30 October 1997

Press Release GA/SHC/3428

Statement by Special Representative on Impact of Armed Conflict on Children Begins Committee’s Discussion on Rights of Child

On the eve of the millennium, an abomination was taking place: children were being brutalized and forced to brutalize others, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Study the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children said this morning, as the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) began its consideration of issues relating to the rights of the child.

Although civilization had witnessed breathtaking advances, the abuse of children continued, the Special Representative told the Committee. A crucial measure of civilization was how people treated their fellow human beings, especially the most innocent and vulnerable members of society, the children. His aim was to establish a few tangible projects which would make a difference on the ground.

The Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography said that the media and education together represented a very powerful tool which could either cure or inflict irreversible harm to children. A representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, drawing attention to the problem of child labour, said the conference now being held in Oslo on that issue reflected the worldwide desire to prevent the exploitation of children.

Speaking for the European Union and associated States, the representative of Luxembourg said the phenomenon of child labour was not confined to the developing world. The practice of putting children to work in dangerous and exploitative conditions must be eradicated immediately, she said. Politicians, the media, non-governmental organizations and children themselves must be mobilized in the campaign against child labour.

The Deputy Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) stressed that much more needed to be done to achieve the goals of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Inadequate progress had been made on the rights of children with disabilities, street children and aboriginal children, as well as in such areas as health, education, and discrimination against the girl child. Every child was entitled to benefit from the Convention, no matter how vulnerable or marginalized, regardless of gender or geography.

Statements were also made by the representatives of the United States, Namibia (for the Southern African Development Community), Paraguay (for the “Rio Group”), Italy, Egypt, Japan, Norway, Australia, and Cuba.

The Committee will meet again at 3 p. m. today to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this morning to begin its consideration of issues relating to promotion and protection of the rights of children. It had before it reports of the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and on exploitation of child labour, as well as a note in which he transmits the report of the Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

The report of the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (document A/52/348) states that as of 10 July 1997, it had been ratified or acceded to by 191 States. In addition, one State had signed the Convention. A list of States which have signed, ratified or acceded to the Convention, as well as the dates of their signature, ratification or accession, is contained in an annex to the report.

Adopted by the General Assembly in 1989, the Convention was opened for signature in New York on 26 January 1990 and entered into force on 2 September of that year. Article 43 provides for the establishment of a Committee on the Rights of the Child, consisting of 10 experts of recognized competence. In 1995, the Conference of States Parties to the Convention adopted an amendment to increase the Committee’s membership to 18 experts — a provision which enters into force once a two-thirds majority of States parties notify their acceptance.

The report also provides a summary of the most recent resolutions of the Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights concerning the Convention. By one resolution, the Commission welcomed the decision of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to devote its next general discussion to the rights of children with disabilities and asked the Secretary-General to follow up on the Assembly’s recommendation to appoint, for a period of three years, a special representative on the impact of armed conflict on children.

The Secretary-General’s report on the exploitation of child labour (document A/52/523) states the number of working children worldwide between the ages of five and fourteen years is 250 million, according to data complied by the International Labour Organization (ILO). At least 120 million are engaged full time in work that is hazardous and exploitative. Africa, regarded as the most impoverished region, has the highest relative incidence of child workers. In absolute figures, Asia has the largest number, with some 61 per cent of the world’s child labourers, followed by Africa (32 per cent) and Latin America (7 per cent).

The report states that, according to the ILO, child labour still exists in industrialized countries. In southern European countries, a large number of children are found in paid employment, especially in activities of a seasonal nature, street trades, small workshops and in homes. The problem has increased in central and eastern European countries as a result of the difficulties faced by large sectors of the population in the transition from a centrally planned to a market economy. In the United States, the number of children between twelve and seventeen years of age who work is estimated at 5. 5 million, or 27 per cent of children in that age group.

The most vulnerable child workers are those who are victims of slavery and forced labour, the report states. Child bonded labour is one of the most common forms of exploitation. Child labour is also a serious problem because of the often irreparable damage it does to children; its impact on the intellectual child’s development is serious. Furthermore, millions of working children are exposed to serious health and safety hazards. Poverty is cited as the most obvious reason for children to work. However, it can by no means be the only reason or a justification. Children are employed because they cost little or nothing in terms of wages, particularly in the case of small-scale, undeclared and financially precarious businesses. In domestic service, children often receive no more than board and lodging.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child represents the most comprehensive international instrument for the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, the report states. If effectively implemented, it can significantly contribute to the elimination of child labour. By its article 32, States parties agree to recognize and guarantee, through legislative, administrative, social and educational measures, the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere with the child’s education, or to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development.

However, the provisions of article 32 should be considered in the wider framework of the Convention and other international instruments, the report states. In addition, various standards have been adopted by the ILO in the area of child labour. Consideration is being given to adopting a new international convention on child labour at the 1998 session of the International Labour Conference. The objective is to strengthen the arsenal of ILO standards with a binding instrument geared to banning the most intolerable forms of child labour. The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour places priority on halting the most intolerable forms of child labour. The priority target groups include children working under forced labour conditions and in bondage, children in hazardous working conditions and occupations, and children who are particularly vulnerable, including children under twelve years and working girls.

The report states that national policy against child labour should give priority in the first instance to abolishing the worst and most intolerable forms of child labour. Governments are encouraged to take urgent action at the national level, by implementing a time-bound programme of action against child labour using a multi-pronged approach. Such a programme should:address the causes of poverty; provide relevant, universal, compulsory education; strengthen law enforcement; and conduct extensive public awareness campaigns on children’s rights and child labour. It should be implemented by a broad social alliance, headed by governments and involving all key actors: government ministries, educational institutions, workers’ and employers’ organizations, non-governmental organizations, the media and the public as a whole.

The worldwide campaigns against child labour should be translated into supportive action through international cooperation, the report states. It is important to recognize that child labour cannot be solved without efforts to attack poverty itself. Success would depend on the mobilization of all concerned groups of society in the context of truly global movement, committing themselves to children’s rights and providing each other with moral support and technical cooperation.

A note by the Secretary-General (document A/52/482) transmits the interim report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The report focuses on the role of education and the media in preventing the commercial sexual exploitation of children. It indicates that education and the media can together create a forum for awareness-raising that can prevent abuse of children through informed advocacy.

Awareness of the media’s role has greatly increased since the 1996 World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (Stockholm Congress), which was followed by national and international initiatives, the report states. Information in the report is derived from State responses to a questionnaire and from materials provided by United Nations bodies and agencies, as well as by non-governmental organizations active in the field.

An analysis of international developments indicates that the commercial sexual exploitation of children through crime and drug abuse persists in both developed and developing countries. In Africa, some governments show a genuine interest in improving living conditions for children. In others, however, abductions of children continue for enslavement, sale, forced labour or use in combat forces. In Asia and the Pacific, extensive trafficking of both women and children, especially to the Middle East and Europe, is closely linked to child prostitution, the increase in street children, extreme economic need and sexual tourism.

In eastern Europe, child prostitution and pornography is facilitated by lack of legislation prohibiting such practices, the report states. In Latin America and the Caribbean, sex tourism and child prostitution are again closely linked to extreme poverty, lack of education, drug abuse and an increase in street children. In western Europe and other States, a main problem is the spread of child pornography material, especially through the new media and through rings of pedophiles cooperating in the abuse of children.

The report’s analysis of the role played by education and the media in the education of both children and adults takes account of the role of the information superhighway, which exposes children to potentially harmful materials. The right to freedom of expression and to receiving information is considered in balance with the right of the child to be protected.

Recommendations for cooperative strategies between governments, civil society and non-governmental organizations include such media initiatives as publicizing laws that protect children and sensitizing children to detect aberrant behaviour. They also focus on such elements as response and intervention, rehabilitation and reintegration, and networking.

Also before the Committee are letters from the Permanent Representatives of Cuba, Egypt, Turkmenistan, Georgia and Colombia on issues relevant to the Committee’s consideration of the promotion and protection of the children’s rights.

A letter from the Charg d’affaires of Cuba (document A/C. 3/52/3) transmits the views of that Government concerning the observation by the Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding Cuba’s initial report to that treaty body.

The letter from the Permanent Representative of Turkmenistan to the United Nations (document A/52/90) transmits the text of the Ashgabat Declaration, adopted at the Inter-Parliamentary Conference on the Implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Central Asia and Kazakhstan, which was held in Ashgabat from 20 to 22 February.

A letter from Egypt (document A/52/437) transmits the text of resolutions adopted by the Inter-Parliamentary Union in Cairo in September. A resolution on employment in a globalizing world calls on States to provide wider legislative protection to children by such methods as ensuring that all children are registered at birth. A resolution on eliminating the exploitation of children calls for the establishment or strengthening of networks for cooperation between national and international law enforcement agencies to counter the increasingly transnational nature of the commercial sexual exploitation of children. A resolution on the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proposes forms of Inter- Parliamentary Union preparation for and representation in the 1998 celebratory events.

The letter from the Permanent Representative of Colombia (document A/52/447-S/1997/775) encloses the Communiqu of the Meeting of Ministers for Foreign Affairs and heads of delegations of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, held on 25 September. The letter from the Permanent Representative of Georgia (document A/52/116-S/1997/317) transmits a report on the policy of ethnic cleansing/genocide conducted in the territory of Abkhazia, Georgia, including the necessity of bringing to justice the persons who committed these crimes. It also transmits the conclusions of the State Commission of Georgia for the investigation of the policy of ethnic cleansing/genocide carried out against the Georgian population in Abkhazia, Georgia.

Statements

OLARA OTUNNU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Study the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, said the 1996 report by Gra a Machel had elevated the issue of children in armed conflict situations to a new level of awareness in society. Civilization had witnessed breathtaking advances, and yet those quantum leaps had been accompanied by such elements as the abuse of children. A crucial measure of civilization was how people treated their fellow human beings, especially the most innocent and vulnerable members of society, the children.

On the eve of the millennium, an abomination was taking place, he said. Children were brutalized and forced to brutalize others. The pursuit of war was nothing new, nor was the phenomenon of civilian casualties, but war today was primarily internal, fought by armed groups within existing State boundaries. Rules of warfare went unobserved in such wars. Whereas in traditional war, the killing of children was avoided to escape retribution by fate, today the social moral fibre had been destroyed and everything was fair game. Today, the aim of war was not just to tame but to humiliate, not just to rule but to annihilate.

Such societies needed to reach back to their roots, he said. Traditional elements such as the role of grandparents had to re-emerge and help the society in crisis to regain its footing. The traditional elements must be brought into line with modern international instruments. That was the challenge of today: values had to be rebuilt at both local and international levels.

He said that in the agenda outlined by Gra a Machel, the first priority was advocacy to promote greater awareness of the problem. Agencies of the United Nations system must be mobilized within a framework of ongoing consultations. United Nations bodies must also reach out to civil society and to other agencies. The Special Representative would propose specific actions aimed at ameliorating the suffering of children.

The post-conflict situation was as important as the conflict situation, as was the taking of preventive measures, Mr. Otunnu said. The non-political, impartial task of the Special Representative was the protection of children. Since truth was one of the first casualties under any crisis, he would emphasize the need to get facts as the basis for work. He would set priorities and establish a few tangible projects that could make a difference on the ground. OFELIA CALCETAS-SANTOS, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, gave an update of her work and introduced her report. While year’s report had focused on the justice system and its pitfalls, the present report focused on the combined role of the media and education as very powerful tools which could either cure or inflict irreversible harm. Both had great potential for the prevention of abuses. When misused, however, they caused the greatest incursions on children’s health and welfare.

Unrestrained use of video cameras in the hands of child exploiters made detection and apprehension virtually impossible, she said. Effective monitoring schemes were needed to prevent access by children to objectionable materials, without prejudicing their right to avail themselves of the educational benefits of the Internet. While her report presented a wide range of recommendations on media and education, effective measures to ensure responsibility and accountability had yet to be put into place in most countries.

The efforts of special rapporteurs required resources, she said. It was hoped that the United Nations would consider children an urgent priority and send a message to the world that children could not wait. It was also hoped that all States would take a hard look and make candid self-assessments about whether their children were nurtured and whether their adults were exploiting them.

PURIFICACION QUISUMBING, representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Somalia and the United States were the only States which had yet to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, although the United States had signed it. It was hoped that the movement in favour of children would move towards universal ratification of other international instruments for children as well. Human and financial resources were needed to advance the best interests of the child, especially in situations such as armed conflict, sexual exploitation, family violence or refugee status.

Child labour was a major concern at present, she said. Millions of children between the ages of 10 and 14, and even as young as five and six, were working under unsafe conditions. The child labour conference now being held in Oslo reflected the worldwide desire to prevent exploitation of children, including economic exploitation. All States were called on to protect children and protect them from work that was harmful or would interfere with their education.

STEPHEN LEWIS, Deputy Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that 191 out of a total of 193 countries had now ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. That was a tremendous achievement, indicating a high degree of commitment to the world’s children. Rarely had such an instrument had such a direct impact on policy. Provisions now existed to protect the entire range of children’s rights. The ILO’s programme ofaction on child labour would have a provision for education as the alternative to child labour. Rights addressed under the Convention and in Graca Machel’s study included the commercial and sexual exploitation of children, children in conflict situations, refugee children, and child-headed households.

He appealed for further action by Member States to ensure the continued protection of the children’s rights, including support for the optional protocol that would end the use of child soldiers. Member States should also sign the treaty to ban anti-personnel landmines, and ensure that the drafting process towards creation of an international criminal court should give due recognition to the rights of the child.

Despite efforts for the protection and promotion of children’s rights, inadequate progress had been made on the rights of children with disabilities, street children, and aboriginal children. Many goals also remained to be met in areas such as health, education, discrimination against girl children, and sanitation. There was also a need to address issues relating to poverty, which continued to be exacerbated by the decline in official development assistance (ODA), which ran counter to the Convention’s key provisions.

The rights of children should be more entrenched, so that human rights and development would be seen as indivisible, he said. The UNICEF had high regard for the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, whose work was indispensable. The Committee now reviewed the reports of 75 States parties. The UNICEF planned to outline the Committee’s concluding observations on those reports, as a body of jurisprudence on child rights law that had emerged from the Committee’s work. Every child was entitled to benefit from every provision of the Convention. It was for all children everywhere, no matter how vulnerable or marginalized, regardless of gender or geography.

BEATRICE KIRSCH (Luxembourg), spoke on b