Mr. Jack Hanning
Children's Rights: A Common Cause
Mr. President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
The Council of Europe warmly welcomes this Special Session on Children as a valuable opportunity to renew our commitment to the ideals and principles agreed at the World Summit for Children 10 years ago. Your cause is our cause!
A DENIAL OF JUSTICE AND RIGHTS
Mr. President, the Council of Europe today encompasses almost 200.000.000 children and teenagers in 44 countries. Many of them live in societies in the throes of rapid social. economic and political transition.
Millions of children across the world live in poverty, ill health and hunger. Many are brutalized. abused and sexually exploited. Others are victims of armed conflict and discrimination and live in socially excluded and marginalized families.
Upwards of 10 million children under the age of 5 are dying every year of malnutrition and preventable diseases such as HIV.
Violence, rape. exclusion, exploitation, starvation and disease make a mockery of social, justice and human rights.
A COMMON COAL
Mr. President, we must join forces to build child friendly societies based on real rights despite economic difficulties, terrorism, wars and other global threats.
As stated in the Council of Europe's Political Message to your Assembly to which the Minister of the Family of Luxembourg referred this morning, the Council of Europe has always recognized the universality and importance of the standards and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convevtion on the Rights of the Child.
PROMOTING PROTECTION, PREVENTION, AND PARTICIPATION
The Council's own 1950 European Human Rights Convention and its 1961 European Social Charter provide legal protection for children. And, what is more, implementation of both instruments by ratifying states is subject to close scrutiny to ensure their commitments are fully respected.
The Human Rights Convention applies to all individuals including children who may themselves exercise their rights before national courts (thanks also to the 1996 Council of Europe Convention on the exercise of children's rights) and, if need be, before the European Court of Human Rights, which has examined many cases concerning children's rights with profound effects on all member States. In this connection it should be noted that the Convention's 6th Protocol clearly outlaws the death penalty in the Council's member countries.
The Social Charter which was revised in 1996 defines social and economic rights. Those specifically concerned with children and adolescents include a ban on the employment of children under 15. The Charter now allows for collective complaints to be taken to Strasbourg by social partner organizations or international NGOs.
Other Council of Europe standards for children have been drawn up on matters such as the age of majority, protection of children in the field of biology and medicine, placement, adoption, custody, maintenance, nationality, transmission of family names to children, family reunion for migrants' children, etc.
New standards have been prepared in areas such as combating child pornography in tile Convention on child pornography in the convention on cyber crime, which was adopted in Budapest in November 2001 and has already been signed by 33 European and non European States. Other work is proceeding on different aspects of sexual exploitation; issues such as paternal affiliation. medically assisted procreation, adoption, a child's right to know his or her origins and rules for contact or access orders. Indeed, a new Convention on contact concerning children was adopted by the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers ill Vilnius on 3 May and will be opened for signature in October.
The Council of Europe has also just decided to set up a Group of Specialists on the protection of children against sexual exploitation. This Group is expected to develop a series of measures working in close cooperation with UNICEF, Interpol and the European Union in order to ensure a common approach to the protection of children against sexual exploitation.
In the wake of the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child the Council of Europe agreed the European Convention on the exercise of children's rights which ensures their rights arc respected, in particular, in family court proceedings . Children themselves may exercise their right to be informed and to express their views either themselves or through others.
A Standing Committee to monitor implementation of the Convention is being established and it is hoped that the United Nations will be associated with its work. Children are the leitmotif of many areas of Council of Europe activity. For instance full employment of human rights, including children's rights requires active participation and autonomy at an early age as well as close coordination of policies for children with policies for young people as part of a continuing educational process.
This multidisciplinary approach and the emphasis on child participation is also apparent in the new Forum on Children and Families in which children and young people are directly involved. It will focus on priority areas such as participation, children at risk, poverty and social exclusion.
The Council of Europe is also working oil the development of alternatives to institutional care and measures to ensure that children in institutions are properly prepared for their re-integration into society.
A COMMON AGENDA
Inevitably the main locus of our work is in the pan-european context but we believe it is important also to work within the wider international community with other organizations and other regions on what is after all a common agenda.
That is why the Council of Europe worked with UNICEF and Save the Children on the Budapest consultation meeting in April and again with UNICEF, in November on the regional Conference on the sexual exploitation of children in the run up to the World Congress in Yokohama a month later.
That is why our Lisbon based North-South Centre, which seeks to build awareness among Europeans about world-wide interdependence, last autumn focused its annual Forum on the rights of children and young people in Africa.
That too is why we would welcome the organization of a specific inter regional forum, jointly with the United Nations, to examine in depth the interrelationship between social development and full enjoyment by children of their rights.
As we have been hearing much has been achieved in seeking to implement meaningfully children's rights but we should not delude ourselves. Both in Europe and worldwide much remains to be done. Our children's lives will only improve through increased cooperation between governments, IGOs, and NGOs.
That is why the Council of Europe welcomes this opportunity of taking forward into the new millennium, with the United Nations and UNICEF, the plans and commitments made in the course of this Special Session.
Children are our future! Children must be our common cause!
Thank you Mr. President.