GENEVA, 15 April (UN Information Service) — Countries and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) continued this evening to urge the Commission on Human Rights to adopt child protection measures to ensure the safety of children worldwide.
Their remarks came as the Commission carried on with discussion of its agenda item on the rights of the child. Most countries and NGOs addressing the session spoke of the importance of guaranteeing free education for all children and cracking down on sexual exploitation — particularly the selling of children into prostitution or pornography in trafficking beginning in poorer countries. Many also voiced support for raising the minimum age of participation in armed forces to 18.
A representative of Paraguay said children in her and other developing countries often had to work in order to bring additional income into the households. She suggested that the Commission look at a Paraguayan programme that educates families in the most impoverished areas of the countries about alternatives for earning extra money.
Malta said that children were robbed of their youth when forced into military service, and that they experienced trouble reintegrating into their societies, as they were often devastated by war.
Slovenia said that children placed in combat often were exposed and victimized by anti-personnel landmines and contended it was important to provide rehabilitation assistance to such children.
Speaking were representatives of the following countries: Honduras, Malta, Myanmar, Iran, Holy See, Uganda, Lithuania, Australia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Israel, Costa Rica Belarus.
The following NGOs and international organizations also delivered formal statements: International Committee of the Red Cross; International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies; United Nations Educational,
Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); World Health Organization; UNICEF; International Union of Socialist Youth; Association for World Education; Christian Solidarity International; Pax Romana; Human Rights Watch: World Organization Against Torture; World Federation of Methodist and Uniting Church Women; American Association of Jurists; International Federation des Terre des Hommes; World Movement of Mothers; World Conference of Free Trade Unions; International Educational Development; Friends World Committee for Consultation; Defence for Children International Movement; and International Save the Children Alliance.
The Commission continued its meeting into the night and was expected before adjourning at midnight to take up its agenda item on the rights of “specific groups and individuals”.
GRACIBEL BU FIGUEROA (Honduras) said the Constitution of Honduras called for protection of the rights of the child; a number of laws had been passed to that effect also, and were carried out by the Ministry for Social Assistance. The country had many children, and so child rights held a very high priority. The participation of citizens in national child policy was in keeping with the overall effort to make sweeping changes for the better in Honduran society.
Honduran legislation did not treat minors as delinquents but as offenders against the law and sought to reincorporate them into society with a sense of social responsibility. The damage caused by Hurricane Mitch had required that educational centres be used to shelter homeless families; also thousands of children were suffering from increased poverty because of the hurricane. Overall, poverty was the chief obstacle to fully implementing child rights — a high percentage of the population lived below the poverty level.
RASHIM AHLUWALIA, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said the Federation was concerned about the large number of children who were affected by armed conflicts. These children were recruited as child soldiers, often were killed or mutilated by landmines, and were separated from their families. They suffered shattered childhoods, enduring trauma and psychological consequences related to their exposure to violence, destruction and loss of moral values. As a result of forced displacements and desperate flight from conflict zones, children often found themselves alone and victims of exploitation, sexual abuse and other forms of violence.
Many were abandoned because of their disabilities and high costs of rehabilitation, and discriminated against in their access to education. Furthermore, they were prone to pose social problem in civil society in the longer term. The International Federation worked to improve this situation;
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it provided emergency and relief programmes, and psychological and social support services to facilitate the reintegration into normal life of children affected by armed conflicts. The Federation wished to reiterate the urgent need to reach agreement on international standards for recruitment and participation of children in armed forces.
JACQUELINE AQUILINA (Malta) said her country recognized that not all Governments had the resources to provide economic, social, or cultural rights to their children, but that should not stop them for giving children top priority. Malta had a long practice of putting children first. Its Constitution mandated that education be free for all students under 16; all students, even those who lacked financial resources, were entitled to the right to attain the best grades. Recently, Malta had established a Family Commission, whose mission was to strengthen the family unit. Among other tasks, the Commission should consider new ways to enhance foster care and adoption systems.
Malta agreed with other speakers who voiced support for a prohibition of child soldiers under 18, and applauded efforts to crack down on child prostitution and child pornography.
U LINN MYAING (Myanmar) said Myanmar was fully committed to the successful implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to that end had promulgated its Child Law of 1993. In Myanmar culture, the role of the community in looking after the interests of children was a major one, and thus the Government had taken measures to involve the whole community in the implementation of the Convention.
Myanmar had laid down a National Programme of Action for education, according to which all children in Myanmar would be provided with primary education by the year 2000; 80 per cent would complete primary education; and adult illiteracy would be reduced from 22 per cent to 11 per cent. Education also was one of the major components of the border-areas development projects being implemented with increasing momentum by the Government. To that end many new schools were being opened.
JAVAD AMIN-MANSOUR (Iran) said although the Convention on the Rights of the Child was regarded as the widest and most comprehensive international legal instrument, too many children were living under the line of poverty, suffering malnutrition or starvation, without or at low levels of education, subject to exploitation, or involved in child labour and military activities. Children were the most innocent and powerless victims, needy of special attention and protection. The growing numbers of sexually, commercially and economically exploited children, either in public or private premises in the name of sex tourism, child labour or child soldiering were unjustifiable. The perpetrators of such abuses ought not to enjoy impunity.
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Iran regretted that after several years of negotiations in working groups and informal consultations, the international community had not yet been able to conclude the twin draft optional protocols which highlighted several important areas with a view to further prohibiting exploitation of children. Lack of adequate national and international legal standards were strongly felt and the increase in trafficking in and exploitation of children was alarming.
DANIEL HEILE, of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said children were denied their youth when they were placed into the armed forces. All too often children were separated from their families and friends, and suffered physical wounds and emotional trauma. When they returned to their homes, they suffered problems reintegrating into their devastated societies. The ICRC welcomed the growing international attention given to the plight of children affected by armed conflicts. It had participated in the open-ended working group for the elaboration of a Draft Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The ICRC supported the adoption of a provision requiring children be at least 18 before being eligible for armed conflict, and expressed disappointment that consensus had not been reached on that age.
The ICRC and the Red Crescent Movement had been involved in child-protection endeavours for a long time and in a wide range of activities. In 1995, its Council of Delegates adopted a Plan of Action aimed at further developing such activities.
GIUSEPPE BERTELLO (Holy See) said the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child had been a landmark achievement. The Holy See had always given the greatest importance to the inherent dignity of children, borne out among other things by the educational work carried out by the Catholic Church around the world.
Sexual abuse and trafficking in children was a serious crime; a little being was thereby robbed of what was most important — his or her innocence and childhood. To rob a child of this beauty and potential was utterly abhorrent. In armed conflicts, children suffered abysmal fates as well, and in such situations they were particularly vulnerable to being recruited into armed services; some were coerced, but others voluntarily enlisted because they were lured by promises of food and shelter. More absolutely had to be done to protect the poorer children of the world from these and other threats to their well-being, and the two draft protocols being considered for the Convention would be a good way to start.
HAROLD ACEMAH (Uganda) said the Government of Uganda was fully committed to the implementation of the letter and spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nothing could therefore be more painful for Uganda than the systematic abduction, torture, detention, enslavement, mutilation and
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killing of innocent children of Uganda, yet this was what had been happening for the past 12 years in northern Uganda. Since 1986 an armed gang calling itself the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had abducted up to 10,000 children between 14 to 16 years of age.
The boys were forced to become child soldiers, the girls taken as wives. The Government of Sudan bore full responsibility for this abomination. The LRA could only exist because of the external support it received from the sworn enemies of the peace-loving people of Uganda. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative was best suited to act as focal point to coordinate the efforts of the international community to obtain the release of children abducted and routinely abused by the LRA.
AUDRIUS NAVIKAS (Lithuania) said three years ago Lithuania adopted a Law on Fundamental Protection of the Rights of the Child. The law regulated basic conditions for controlling children’s behaviour and defined child responsibility; it also established general provisions of responsibility of parents and other persons for the violation of the rights of the child. In addition, it set up a system of institutions for the protection of the rights of the child and a legal basis for their activities.
Education of children was a top priority of the Government, and Lithuania required education for all students under the age of 16. Parents, guardians, and custodians had to provide adequate study conditions for their children. Schooling at the secondary, vocational, and higher schools was free of charge. The country had also made educating its disabled citizens a priority. Seventy-five percent of children with small or medium levels of mental disabilities were educated, as were 75 per cent of children with high degrees of mental disabilities, and 50 percent with very high degree disorders.
A. CASSAM, of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said UNESCO had convened a meeting of experts on sexual abuse of children, child pornography and the Internet; the meeting had been held in Paris in January. It was found that the number of sexually abused children had risen to emergency levels and millions of photographs of them were finding their way onto computer screens thanks to the Internet; studies in the United States in 1995 documented 1 million on-line pornographic images involving children; in Japan it was reported that there were 1,200 to 1,300 pornographic sites available, a majority showing sexual acts involving minors.
Experts at the meeting said it was necessary to examine the socio- economic conditions that allowed this kind of pornography to thrive. The meeting issued a declaration stating that the fight against criminal abuse of children on-line required a coalition of forces and a wide range of measures to combat perpetrators of such pornography.
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ERIC VAN DER WAL (Australia) said children continued to suffer exploitation, abuse and deprivation, and as world approached the new millennium, efforts to protect them were constantly confronted by new challenges, such as advances in informational technology which had provided easy access to child pornography. Exploitation of child labour, amongst the older challenges, was a matter of deep concern to Australia. It both endangered children’s lives and impeded their development. Australia hoped that in June, with adoption of the ILO instrument designed to prohibit and eliminate the worst forms of child labour, there would be significant progress towards eradicating it.
Australia’s efforts to combat child sexual exploitation included development of a national plan of action against commercial sexual exploitation which would be ready in the year 2000. Australia also supported region-wide efforts in developing countries to counter the exploitation of children. With regard to children in armed conflict, Australia had been disappointed with the slow pace of the negotiations in the working group charged with developing an optional protocol on the topic.
EVA TOMIC (Slovenia) said that Kosovo had showed the tragedy of putting children into armed conflicts. Children simply did not belong in warfare, and Slovenia strongly supported setting the minimum age limit for participation in hostilities at 18. It applauded the Rome Statute, which had called for criminalizing the recruitment of under-aged children. Increased attention should be paid to rehabilitation of children who had suffered through the horrors of armed conflict, and the Commission should consider supporting humanitarian assistance to that end.
When children were placed in combat situations, they often were exposed to anti-personnel landmines. Bosnia and Herzegovina was a case in point. Because of all the damage done by mines there, Slovenia had established an international trust fund for demining and mine-victim assistance in that country. The Commission should make this one of its priorities.
JEAN-DANIEL VIGNY (Switzerland) said the Convention on the Rights of the Child served as a yardstick for measuring child welfare around the world. The situation of more vulnerable children required protection above and beyond that provided by the Convention, however; in States like Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Uganda, children were caught up in unimaginable situations because of armed conflicts.
States not ready to accept the age limit of 18 for service in their armed forces should at least not put obstacles in the way of other States seeking that standard for inclusion in the relevant draft optional protocol to the Convention. The participation of children in armed conflicts amounted to one of the worst forms of child labour; in general all of the worst forms of child labour should be completely banned throughout the world. Switzerland
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was meanwhile disappointed at the slow pace of progress in completing the draft optional protocol on the sale of children; more should be done.
CECILIA SANCHEZ (Nicaragua) said children amounted to some 53 per cent of Nicaragua’s population, and was very committed to enhancement of their rights. Great problems for children had arisen from the damage caused by Hurricane Mitch; devastation was greatest in rural areas. The Government was carrying out major actions to help children affected by the hurricane, including a “return to joy” programme intended to psychologically rehabilitate those struck by the disaster. Attempts to improve basic health care also were being undertaken.
Remedial education programmes were under way; even though the country was poor, high priority was being given to such undertakings. A Code on Children and Adolescents had entered into force last year; it laid down rights, duties, and safeguards related to children. The criminal justice system for adolescents was being molded as well to match the standards of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and major efforts were being made to eradicate child labour.
EFUA DORKENOO, of the World Health Organization (WHO), said female genital mutilation (FGM) had been the subject of a recent report by the Secretary-General. The abhorrent practice had been decried at the fiftieth anniversary of Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris by Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the Director-General of the WHO, as “an unsafe and unjustifiable traditional practice” affecting 130 million girls and women worldwide. FGM had severe consequences for girls which followed them to adult life. It further reinforced the inequity suffered by girls and women in communities where it was practised and had to be addressed if their health, social and economic development needs were to be met.
The immediate complications included severe pain, shock, bleeding, tetanus or sepsis, injury to adjacent tissue and even death. Long-term complications included recurrent urinary and kidney infection, painful menstruation, complications during childbirth, and painful intercourse. Nobody should be subjected to such torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. WHO was committed to the abolition of all forms of female genital mutilation.
LETITIA CASATI (Paraguay) said there should be an immediate ban on the sale of children for any purpose. This required the participation of the entire international community. The immediate aim was to ensure children’s survival and protection, followed by their healthy development. Such a development started with battling malnutrition and providing early child health care, and was followed by school enrolment.
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Regarding education, Paraguay mandated bilingual education for all students. Special protections were put in place for special needs students and indigenous students. Sadly, adverse economic conditions frequently forced families to turn their children onto the streets to provide extra family income. The Government battled that with a programme that provided education in high-risk areas to teach families alternative ways to bring in extra income. Regardless of the reason, the exploitation of children should be deemed unacceptable.
TAMAR RAHAMIMOFF (Israel) said the protection of children’s rights was not only morally justified, it was also an investment in the future. Therefore, providing proper education for children, including their participation in extracurricular activities, was very important. Although all children should be given equal opportunity to obtain education and begin life on an equal footing, in reality disparities were found between children coming from strong socio-economic backgrounds and less privileged children.
In Israel 22 per cent of all children lived in poverty. Although education was mandatory and free, parents had to bear many expenses, thus depriving some children from certain school activities that required payment. Much more had to be done in order to protect children and offer them a strong and solid basis for life.
NORA RUIZ DE ANGULO (Costa Rica) said there should be immediate action to halt the scandalous use of child pornography on the Internet. The international community was committed to protecting child rights; it was vital to complete preparatory work on the draft optional protocols on the sale of the children and the participation of children in armed conflicts.
Costa Rica had always made child rights the linchpin of its social policy. Costa Rica was resolute in combating child prostitution and called for a major, comprehensive world plan to fight it. A national society set up in 1997 monitored basic child welfare, and a draft law was in preparation to amend the criminal code and severely punish various violations of child rights that had not been sufficiently prohibited. Economic progress and development were the best way to reduce child labour.
LESLEY MILLER, of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the tenth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provided an important opportunity to reaffirm children’s rights as human rights, instead of simply an expression of a welfare concern. Human rights began with children’s rights. The rights of children were first given international attention in 1924, in direct response to World War I. Stirred by the inhumanity of war, the international community had, on a number of important occasions, resolved to forswear further violence in order to pursue international cooperation and the fulfilment of human rights as the basis of freedom, justi