GENEVA, 15 April (UN Information Service) — The Commission on Human Rights heard tonight from many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) urging greater protection of children before concluding its annual debate on the topic.
The NGOs called repeatedly for increased efforts to aid children caught up in situations of armed conflict and for eradication of child prostitution, child pornography, and other forms of child sexual exploitation. Two groups criticized the United States, saying it was carrying out the death penalty on persons below age 18.
The Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization charged that Pakistan had no federal law for compulsory education, while Rural Reconstruction Nepal contended that many Burmese children could not go to school because unofficial fees were too high; because many children and their families had been forced by the military to move away from their land to towns near military bases where there were no schools or not enough schools; and because schools were being closed by the Burmese regime.
The Commission for the Defence of the Human Rights of Central America called for appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the human rights of street children.
And Franciscans International, in a joint statement with the Dominicans and the Lutheran World Federation, said there was a connection between economic policies of international financial institutions and the full realization of children’s rights — that international foreign-debt payments were forcing the world’s most impoverished countries to use scarce resources to pay debt, rather than invest the money in the well-being of their children.
The following NGOs delivered statements:Associazione Volontari per il Servizio Internazionale AVSI; Commission for the Defence of Human Rights in Central America; World Federation of United Nations Associations; International Federation of Social Workers; International Human Rights Law Group; HimalayanResearch and Cultural Foundation; Human Rights Advocates; International Institute for Peace; International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies; World Federation of Trade Unions; Afro-Asian People’s Solidarity Organization; Aliran; Rural Reconstruction Nepal.
Also, African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters; Interfaith International; Federation of Cuban Women; Baha’i International Community; Liberation; Franciscans International (joint statement with the Dominicans and the Lutheran World Federation); World Christian Life Community (joint statement with the World Jesuit Refugee Service); Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees; World Organization of Former Pupils of Catholic Education; European Union of Public Relations; and Indian Council of Education.
A representative of Malaysia spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Commission will reconvene at 10 a. m. Friday, 16 April, to begin its review of the human rights of migrant workers, minorities, displaced persons, and other specific groups and individuals.
LUCIA CASTELLT, of Associazione Volontari per il Servizio Internazionale (AVSI), said Uganda was still suffering from a continuation of violence perpetrated by different groups, and in which the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continued to use unspeakably brutal tactics towards children and adolescents, abducting them, manipulating them, and forcing them with brutality to torture and kill others.
These and other children were still in captivity. Respect of human rights was the foundation of true peace; there was a need for sincere peace talks for a solution to the conflicts in northern and western Uganda. To defend children’s rights meant first of all to listen to their needs, to their will. To support families was the first step in achieving this task. The international community should not forget the plight of abducted children in any country in conflict, and should support the cancellation of the unpayable external debt in many developing countries as a way of reducing child poverty.
CELIA CRISTINA SANJUR PALAOIOS, of the Commission for the Defence of the Human Rights of Central America, said the Government of Guatemala had postponed implementation of its Code of the Child and Youth, which had been approved in 1996. The number of children, especially young girls, who had been exploited for revenue and for prostitution had increased.
There should be a Special Rapporteur for the human rights of children living in the street. Meanwhile, it was vital to complete elaboration of a draft optional protocol on the Convention on the Rights of the Child to combat the sale of children, child prostitution and the use of children for pornography. The Government of Guatemala should be urged to implement the Code of the Child and Youth, and all Governments of the region should be urged to commit all of their efforts to the improvement of the material, social and spiritual conditions of the lives of their young girls and women.
HORACE PERERA, of the World Federation of United Nations Associations, said all were in agreement that child labour and the selling of children into prostitution and pornography were horrendous crimes. The movement to abolish all these offences was supported enthusiastically. But when children were freed from these atrocities, the question arose of what to do with them. Obviously the answer was school, but frequently there were no schools for such children. One example of this was the recent closure of a factory in Pakistan that employed many children in near-slavery conditions. A survey showed that while some parents complained about the loss of income to the family, they were even more worried that the children, without a school nearby, were idling toward the streets or other secluded areas, where they would be potential victims of other forms of abuse.
Education should be free and compulsory for all, but governments had not prioritized school development and school construction, nor had they prioritized the relevant training of teachers. These problems had to be rectified.
ELLEN MOURAVIEF-APOSTOL, of the International Federation of Social Workers, said that a country which respected and integrated minorities and the most vulnerable groups of its society into life of the State was a most civilized one. This could be measured by the protection of the children of that State. One way to ensure this would be done was through implementation of article 16 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Birth certification was often a guarantee of health services and had consequences such as protection from child trafficking, child prostitution and child pornography, since an identified child was a protected child. Steps needed to be taken to help with access to registrars and to make child registration free. There was still a long way to go, since many births remained unregistered every year, but this was one problem that could easily be solved. There was a need for universal child registration.
ISAIAH GANT, of the International Human Rights Law Group, said the organization welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur on extra-judicial, summary or arbitrary executions, notably her conclusion that the current practice of imposing death sentences and executions of juveniles in the United States violated international law.
The United States led the world in executing persons for childhood offences. It was ahead of Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen combined. The use of the death penalty against juvenile offenders in theUnited States violated established human rights norms. The International Human Rights Law Group insisted that the United States Government pass legislation establishing a minimum age for death penalty eligibility in the same way that the Government had established federal “standards” for age eligibility for alcohol and tobacco consumption. The Commission should call on States retaining the death penalty to cease its administration against children.
K. WARIKOO, of the Himalayan Research and Cultural Foundation, said attention should be drawn to the worst manifestation of the exploitation of children in Jammu and Kashmir. There, foreign mercenaries and terrorists, in blatant disregard of United Nations Conventions and resolutions, forced children to become gun-runners and human bombs. One boy belonging to the Dalgate locality of Srinagar was forced to carry out the operations of the terrorists and coerced to throw handgrenades in busy market places to create terror among the public. The boy should have been enjoying a trouble-free childhood in primary school, but he had become a dreadful tool for terrorists.
Many parents were haunted by fears that their children would be waylaid or kidnapped by armed gangs while commuting to and from school. The kidnapped boys were trained to use automatic weapons and encouraged to kill. Kidnapped girls suffered in terms of gender violence, sexual abuse, and exploitation. In the Kashmir Valley, childhood had become a nightmare. The Commission must act to end this situation.
BIRTE SCHOLZ, of Human Rights Advocates, said children were not allowed to vote, enter into legally binding contracts, smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol until they reached majority — yet, they were subject to the death penalty in many countries. This was axiomatic and contradictory. Only six countries had imposed the death penalty on children since 1990. It was unclear how many juvenile offenders were on death row in these countries. Currently, there were 73 in the United States.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child had been ratified by all countries except the United States and Somalia. The United States had signed it, however, and thus was legally obligated not to apply the death penalty to children. It was ignoring this obligation. In order to achieve absolute world-wide application of the prohibition of the execution of children, the United States and Somalia should ratify the Convention. The Commission should request all States to exercise a moratorium on the execution of child offenders.
TATIANA SHAUMIAN, of the International Institute for Peace, said women and children accounted for over three-quarters of the victims of armed conflicts in over 50 countries, and the use of weapons of high destructive power had had devastating consequences on women and children in such places as Afghanistan, Rwanda, Chechnya and Bosnia. Kashmiri children had become the victims of militants and mercenaries, and Kosovo children had been attacked and massacred because of their ethnicity while Serbian children were the victims of bombing by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
There were alarming increases in the participation of children in armed conflicts, and too many were being killed and maimed by land mines. The International Institute for Peace expressed deep regret and surprise over the statement earlier of one of the NGOs which had virtually called on the Muslim youth of Kashmir to continue armed rebellion against “the repressive Indian Government. “
HARISH GUPTA, of the International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, said the global race to implement new economic policies had forgotten to take into account the affect it had on children. In the technological boom, there was a significant social cost. It had resulted in wide-scale migration to cities, where people were met with high costs of living. Many ended up living in slums where there were great hardships for children. Often families were pressured to put their children to work to bring in more money. This was especially true among poorer nations.
Children were leaving for factories, small workshops, or the streets in the morning when they should be going to school. These children were sentenced to lives of illiteracy and low wages. These hardships also resulted in several other factors that created discrimination between male and female children. These factors gave a boost to child prostitution, the sale of children for begging, and the marriage of female children to wealthy men. Violence again women was widespread as a result.
GENEI SHIMOJI, of the World Federation of Trade Unions, said children were the future of humanity. Only by safeguarding their rights and enabling them to grow in the best possible environment could human society prosper and progress. The Federation felt great concern for the condition of children in South Asia, who for a variety of reasons completely beyond their control were increasingly being deprived of their basic needs, such as access to education and the freedom to enjoy their lives as children.
Child abuse and child labour were on the rise, and parents were abandoning their children to live in poverty or worse. All State parties should make the Convention on the Rights of the Child more effective. These children needed special attention, since their condition was deteriorating day by day due to economic recession and traditional cultural and social practices.
A. M. ALI, of the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organization, said a large number of children remained deprived of the guarantees, protections and benefits of human rights not only due to lack of economic resources but because of lack of political will or pressure from the international community and national governments.
Pakistan had no federal law for compulsory education and neither the federal nor provincial governments provided sufficient resources to assure universal education. There were several madrasas (religious schools) where children had been illegally confined and kept in unhealthy conditions, and a boy had been killed while escaping from a madras in 1997 near Multan. The number of children smuggled to the Gulf States had spiralled during 1997. The Commission was requested to take note of the causes which ultimately led to children growing up to be fundamentalists, mercenaries and terrorists; it should intervene to halt this process in the interests of the rights of the child.
DEBORAH STOTHARD, of Aliran, said the situation in Burma, as noted by the Special Rapporteur, was deplorable. Women and children faced forced relocation and constant military attack. Those children who survived military atrocities still had to cope with the effects of witnessing parents, relatives, and friends being tortured or killed. There were cases where boys as young as 12 joined rebel armies so they could avenge such atrocities.
The military regime has caused severe economic mismanagement, and spending on health care and education had been diminished to build up the military budget. Burma was in the middle of a health crisis, and UN statistics indicated that the regime spent 222 per cent more funds on military matters than on health and education combined. Children there were brought up to expect violence and repression from the very institutions which were supposed to protect and support them. The long-term effects of this ultimate betrayal should be feared.
CHARM TONG, of Rural Reconstruction Nepal, said children in Burma could not experience the rights elaborated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was strange, since Burma had ratified the Convention.
Many Burmese children could not go to school because the unofficial fees were too high. Many children and their families had been forced by the military to move away from their land to towns near military bases, where there were no schools or not enough schools. Schools were also being closed by the regime. In addition, there was a lack of food in many regions. Children also were also being raped; around the country, an entire generation had become used to war and insecurity.
FATOU THIAM, of the African Commission of Health and Human Rights Promoters, said only six countries had ratified the African Charter on Human Rights, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Maurice, Uganda, Seychelles and Zimbabwe. All African countries were urged to ratify and implement the Charter.
Traditionally, children of Africa had benefitted from a privileged place in the family, but today African children were suffering as victims of armed conflicts, malnutrition, and infant mortality. Female children had been exposed to sexual violence, forced marriage and sexual mutilation. The Commission should invite member States to take the necessary measures to dismantle all groups which used children as soldiers and to aid in the demobilization and rehabilitation of child soldiers.
RIYAZ PUNJABI, of Interfaith International, there was a great need to devise mechanisms to safeguard the rights of children during wartime because of all the armed conflicts in the world today. The impact of war on a child manifested itself in two ways. The first was the use of children as soldiers, and the second was the impact of armed conflicts on the physical, mental, psychological and emotional state of the child. Both aspects should be addressed by this Commission.
Children who were trained for combat these days in various parts of the world were expected to be future terrorists, out to destabilize social order. These children have been coerced and lured at an early age to transport small arms and in some cases to handle and use the arms. According to a report written by the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers and the International Save the Children Alliance, at least 300,000 children under the age of 18 had taken part in armed combat recently. International action had to be taken to end these widespread abuses.
RITA PEREIRA, of Federation of Cuban Women, said there was still a large gap between the text of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and reality. Many children across the world still suffered — living in the streets, being forced into prostitution, even being forced into war.
Girl children especially suffered from a range of scourges such as genital mutilation, prostitution, lack of food, preference for the boy-child, exposure, and even death. It was possible to ensure basic conditions that protected and promulgated the respect of the rights of children, such as was the case in Cuba. These rights were set in an ethical and moral framework. Much work on the economic and social level remained to be done, however.
MACHID FATIO, of Bahai International Community, in a joint statement, said the possibility of harm could be seen in the influence of the mass media on the rise of child violence as documented in many studies. Mass media, including the World Wide Web, had the potential for good; it could become a tool for social, spiritual and moral well-being, as well as for the physical and mental health of the child, as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The Commission should include the media in its omnibus resolution on the rights of the child by inviting the Special Rapporteur on the right to education to encourage governments to use the mass media for applying the principle of making primary education available to all. Governments alsoshould be urged to take all necessary measures to encourage the mass media to disseminate information of benefit to the child.
IQBAL SINGH, of Liberation, said 200 million children between the ages of five and 14 were in employment worldwide in 1996. Only two years later, that figure had risen to 300 million, a 50 per cent increase in just two years. More than 80 million children were at work today in Africa, which had the highest child employment rate – 41 per cent. Asia was second at 21 per cent, followed by Latin America at 17 per cent.
But the industrial nations were also a part of this. In the United Kingdom, for example, more than 2 million school-aged children were working, and their salaries were less than a third of the recommended adult minimum hourly rate. It was the International Labour Office’s Convention 138 that had been the standard child labour language. But only 46 countries had ratified 138, and there were talks of drawing up a new, weaker standard that would be universally ratified. A new standard would mean acceptance and legitimization of all child labour except the most extreme forms. The Commission was urged to recognize the scourge of child labour, and asked to recognize that ILO Convention 138 had to be maintained as the child-labour standard.
CELINE MONTEIRO, of Franciscans International, in a joint statement with the Dominicans and the Lutheran World Federation, said there was a connection between economic policies of international financial institutions and the full real realization and protection of children’s rights. International foreign- debt payments were a serious obstacle to human development, forcing the world’s most impoverished countries to use scarce resources to pay debt rather than invest in the well-being of their children.
Heavily indebted poor countries had higher rates of infant mortality, disease, illiteracy and malnutrition than other countries in the developing world. This was inadmissible. There was a need for long-term development programmes that would address education, hunger and public health, thus stabilizing families, enhancing people’s security, and empowering citizens to construct a stronger civil society. The burdens of foreign debt should be alleviated.
EVE LESTER, of the World Christian Life Community, in consultation with the World Jesuit Refugee Service, said there was nothing appropriate about the deprivation of the liberty of a child-asylum seeker. Despite international conventions which set out criteria for determining whether a person was subject to arbitrary detention or unlawful detention, and despite the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines on detention of asylum-seekers, children continued to be detained in breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child or because the violating country had not even ratified the Convention.
The Commission must deplore the detention of child asylum-seekers, urge governments find alternatives to detention, and call on them to develop meaningful and independently reviewable release procedures. It also should appeal to States that had not yet done so to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
BENJAMIN CUELLAR, of the Latin American Federation of Associations of Relatives of Disappeared Detainees, said the disappearance of children was a major problem the Commission should investigate. Families who had lost children faced enormous difficulties in locating them, especially in nations that had not been helpful in providing resources and information. There were 145 cases in El Salvador of parents who had lost their children who could not get the Government to help them out. Although El Salvador was now a model of a peaceful nation, none of these cases had been brought to justice.
The Federation had recommended to the Government an investigation to find out where the children had ended up and to compensate the victims for moral and economic losses. But the authorities had not taken any action on any of the recommendations. The families had been forced to do the work by themselves, and 98 of the disappeared children had been found.
NANCY DARGEL, of the World Organization of Former Pupils of Catholic Education, said international law was the Commission’s main tool for action, and this was laid down in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Convention clearly established a child’s right to life, food, a home, freedom from abuse, and the comfort of family life.
Childhood was thought to include all persons under 18, and a child of three or four was still termed an infant. Members of all organizations should pursue unswervingly their individual tasks of education in humanity, using every means at their disposal and more particularly the complete input of the whole person for each and every one.
HELGA JURT, of the European Union of Public Relations, said children were thrown into the employment market both to subsidize their families and to learn a trade in the rush of countries to industrialize.
A report by the Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid stated that girls and women from neighbouring countries had been brought to Pakistan for purposes of prostitution. Pakistan had continued the practice of using bonded labour or “haris”, who were subject to exploitation, and a number of tragic cases had been cited in spite of the country’s Abolition of Bonded Labour Act. It was essential that conditions be created in which young generations would be able to live lives in which they could enjoy their fundamental rights.
A. S. KOHLI, of the Indian Council of Education, said that despite the almost global ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, thesufferings of children were increasing. In almost all parts of the world, their right to life, education, health, food, housing, freedom from physical abuse and family life was denied or under threat. Millions of children deserved help and protection.
The march towards economic prosperity had had a devastating effect on the poorer nations. Children had lost their moorings as family structures collapsed under the weight of economic transformation. The answer did not lie in advice or sanctions, but in cooperative actio, to enable people in poor countries to combat this problem. Non-governmental organizations had a special role to play in this, but there was a need for concerted efforts from all quarters — NGOs, industries, parents, teachers and governments — to eliminate child labour and to realize the right to education.
Right of Reply
The representative of Malaysia, speaking in right of reply, said Malaysia was very surprised that the issue of child prostitution and child pornography had been brought up by an NGO in reference to his country. The case the NGO spoke about concerning police brutality had gone through the courts and had been dealt with thoroughly. This was an example of an NGO abusing its privileges. A further written statement on this matter would be submitted later.