay) said free public education was offered in Uruguay because it had become a social necessity. With respect to child labour, one of the most dangerous things was the use of soldiers under the age of 18. Any age younger than 18 was unacceptable to Uruguay. The Commission should also address child pornography and child prostitution.
KANG-IL HUH (Republic of Korea) said when world leaders gathered in 1990 for the World Summit for Children, they had set a number of concrete goals to be achieved by the year 2000. Some of the most salient of these were reduction of mortality rates of children under age of five by one third, reduction of malnutrition by half and universal access to basic education. However, today, one year from the target, children around the world still faced dismal situations. It was alarming to find in certain countries that the mortality rate for children under five was 320 deaths per 1,000 births and primary school enrollment stood at 24 per cent. Millions of children still died of hunger and children were increasingly victims of horrible crimes perpetrated by adults. The dire situation of children in armed conflicts called for urgent attention. It was staggering to acknowledge that children were often obliged to participate in hostilities, losing part of their humanity, as killing become a guiltless act.
The Republic of Korea welcomed and supported the efforts made by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict to ensure the release and demobilization of child soldiers and their effective disarmament. In this regard, the Government expressed the wish that the draft optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflicts to the Convention on the Rights of the Child be completed this year.
ANDRI HADI (Indonesia) said that the Convention on the Rights of the Child was marked by the highest degree of universality ever achieved in terms of the norms shared among human rights instruments. However, the challenge of its universal implementation remained the task of all the State parties. Children and their rights were a top priority among Indonesia’s national development policies, however, the ongoing economic crisis had seriously set back the efforts to protect and promote the rights of the child. Child labour was one of the most prominent issues associated with children’s rights. In addressing this subject, it was important that the distinction between all forms of child labour and the exploitation of children be maintained by the Commission, since every job performed by children was not necessarily harmful to them or their families. Jobs which prevented children from attending school or which subjected them to hazardous conditions were exploitative, since they deprived children of the opportunity to improve themselves. However, in developing countries, where work was a matter of survival for many children, prohibiting child labour without providing realistic and comprehensive solutions had proven to be of little effectiveness.
MAHMOOD ISSAM (Iraq) said despite the efforts by the international community to ensure the protection of child rights, millions of children were still victims of human rights violations. World children suffered from hardships and unfavourable social and economic conditions. The spread of the phenomenon of imposing economic sanctions had been increasingly used in this decade in an inhuman manner, especially against some of developing countries.
Gra a Machel, in her study on the impact of armed conflict on children, said the international community should cease to impose comprehensive economic sanctions without obligatory and enforceable humanitarian exemptions and agreed mechanisms for monitoring the impact of sanctions on children and other vulnerable groups. Olara Otunnu, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, also referred to the issue of sanctions and their impact on children and demanded that the Security Council, when reviewing sanctions, take children’s needs in consideration as well as consider the best means of protecting them.
Mr. Issam said that from 1990 up to the present, unprecedented and comprehensive economic sanctions had been imposed on Iraq with dangerous tragic impacts which had affected all segments of the society. The negative effects of the economic embargo were not limited to children health situation. They also had grave consequences on the educational process. Iraq appealed to the Commission to live up to its humanitarian and legal responsibility with a view to protect Iraq’s children and put an end to this slow death that has devastated and claimed tens of thousands of life.
HASSAN ABDEL MONEIM (Egypt) said that the Commission should address a number of issues. A resolution should be reached about children in armed conflicts. Children under the age of 18 should not be in armed conflicts. The Commission should also address the problem of children being sold into prostitution and pornography. It was inconceivable as the world approached the year 2000 that the sale of children into these trades was not criminalized.
DEBORAH GEELS (New Zealand) said that the success of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was unequalled, it having achieved almost universal ratification. The real measure of success, however, was whether the Convention had brought about improvements in the everyday lives of children; in their homes, at school, in the workplace, the playground and in the wider community. These rights remained largely unrealized for many children around the world. Many lived in poverty or in the midst of confl