Secretary-general’s representative for children in armed conflicts says translating commitments into action most pressing challenge

22-Apr-98

HR/CN/867

GENEVA, 20 April (UN Information Service) — The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children in armed conflicts told the Commission on Human Rights this morning that the most important and pressing challenge today was how to translate the standards and commitments of international instruments into action that made a tangible difference to the fate of children exposed to danger on the ground.

Speaking as the Commission continued a general discussion on children’s rights, Special Representative Olara Otunnu said the time had come to make the protection and welfare of all children a common cause that could unite the world across the boundaries of political orientation, religious affiliation and cultural tradition.

Mr. Otunnu’s remarks came amid a series of statements in which country delegations detailed measures their governments have taken to protect young people. Speaking this morning were the representativesof Brazil, Czech Republic, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Morocco, Senegal, Indonesia, Poland, Argentina, Cuba, Russian Federation, Philippines, Guatemala, Republic of Korea and the United States.

The following non-governmental organizations also made statements: International Peace Bureau, International Association for the Defence of Religious Liberty, Federation of Associations for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights, Family Planning Association of Pakistan, World Muslim Congress and Human Rights Advocate.

Statements in Debate

M. SHOAIB, of the International Peace Bureau, said States were requested to criminalize commercial and other forms of sexual exploitation of children and to ensure that child victims were not penalized for such practices. Offenders, whether local or foreign, should be prosecuted in line with the Vienna Declaration. A number of countries had taken effective measures and developed a strategic policy to aid the prevention and detection of sale of children, child pornography and child prostitution. Nevertheless, the group believed that even now a lot had to be done in that direction. Such action should be seen in the broad terms of an international legal framework that regulated the protection of children from commercial and sexual exploitation yet guaranteed rights of children to education and information. That kind of legal framework would help countries like the Philippines, Thailand and many more in combating the sexual exploitation of children.

ALICE MEYER, of the International Association for the Defence of Religious Liberty, said thousands of children around the world were forced into prostitution each year, and many were the victims of trafficking for the purposes of sexual slavery. Thousands of children had been pushed into prostitution in Thailand, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and India. Many children were “trafficked” from Nepal to India where they were forced to prostitute themselves. Despite reports of police collusion with the trafficking in both Nepal and India, there had been little effort on the part of either Government to punish those responsible.

She said many children were also being trafficked from Vietnam, Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Burma and southern China to Thailand for commercial sexual purposes. The Thai Government’s failure to end the flourishing child sex industry within its borders had adversely affected children in the region. In countries where children were trafficked elsewhere for the purposes of prostitution, national information campaigns should be conducted. There also needed to be a thorough and impartial investigation into official involvement in child trafficking and prostitution. As for street children, there were an estimated 100 million worldwide. In countries such as Brazil and Guatemala, street children were murdered because they were regarded as no more than vermin. That barbaric practiceremained largely unchallenged by law enforcement. The Commission was urged to acknowledge the terrible plight of street children worldwide by appointing a special rapporteur on the issue.

ANTONIA MACIAS, of the Federation of Associations for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, said an optional protocol was needed for the Convention on the Rights of the Child to help combat trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. The protocol should establish the broadest protections and be as specific as possible. Measures for monitoring of compliance should also be established. The protocol should encompass trafficking and sale of children, for whatever purpose; illegal adoption and transplanting of organs; child prostitution; use of children in pornography; and sexual tourism affecting children. Crime should be assumed whether or not such activities had the supposed acquiescence of children. States should draw up legislation prohibiting materials, including computer materials, that promoted or drummed up interest or business in such activities. The terms of reference of the relevant working group should be extended to include monitoring mechanisms for such a protocol, with the idea of empowering the Committee on the Rights of the Child to receive complaints of violations of the protocol.

ATTIYA INAYATULLAH, of the Family Planning Association of Pakistan, said with 191 nations having signed and ratified it, the Convention on the Rights of the Child was the most extensively accepted convention in the history of human rights. However, children of Kashmir were still voiceless, faceless and bypassed, because they had been closed to the outside world by alien Indian rulers. The year 1997 had been another of death, rape and abuse of children in Kashmir, which had possibly the most concentrated violations of the Convention by a State party. It was intolerable to see the wave of violence and savagery that had struck the children and young of Kashmir over the last decade. The subject was compelling, one which called upon one’s moral conscience to act and act now.

TAODEES GILLANI, of the World Muslim Congress, said child abuse was not peculiar to the developing world; it also afflicted the developed countries. Its equally serious cross-boundary dimension was particularly felt in the case of sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. In the developed world, there was a market for paedophilia thriving under the pretext of the right to privacy and freedom of expression; developing countries suffered from that social illness. Child abuse should be seen as an evil; combating that abuse should be given priority, and should not be seen as country-specific or approached from any political perspective. Children were also the most vulnerable segment of society in situations of armed conflict, suffering both as victims and as survivors.

KAUR RANDHAWA, of Human Rights Advocates, said thousands of Ecuadorean children were smuggled through Colombia to Venezuela to work as prostitutes, while a growing number of “sex tourists” was arriving in Central America. Thailand was a major destination for traffickers in human beings. Victims for the sex trade were procured from China, Burma, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Cambodia. Cambodia had an estimated 35,000 sex workers, nearly 35 per cent of whom were under age 17. In Kenya, children as young as eight were trafficked as sex workers; thousands of girls from the former Soviet Union were trafficked each year to Macao, Dubai, Germany, Israel, and the United States as striptease dancers and prostitutes. In the United States between 100,000 and 300,000 children were sexually exploited through prostitution or pornography. Federal and State laws criminalized those acts, but treated child prostitutes as perpetrators rather than as victims. Long-term economic development plans must be implemented around the world to provide remedies for such problems.

OLARA OTUNNU, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children in armed conflict on children, introducing his report (document E/CN. 4/1998/119) said the abuses committed against children and women during armed conflicts were among the worst phenomena of the century. It was abominable that there was systematic targeting of civilian populations, and particularly women and children, for humiliation and displacement in many parts of the world. In spite of the elaboration of a range of international instruments over the last 50 years, there was no relationship between those standards and the realities on the ground; it was as if the Universal Declaration of Human Rights did not exist.

In the 30 or so countries undergoing armed conflict, the Special Representative continued, the social system had collapsed: the societies in question had been set adrift morally. It was therefore not enough to draft international instruments. The most important and pressing challenge today was how to translate the standards and commitments of such instruments and local norms into action that made a tangible difference to the fate of children exposed to danger on the ground. A concerted political effort, at the international and national levels, should be made. Clearly, the time had come to make the protection and welfare of all children a common cause that could unite the world across the boundaries of political orientation, religious affiliation and cultural tradition.

As for the involvement of children in armed conflicts, he said the minimum age for direct or indirect participation should be set at 18. Work on the draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child to prevent the involvement of children in armed conflicts should be speeded up.

HELIO BICUDO (Brazil) said in a democratic society, the protection of human rights was the responsibility of not only the executive but also the legislature and judiciary. That also required the active participation of the civil community and non-governmental organizations. Institutions in Brazil were seeking to continue the debate begun on violence, murder, prostitution and sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. One of the issues being studied was the establishment of legal guarantees for food for children up to the age of seven. The institutions were also looking at child and adolescent labour. Although the Constitution banned labour for children under 14, poverty compelled 3 million children in Brazil to work, mostly in the agricultural and mining fields. In developing countries, child labour was a consequence of poverty and could not be done away with simply through repression because that could create even more serious social problems. Brazil had guaranteed a minimum income to families who committed themselves to stop their children from working and to send them back to school.

VERA JERABOKOVA (Czech Republic) said that paradoxically the Convention on the Rights of the Child protected children below age 18 except for situations of armed conflict. The fact that the international community had been unable to set a higher standard was a reflection of the current state of affairs, where more than 250,000 children below that age took part in more than 30 armed conflicts around the world, and where children represented 40 per cent of all victims of such conflicts. The working group attempting a draft optional protocol to the Convention on this subject had so far, after four sessions, failed to reach a consensus on the text, and more importantly, on crucial issues such as the age limit for participation in armed conflict.

The Czech Republic was convinced that any decision to set the age limit below 18 would discredit the Commission and the United Nations. It urged those few governments which had difficulties with the draft protocol to review their positions and change their attitudes. The Czech Republic could not accept tendencies around the world to adjust international standards to domestic laws; rather, international standards must be taken as a model for adjustment of both domestic law and practice.

FAROOQ HASSAN (Pakistan) said children made up more than half of the population of Pakistan. Naturally enough, Pakistan had been a prime sponsor of the 1990 WorldSummit on Children. Despite enormous resource constraints, Pakistan had attempted to create the necessary infrastructure to promote and protect the rights of its children; among other measures, the Government had established a National Commission for Children Welfare and Development dedicated to implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child. In that important task, that Commission was assisted by a number of Committees, covering a number of specific fields such as health, education, juvenile justice, registration at birth, child labour and protection of children from abuse and neglect. Those committees reviewed existing legislation and policies, proposed legislation and work to ensure adequate follow up to legislation and policies. A district-based monitoring system had been evolved to ensure effective coordination of the Government’s policy initiatives and to base those on timely and relevant data. The system involved collection of information at the district and community levels from the 136 districts of Pakistan.

S. S. GANEGAMA ARACHCHI (Sri Lanka) said children received the highest priority in his country’s social development policies and programmes. Provision of free and compulsory education and free preventive health care had been the basis for children in Sri Lanka to better appreciate and realize their rights. However, vagaries of modern society had made many children extremely vulnerable to many forces that militated against their rights and welfare. For example, lack of resources, conflict and terrorism were major obstacles against the realization of children’ rights, and international cooperation was needed to overcome these constraints. The incidence of child prostitution in Sri Lanka related to tourism in the recent past had been causing grave concern to both the Government and public and non-governmental organizations. Public information and awareness programmes to combat child prostitution were implemented and a Task Force on Prevention of Child Abuse was appointed in 1997. Terrorist attacks perpetrated by the terrorist group Tamil Tigers had also taken a heavy toll on children. That ruthless and intransigent group forcibly recruited children as young as 10 to serve as combatants for terrorist attacks and as suicide cadres. Sri Lanka rejected the complacent assumption made by some that involvement of children in armed conflicts was inevitable and unavoidable. The early adoption of the draft optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts would be a significant step towards eliminating the grave injustice of plundering children, the world’s most precious resource.

IFTEKHAR CHOWDHURY (Bangladesh) said a national policy was under way to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child. A Council had been formed to monitor such activities, and a National Action Plan established. An umbrella non-governmental body with 70 member organizations had been added to strengthen efforts on behalf of children. Primary education had been made compulsory, and was free through grade 5. To encourage the presence of girls in primary school, it was free for girls through grade 8. Enrollment had reached 92 per cent in 1995, and in rural areas, some 28,500 schools now operated and were attended by some 900,000 children. Efforts were also being made to improve basic child health. Child labour and child sexual exploitation were being explored by a programme of research and information gathering. Bangladesh attached great importance to the draft optional protocol concerning the prevention of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. It would continue to work towards that end with a view to finalizing the draft at an early date.

INTISAR ABUNAGMA (Sudan) said since its assumption of power in June 1989, the Government of Sudan had been attaching paramount importance to the rights of the child in that country. In that respect, a number of initiatives had been taken to maintain and protect those rights. The Government believed that children were the solid basis for a prosperous future; Sudan had been one of the early signatories of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and it was totally committed to its obligations. Sudan had also regularly submitted its periodic reports, which were prepared in consultation with all entities of the civil society. In addition, national legislation had been amended to reflect the conclusions of the relevant treaty bodies. Children under 18 years could not be conscripted into military service; and pregnant women or nursing mothers were not subjected to the death penalty.

MOHAMED MAJDI (Morocco) said King Hassan II, who had decreed 25 May as National Day of the Child, had continuously expressed his personal interest in children, stressing the ideals of the family as well as the personality of the child. A body had been established in Morocco to, among other duties, develop initiatives to enhance the effectiveness of actions to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government had also put into practice a national plan of action to combat malnutrition, improve education and offer added protection to children under difficult situations, including handicapped youth and orphans. It should be pointed out that the use of children in armed conflicts and their sexual exploitation demanded the strengthening of international and national instruments. It was imperative that efforts in the working group on the draft optional protocol on children in armed conflicts be continued in order to reach a compromise acceptable to all. Efforts were also needed within the working group on the draft optional protocol on sale of children, child prostitution and pornography. International cooperation was required to salvage children from exploitation in the labour market.

PAUL BADTI (Senegal) said child rights issues were of constant concern, as this most vulnerable sector of humanity continued to be subjected to multi-dimensional human rights violations. The present was a very bleak time for children, because of sale of children, child prostitution, trafficking in children, and because of the toll on children exacted by landmines. It was absolutely vital to ensure the health, rights, and safety of children. International conventions and legal and political instruments and plans of action must be implemented; commitment and will were needed; such matters had to be given absolute priority. States must discharge in due time their reporting obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Greater efforts must be made to protect girls. Girl infanticide, use of children in dangerous work, and sale of children’s organs must be ended. The conclusion of draft optional protocols of the Convention on involvement of children in armed conflict and on sale of children and child prostitution was vital. Senegal had taken numerous steps to protect children and had increased penalties for those who committed offenses against minors.

SAODAH SYAHRUDDIN (Indonesia) said when implementing the Convention on the Rights of the Child, special attention should be given to general policies for health, nutrition, education, the improvement of family income and the creation of employment. Among the root causes which hampered the fulfilment of the rights of the child were poverty, economic constraints and underdevelopment. Indonesia’ commitment to the realization of children’s rights had deep-seated cultural and religious roots. It had been a driving force influencing priorities and formulation of national development efforts for many years. With the view to ensuring that the welfare of children was incorporated into government policies in all the relevant fields, Indonesia formulated and adopted a law on child welfare in 1974, 15 years prior to the adoption of he Convention. Issues related to children, their protection and their rights were also explicitly addressed in a range of other laws, statutes and regulations such as the Marriage Law of 1974, the Law on Family Welfare of 1992 and some other laws related to labour.

KAZIMIERZ KAPERA (Poland) said the primary and basic guarantor of children’s rights was the family. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Poland had ratified, bound States to respectthe rights and duties of parents, guardians or family members to ensure a child’s proper development and upbringing. The State and other entities, be they public or non-governmental, had the task of creating the best possible general conditions for the establishment, development and proper functioning of families. The difficult financial situation of the family, the economic necessity for both parents to hold jobs, inadequate housing, unemployment, the lack of proper children’s care and absence of conditions fostering their development, might lead to pathological phenomena. They might also be amongthe causes of such social pathologies as alcoholism, drug addiction and juvenile prostitution which occurred more frequently among individuals from dysfunctional families. The problem of trafficking in children and child prostitution were other pathological phenomena. The law constituted an important instrument of the State’s family policy. Legal protection of the family constituted one of the basic principles of the Constitution in Poland. The Commission should take up the problem of promoting and protecting family rights under the international system of human rights.

TERESA GONZALEZ FERNANDEZ DE SOLA (Argentina) said the draft optional protocol on involvement of children in armed conflict should be completed soon; the minor divergence of views hampering the finalization of the protocol should be overcome. The minimum age for participation in armed conflicts should not be set below 18. Similarly, the draft optional protocol on sale of children should be expedited. Some delegations sought to have a very narrow definition of sale of children, limiting it to obvious sexual exploitation. Argentina believed that a much more comprehensive definition was called for. Completion of those protocols would send a strong message that could do much good for children around the world. Legal norms to protect children should be established rapidly and clearly; then they should be thoroughly implemented, an admittedly arduous task. States who had not done so should ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Argentina had taken numerous steps to prevent trafficking in children, and to establish and maintain identities of children. The process for locating missing children from the era of the authoritarian regime had been strengthened.

AYMEE HERNANDEZ QUESADA (Cuba) urged States that had not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child to do so. Cuba had been actively participating in the United Nations system on behalf of children. It had also been participating in the work of both working groups drafting optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. She hoped that work would be finalized as a homage to the tenth anniversary of the Convention. Cuba was satisfied that the issue of the drafting of the optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflicts had received the attention it deserved. With regard to the drafting of the optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Cuba did not support the positions of some States advocating that the definition on the “sale of children” applyonly when it was for purposes of sexual exploitation. The sale of children for any purpose should be targeted. The well-being of Cuban children was the constant concern of the Government, which spared no effort in promoting their rights in all fields, including education and health care. Almost all Cuban children had access to health care. However, the United States economic embargo had adverse effects on the situation of children in Cuba.

VALERIA RIYKOVA (Russian Federation) said the Russian Federation had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990. It welcomed international efforts to secure the rights in the treaty. Russia advocated the conclusion of the optional protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflicts, and supported 18 as the minimum age for involvement in fighting. Another important development was work on the optional draft protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography. The Russian Federation appealed to the Special Rapporteur on that issue to continue her close cooperation with governments and non-governmental organizations. It had been possible to make substantial progress on the optional protocol, but a great deal of work was still needed. Russia suggested that the name of the protocol should be changed:”optional” should be replaced by “additional”, thus making the draft more consistent with international legal practice.

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action advocated the right of the child to life, development and protection, and the Russian Federation had taken many steps to ensure this for Russian children, she continued. However, legislation contained loopholes regarding child migrants. In addition, it was necessary to increase liability for child adoptions. Lack of resources was hampering efforts to eliminate loopholes in relevant legislation.

EDWIN BAEL (Philippines) said all States should ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child; the Philippines was taking steps to implement the Convention’s provisions. It also had ratified the International Labour Organisation Minimum Age Convention and strongly supported the initiative for a new Convention to eliminate the most intolerable forms of child labour. It had established mechanisms for children’s rights and well-being. It reiterated its concern for the large number of children with disabilities and emphasized their right to enjoyment of human rights. It supported early adoption of the draft optional protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and believed that no one under age 18 should be involved in such conflicts. It also urged quick agreement on a draft optional protocol on the sale of children. The Philippines considered the transnational dimension in the trafficking and exploitation of children to be very serious, and had sought to include it in the coverage or scope of the draft convention against transnational crimes and in the Manilla Declaration on Transnational Crimes adopted in March. Much remained to be done on behalf of the world’s children.

MARTA ALTOLAGUIRRE (Guatemala) said since its accession to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, Guatemala had taken numerous administrative and legislative measures. Most recently, on 27 March, a new code on children had been adopted to better promote and protect the young people of the country. Although the large majority of children were in poor families, the Government was making all efforts to alleviate poverty affecting the young. The Government also believed it had the obligation to protect children from any sexual protection or violence within the society. The draft optional protocols to the Convention, once adopted, would establish a common frontier in the defence of children; both working groups should intensify their work. In Guatemala, the plight of street children had been closely related to poverty. For that reason, the wife of the President had undertaken a national plan to help street children. In addition, a follow-up to cases of complaints related to violations of the rights of street children in 1997 had been carried out by the Government.

YOO DAE JONG (Republic of Korea) said all members of the international community should give particular attention to the promotion and protection of the rights of children, who were the only hope for a future of peace and prosperity. Since the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was almost universal, Member States should fully implement its provisions. The Republic of Korea condemned all manifestations of sexual violence, in particular those affecting children. The Government had revised its law on punishment of sex crimes and had made the penalty more severe. The revised law also allowed the Government to begin proceedings against violators without victims having to lodge complaints first. On the issue of domestic abuse, two acts to punish domestic abuse and to prevent and protect victims of domestic abuse would become effective in July. The Government had also addressed another urgent issue — child labour. In March 1997, the Government had increased the minimum employment age. At the international level, the Government proposed that the Commission must bear in mind the value of the family unit for the promotion and protection of human rights of children. There was also a need for a long-term plan for the well-being of children, and for increased cooperation among international organizations active in the protection of the rights of children.

ARNOLD HIATT (United States) said not all child labour was exploitative, that on family farms or in family run businesses, for example; but much child labour was. His company had been the first major corporation in the United States to offer on-site day care for children and senior citizens. Early intervention had been stressed, along with community service and establishing role models for vulnerable children. The corporation had discovered that such programmes were effective and also were good business, and the programmes were being adopted by some 1,200 companies which had formed an organization called Business for Social Responsibility. RUGMARK, established in India in 1994, meanwhile, provided incentives for carpet manufactures not to use child labour, and was extensively monitored for compliance. The Oriental Rug Importers Association in the United States had adopted a voluntary policy encouraging manufacturers to abolish abusive child-labour practices, and the system had begun to work, as more than 630,000 carpets with the RUGMARK label had been exported as of last summer — consumers clearly did care about the issue. Similarly, Reebok soccer balls made in Pakistan were guaranteed not to have been made by children, and a Brazilian non-profit recently had begun a programme for footwear companies to use a label authenticating that no child labour had been used in manufacturing their products.