Fifty-sixth General Assembly GA/SHC/3642
Third Committee 22 October 2001
18th Meeting (PM)
As the Third Committee began its debate on the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, the Deputy Director of United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said the tragic events of 11 September that had led the General Assembly to postpone the largest ever global meeting on children only emphasized the urgency of building a new agenda on their behalf — a more humane world, a world fit for children.
Noting that he should be reporting to the Committee on the outcome of that special session, Andre Roberfroid said the 18 months of preparation by governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), including many children, would not be in vain. His agency was more determined than ever to confront violence, bigotry and hatred with the same fervour that it confronted the causes from which they sprang, namely conflict, ignorance, poverty and disease.
Mona Hammam, Director of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children in Armed Conflict, speaking on behalf of Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Olara Otunnu, insisted that looking ahead, efforts had to be redoubled to meet the challenges presented to the international community by the many devastating conflicts around the world.
Whether it was in Afghanistan, the Great Lakes Region, or the Balkans, she said, the tragic events of 11 September once again underscored the complexity of those conflicts, their highly destabilizing regional and world-wide consequences, and the devastating physical and psychological effects they had on children and adolescents.
Detailing the progress on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Bacre Ndiaye, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said it had been ratified or acceded to by 191 countries. As of 17 October 2000, the optional protocol to the Convention — on children in armed conflict — had been signed by 85 States and ratified by 6. The optional protocol on the sale of children and child pornography had been signed by 78 States and ratified by 9. Ten ratifications were needed for those two instruments to enter into force.
During the interactive dialogue that followed, representatives queried the panel on a variety of issues, including the participation of children in the work of the United Nations, the special circumstances of children living under foreign occupation, child protection advisors in the Organization s peace missions and increased cooperation with NGOs and civil society actors in conflict areas.
Third Committee – 1a – Press Release GA/SHC/3642
18th Meeting (PM) 22 October 2001
Participating in the dialogue were the representatives of Pakistan, Guinea, Syria, Belgium (on behalf of the European Union),the Sudan, Australia and Cuba.
When the Committee turned to its general discussion, the representatives of Belgium (on behalf of the European Union), Namibia (on behalf of Southern African Development Community (SADC)), Chile (on behalf of the Rio Group), Uruguay (on behalf of Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR)), China, Norway and the Russian Federation made statements.
The Committee will meet again tomorrow at 10 a. m. to continue its consideration of items related to the protection and promotion of the rights of the child.
Having considered items related to social development, crime prevention and international drug control, and the advancement of women thus far in its 2001 session, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) this afternoon met to begin its consideration of items related to the promotion and protection of the rights of the child.
To guide its overall discussions, the Committee had before it a report of the Secretary-General on the Status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (A/56/203), which details the efforts of Member States, who have signed the Convention, to implement it. As of 17 October, 191 States have either ratified or acceded to the Convention.
The report also addresses the promotion and the protection of the rights of children in general. In addition, it provides specific efforts to promote and protect the rights of children in vulnerable situations, including the plight of children living and working on the streets, refugees and internally displaced children, and children with disabilities.
Further, the report discusses the prevention and eradication of the sale of children and of their sexual exploitation, including child prostitution and child pornography, as well as the protection of children affected by armed conflict, and the progressive elimination of child labour.
The Committee also had before it a report of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict (A/56/342-S/2001/852) which illustrates, among other things, the monitoring of obligations and commitments, child protection in the United Nations peace and security agenda, and the impact on children of illicit exploitation of natural resources in zones of conflict.
The report also address child soldiers and abducted children, and the demobilization and reintegration of them. It also refers to root causes and prevention of cross-border abduction and trafficking, and the link between HIV/AIDS, children and conflict.
There are conclusions contained within the report as well. The Rapporteur says that existing normative standards, including previous Security Council resolutions, have gone a long way towards defining the parameters of acceptable conduct for parties to armed conflict as far as children and other civilians are concerned. Member States, the United Nations system and regional organizations have all been bound or solicited to take concrete steps to improve the protection of war-affected children.
MONA HAMMAM, Director of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, speaking on behalf of Olara Otunnu, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said the issues and challenges related to the children and armed conflict agenda were all more important today in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September.
The Office had been focusing on the need to fill critical knowledge gaps concerning the nature and scope of the impact of armed conflict on children, and the need for better coordination and dissemination of available knowledge on the issue, she said. It had also proposed and played an important catalytic role in the formation of two informal working groups intended to serve the cause of child protection within the United Nations system. One was the informal and inter-agency working to strengthen on-going initiatives to incorporate child protection into peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace-building processes. The other was an informal working group on child protection training for peace-keeping personnel with the Department of Peace Keeping Operations, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Radda Barnen, a Swedish non-governmental organization (NGO).
Throughout the latest reporting period, she said, the Office had worked closely with Member States, the Preparatory Committee Bureau, UNICEF and NGOs to articulate and advance the children and armed conflict agenda for the General Assembly special session on children. As a part of the process, the report “An Agenda for Action to protect War-affected Children” had been presented, and the Office had co-hosted a number of panels with several partners. The Office also had helped further the cause of children and armed conflict by working towards the drafting of several Security Council resolutions, coordinating with regional organizations, and undertaking a campaign to bring an Optional Protocol on the issue into force. While 10 ratifications were needed to bring it into force, six of the 83 signatories — Canada, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Andorra, Panama and Iceland, had already ratified the protocol.
Looking ahead, she said, efforts had to be redoubled to meet the challenges presented to the international community by the many devastating conflicts around the world. Whether it was in Afghanistan, the Great lakes region, or the Balkans, the tragic events of 11 September once again underscored the complexity of those conflicts, their highly destabilizing regional and world-wide consequences, and the devastating physical and psychological effects they had on children and adolescents. Thus, the international community needed to redouble its initiatives to protect children and adolescents during all phases of conflict. In particular, all efforts should be directed at seeking better ways to prevent the perversion of traditional or religious norms and values, the recruitment of children for use in conflict, and their rehabilitation and reintegration into peaceful societies. The adoption of the Optional Protocol was an important first step in the effort to curb child soldiering. Member States, who had not yet done so, were urged to expedite its ratification in time for the rescheduled special session on children, so that the necessary conditions for its entry into force were met.
ANDRE ROBERFROID, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the initial schedule called on the Committee to be briefed today on the outcome of the special session on Children. But the tragic events of 11 September had led the General Assembly to postpone the largest ever global meeting on children. “A world fit for children” was the task, and much progress had already been made in finalizing that new agenda for children. More than 80 per cent of the text had been agreed upon, and agreement on the remaining issues was well within reach. UNICEF’s Medium Term Strategic Plan, which had been discussed at length during the preparatory process, combined a reinforced results-based management and a human rights-based approach to programming. The plan reiterated the centrality of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and had established five organizational priorities — girls’ education; integrated early childhood development; new and improved immunization; fighting HIV/AIDS; and improved protection of children from violence, exploitation, abuse and discrimination.
Mr. Roberfroid said armed conflict indiscriminately killed and maimed children, and forced millions to flee their homes under the most brutal conditions. Societies and social networks were demolished, leaving children without adequate food, shelter, health services and basic education. That robbed them of their potential and their future. Internally displaced children and their families were especially vulnerable because governments and the international community alike failed to provide them with adequate protection. UNICEF was present on the ground before, during and after conflicts to help assist and protect children trapped in the chaos of war. Today in Afghanistan, UNICEF was engaged in a major effort to provide critical life saving services, such as food, water, sanitation, health care, warm clothes and basic learning opportunities. It was convoying humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, using planes, trucks and donkeys for distribution by its national staff and non-governmental organization (NGO) partners on the ground.
Children were the first victims of poverty, he said, but if there was investment for their future, they also held the key to its eradication. During the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), UNICEF had urged governments to devote more resources to basic social services, such as health and education, for children. Poverty would not be eradicated unless adequate and predictable resources were made available and used to build sustainable social programmes. At the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, UNICEF, in close partnership with the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights, had focused on education as a key preventive strategy in combating racism, stigmatization, and marginalization. In that spirit, UNICEF continued to advocate for and work towards improving access to quality education, especially for girls. Those education and development goals would not be met without significant action from all governments.
BACRE NDIAYE, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that since the last session of the General Assembly, both his Office and the Committee on the Rights of the Child had devoted much attention to preparing their participation in the General Assembly special session on children. But in light of the tragic events of 11 September, that session had been postponed.
He went on to say that as of 17 October 2000, the optional protocol to the Convention — on children in armed conflict — had been signed by 85 States and ratified by 6. The optional protocol on the sale of children and child pornography had been signed by 78 States and ratified by 9. Ten ratifications were needed for those two instruments to enter into force. Highlighting the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Convention s monitoring body, he said that body would submit its biennial report to the Assembly next year at its 2002 session. During 2001, the Committee had considered reports from 27 States parties. At its recently concluded 28th session, the Committee had organized a discussion on violence against children in the family and in schools.
He said the rapid ratification of the Convention had generated an ever-increasing workload for all the partners involved in the implementation and monitoring process, particularly the Committee itself. It was most important to note that an increased membership would greatly enhance the Committee s ability to face that challenge. He added that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights continued to provide special support to activities linked to the implementation of the Convention. In addition to providing substantive support to the Committee, the Office, through the Plan of Action to strengthen implementation of the Convention, also sought to assist States in meeting their reporting obligations.
Dialogue with Committee
As Committee members began their dialogue with the panel of experts on children the representative of Pakistan wondered if the Office of Special Representative on Armed Conflict had initiated any activities to study the root causes of the participation of children in such conflict, particularly recruitment procedures.
The representative of Guinea wondered about the status of a proposed pilot project for children in Sierra Leone. How could such a project be expanded to other countries?What coordination existed between the Secretary-General s Office and UNICEF on efforts aimed at demobilizing child soldiers in Sierra Leone or elsewhere?
The representative of Syria and the observer of Palestine noted that the reports before the Committee seemed to overlook the situation of children living under foreign occupation. What was being doe about that issue?The representative of Belgium, speaking on behalf of the European Union wondered about child protection advisors in conflict situations.
The representative of the Sudan asked if any body within the Organization had sought the help and cooperation of national NGOs in war-affected regions dealing with the situation of children and conflict. She also wanted to know if the Special Representative s Office had a mechanism for dealing with armed rebel groups.
A youth representative of Australia wondered if any research had been done on ways and means to promote the participation of young people in all the Organization s work on protection and promotion of the rights of the child. The observer of Cuba said his delegation did not agree with the increasing involvement of the Security Council in the Organization s work on children — clearly issues of human rights or social welfare that could be better handled by the Assembly. Why had there not been more emphasis on the root causes of conflict or conflict prevention?
Noting that she had been in the Special Representative s Office only a short time, Ms. HAMMAM said that she would attempt to answer some of the challenging questions that had been posed. It was her belief that her Office should indeed be looking at both the root causes of conflict and conflict prevention. She assured delegations that more emphasis would be placed on those issues. While poverty underpinned children s involvement in armed conflict, the Office was also attempting to examine cultural and traditional values that might protect children during conflict or prevent their involvement.
She said that there were a number of initiatives in relation to Sierra Leone, particularly the Voices of Children radio show, a project undertaken with a United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) and relevant United Nations Agencies. It was hoped that project could be expanded to other areas, including Bosnia and Herzegovina and Colombia.
On the question the Security Council s involvement, she said the Council was involved to monitor peacekeeping mandates and that involvement in no way interfered with the work of the Assembly or the Organization s human rights organs. Foreign occupation, she added, fell under the rubric of armed conflict and as such is was indeed a legitimate area of concern.
On cooperation with national NGOs and civil society actors, she said the Mr. Otunnu regularly visited conflict regions and spoke with such organizations as part of his work. As for consultations with rebel groups, there had always been attempts to ensure that children were protected — international law dictated consultation be held with all parties to a conflict. She added that if she had not answered some questions, Mr. Otunnu, who would join the deliberations later, would do so.
Mr. ROBERFROID said it had not been UNICEF s intention to abandon the education of boys but to make a special effort for the group that was most deprived, and that was girl children. At the same time, there could be no progress on any front without broad enhancement of basic education facilities.
On child protection advisors, he said their main duty was ensuring that children were taken into account. At the moment, he felt that the system as it had been established was a positive one, and the evaluation underway would give a clearer idea of where the project stood.
On the participation of youth in the organization s work he said UNICEF had been encouraged by the very large number of youth delegates. Those representatives had undertaken a number of preparatory activities and had been well prepared for the special session. He was certain that those children would still be invigorated when that conference was rescheduled. He hoped that youth participation in that and other meetings could be documented in order to dispel some of the misconceptions about the general level of youth participation at the United Nations.
Mr. NDIAYE said the Convention on the Rights of the Child was useful in integrating children s rights into the work of his office. He noted initiatives in his Office aimed at disseminating information on the Convention to the wider international community, particularly to children themselves. It also evaluated the needs of countries requesting technical assistance, and consulted with relevant NGOs to that end. He assured delegations that the Office of the High Commissioner would continue to integrate work on behalf of children in its broader activities.
BIRGIT STEVENS (Belgium, on behalf of the European Union) said action to protect children had to be guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That remained the instrument of reference, the essential legislative basis for achievement of children’s rights. The European Union, together with a very large majority of delegations, was anxious to reflect the primacy of that approach to children’s rights in the final text of the special session on children. The European Union considered it of paramount importance that the States parties to the Convention actually implement its provisions, and that those who had not yet ratified it now do so. The European Union was extremely concerned about the number of reservations which had been lodged regarding the Convention and continued to urge Member States to review and withdraw those reservations which were contrary to its spirit and purpose. The European Union also called on Member States to sign, ratify and apply the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, one on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and the other on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
She said the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict drew attention to the dramatic and devastating impact which armed conflicts had on entire generations. It was encouraging that more and more efforts were being made to understand and analyze the problem. However, those should lead to clearer coordination of political will and tougher action to protect all children. Entry into force of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict which set the minimum age for taking part in hostilities at 18 would constitute a remarkable advance. The European Union called on States also to sign and ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which clarified the enlistment of children under 15 years of age and their participation in combat as war crimes.
Ms. Stevens said children continued to be victims of many forms of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution, pornography, the sale of children, acts of pedophilia and sexual abuse within the family. Here, too, greater awareness and an in-depth study of the problem should lead to tougher action. Such action had to go beyond national borders, since the crime of sexual exploitation of children also went beyond them. Such crime was increasingly professional and made use of advances in new technology, turning to its own advantage the openings provided by globalization. Concerning HIV/AIDS, the European Union stressed the need to provide special assistance for children who had been orphaned or affected by HIV/AIDS. The international community had also undertaken to guarantee non-discrimination and full and equal enjoyment of all fundamental human rights for children affected by HIV/AIDS.
MARTIN ANDJABA (Namibia, on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)) said the landmark Convention on the Rights of the Child, which entered into force in September 1990, made it possible at the global level for State parties to legally enforce children’s rights. Eleven years down the road, there had been progress and increased awareness on issues related to the rights of children. However, the plight of the world’s children had not changed much. Millions of children all over the world were still exposed to poverty; exploited as child soldiers or labourers; deprived of basic education and other necessary social services; and vulnerable to diseases, especially HIV/AIDS. At the World Summit on Children in 1990, Government leaders committed themselves to protecting children from the scourge of war, and to taking measures to prevent further armed conflicts. But as the Secretary-General’s report pointed out, the growing awareness of the plight of war-affected children and the increased focus on their protection and rehabilitation had, regrettably, had not yet ended children’s suffering during and after armed conflicts. In the armed conflicts of recent years, children had been featured centrally as targets of violence, and occasionally and unwillingly, as perpetrators of violence.
The Secretary-General’s report pointed out that girls who were disadvantaged during peacetime were more affected when it came to conflict situations, he said. During wars, they endured inhuman sufferings such as sexual abuse and enslavement. Armed conflict facilitated the spread and aggravated the impact of diseases, especially HIV/AIDS, to which the girl child was most vulnerable. The SADC region was among those that was plagued with armed conflicts. The direct and indirect impact of war had taken a heavy toll on children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Angola. UNICEF and other United Nations funds, programmes, and offices were assisting children affected by conflicts in those two countries.
The SADC, Mr. Andjaba said, placed great importance on education. Most of the Member States had acceded to international conventions on educational development, and undertook policy reform measures that put emphasis on universal education. In September 2000, the SADC Protocol on Education and Training had come into force. The ultimate objective of the Protocol included the progressive achievement of harmonization and standardization of educational and training systems in the region. A significant number of SADC countries had already achieved net enrolment rates of 90 per cent in primary education. In that regard, SADC welcomed the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, which had been adopted at the World Education Forum, held in Dakar, Senegal in April 2000.
JUAN GABRIEL VALDES (Chile, on behalf of the Rio Group) said the Rio Group regretted the fact that the negotiation process of the document “A world fit for children” was still beset by obstacles and arguments. Those arguments questioned the main achievements, purposes and principles recognized in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and in other United Nations human rights instruments, as well as in the major conferences and summits organized by the United Nations. In that regard, the Rio Group noted with concern how terms and formulations agreed by consensus in numerous documents in the social field had become the object of unilateral interpretations that sought to establish the right to introduce new concepts that would contradict existing understandings already held by the international community.
He said the vision of all children in the world fully realizing their human rights should not be abandoned. It was hoped that the Plan of Action for the next decade, which would be adopted at the twenty-seventh special session of the General Assembly, could consolidate in a coherent programme the different concepts, commitments and objectives defined by the international community in the series of summits and conferences that had taken place since the World Summit for Children. The international community had to save lives and do everything within its power to ensure that those lives were lived with dignity and opportunities. There had to be a recognition that health care had to become a priority on every government agenda, including the right to receive necessary and appropriate services for sexual and reproductive health care. In addition to the right to medical attention, that meant the right to receive education, information and services related to reproduction.
Mr. Valdes said that the expansion of international trade was of vital importance for the prosperity of the countries of the Rio Group. Therefore, the groups were committed, individually and collectively, to strengthen a multilateral system of free, open, non-discriminatory, safe and predictable trade. There also needed to be a strengthening of regional integration, and a deepening of the economic relations between the various regions of the world. That would no doubt help to bring about an increase in investment in children and adolescents, an elimination of discrimination and a reduction in inequalities and exclusion. The assurances of a favourable economic environment would help in efforts to address the tragic reality of street children, and would give more support to children and adolescents belonging to minorities and to the more vulnerable groups, particularly indigenous peoples.
FELIPE H. PAOLILLO (Uruguay), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) and associated States Bolivia and Chile, said the question of the promotion and protection of the rights of children was at the heart of MERCOSUR s guiding principles. Those associated countries had also decided to provide special support for most affected or vulnerable groups, including women, children, and adolescents dealing with sexual abuse or drug addiction. The States had also guaranteed the right of primary education, the ideal vehicle of social and economic mobility. Much attention had also been given to the situation of child labour.
He went on to say that the MERCOSUR was determined to improve the quality of education, civic training and the use of information technologies. It was also trying to integrate in its mechanisms the needs and concerns of indigenous children. In that regard, efforts to providing bilingual education were essential. Another important issue was health care. Overall, he said, much improvement had been shown, but the broad differences in social and economic development throughout the region made the promotion of universal health care initiatives challenging. The MERCOSUR took as its main frame of reference the Convention of the Rights of the Child, as well as other regional or national instruments. Much remained to be done on behalf of children however, both in the region and the world at large. The international community must ensure that comprehensive and concrete commitments emerge from the rescheduled special session.
YANG YI (China) said this year marked the tenth anniversary of the Chinese Government’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Over the past 10 years, the Chinese Government had actively fulfilled its commitments; further improved the situation of the survival and development of the child; safeguarded children’s legitimate rights and interests; and made unremitting efforts in promoting the cause of child development. In the past 10 years, China had formed a fairly comprehensive legal system to ensure the survival and development of the child. That system was based on the Constitution and encased in the Law of Protection of the Minor. It included civil, criminal and administrative laws and regulations and provided effective legal guarantees for the protection of children’s rights and interests.
She said in 1992, in line with the general targets of the national plan for economic and social development, the Government formulated the “National Programme of Action (NPA) for Child Development in China in the 1990s”. The NPA contained 49 targets, including lowering the infant mortality rate, lowering the mortality rate of children under five, lowering the malnutrition rate of children, maintaining the rate of coverage of planned immunizations, universalizing basic education, protecting children in hardship situations and protecting children from HIV/AIDS. By the end of 2000, China had basically attained the global goals set in NPA for children, and by the World Summit on Children. All those fully demonstrated that China had made tremendous achievements in protecting children’s rights.
Ms. Yang said at present, large numbers of cases of violations of children’s rights still occurred around the world. Armed conflicts still inflicted harm on children, and the sexual violation and exploitation of children was still prevalent. Children were still trafficked, and there were still illegal abductions and adoptions. Further, countless children suffered from the dangers of drugs and HIV/AIDS, as well as child labour. To enable every child in the world to enjoy the rights provided in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it was still necessary for the international community and governments around the world to take more effective measures, in a concerted effort, to locate and eliminate sources of the problems of the child, and to provide a good environment for children’s healthy growth. With the concerted efforts of the international community, the work of the protection of the child would result in further progress, which would benefit the children of the entire world.
OLE PETER KOLBY (Norway) said there had been a recent international shift in the focus on children — from a welfare and assistance perspective, to a clearer focus on the rights of the child and the related obligations and responsibilities of States to protect children. That was a development Norway strongly supported. Norway believed in the uniqueness, individuality and integrity of every child, and it was known that they had their own resources and capabilities. It was the responsibility of every State to provide conditions for children where they could prosper in peace, and where their human rights were respected.
Girls were especially vulnerable, he said. There was grave concern about the evidence of large-scale trafficking in young girls. Norway stressed the need for consolidation action to protect children from that abhorrent practice. It had become an industry of enormous proportions. Children were considered worthless and their most fundamental rights were violated. In that context, adherence to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography was an important step. Norway recently had ratified this crucial instrument, and others were urged to do so.
Mr. Kolby said the particular vulnerability of children placed them at risk during times of public unrest, social instability and especially armed conflicts. The impact on children’s lives was