TOO MANY CHILDREN SUFFER FROM ARMED CONFLICT, EXPLOITATION, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD AS DISCUSSION ON CHILDREN CONTINUES

23 October 2001
GA/SHC/3643

TOO MANY CHILDREN SUFFER FROM ARMED CONFLICT, EXPLOITATION, THIRD COMMITTEE TOLD AS DISCUSSION ON CHILDREN CONTINUES

      Although the 1990 World Summit on Children had unquestionably improved the situation of the world's children in many areas, there were still too many children in the world suffering needlessly from a variety of scourges, including armed conflict and exploitation, several speakers told the Third Committee (Humanitarian, Social, Cultural) this afternoon.

      As the Committee’s deliberations on the promotion and protection of the rights of children moved into a second day, speaker after speaker said that much work remained to fully implement the promises of the 1990 summit to ensure that all the world's children enjoyed fundamental rights, including the right to education, food and health care.  Some delegates even pointed out that there were scourges today that did not exist when the conference adjourned 11 years ago.

      The representative of the Republic of Korea said that while today's children were able to benefit from the technological and material advances taking place in all spheres of society, they were, by the same measure, exposed to new and potent hazards.  Through the mass media, the Internet and computer games, children came across too much violence in their daily lives.  The excessive exposure to violence could have a lasting impact on their psychological development.

Further, he continued, the new mediums of communication could also be used as instruments to exploit children for such sinister purposes as child pornography or pedophilic criminal activities.  Particularly worrisome was the rise in cyber-crimes against children, corresponding with the expanding population of Internet users around the world.

Exploitation of children -- both sexual and economic -- remained a pressing problem that needed the attention and resources of the international community, many said.

The delegate from Côte d'Ivoire, speaking on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said more than 1 million children each year became a part of the global sex industry, and even more were trafficked across borders to work in the sex sector or in child labour.

Many speakers welcomed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that addressed the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.  The Observer from the Holy See announced that it would ratify the Protocol tomorrow, thus giving the instrument the 10 ratifications/accessions it needed to enter into force.  Another Optional Protocol to the Convention, on children in armed conflict, needed only a few more ratifications/accessions to enter into force

(page 1a follows)

 

Third Committee         - 1a -      Press Release GA/SHC/3642

19th Meeting (PM)                                          23 October 2001

 

That Protocol, when fully operational, would give much needed support to ridding the world's wars of youthful soldiers.  The delegate of Colombia told the Committee that his country, which was afflicted with internal conflicts, had raised the age of military service to 18 and was demobilizing soldiers under that age and reintegrating them into society.  The representative of the Sudan, meanwhile, implored the international community to condemn the actions of rebel groups, mainly in the Southern part of the country, where children were kidnapped and forced to fight or, if they refused, used as shields.

      The representatives of Cyprus, Ecuador, Cuba, Egypt, Algeria, Peru, Uganda, Iran, New Zealand and Switzerland also spoke this afternoon.

Earlier in the meeting, the representative of Portugal introduced a draft resolution on policies and programmes involving youth.

On items related to crime prevention and international drug control, the representatives of the Sudan and Mexico each introduced a resolution, on the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (UNAFRI), and international cooperation against the world drug problem, respectively.

The Committee will meet again tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., when it is expected to continue its consideration of items related to the promotion and protection of the rights of children.

 

(page 2 follows)

 

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of items related to the promotion and protection of the rights of children.  For additional information, see Press Release GA/SHC/3642 of 22 October 2001.

The Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General on the Promotion and protection of the rights of the child (document A/56/488), which highlights discussions held by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2000 and 2001 on violence against children.  According to the report, the Committee recommended that the Secretary-General conduct an in-depth international study on violence against children.  The letter sent by the Chairperson of the Committee to the Secretary-General in that regard is contained in an annex to the report.

The Committee was also expected to hear the introduction of a draft resolution on an item related to social development:

According to a draft resolution introduced by the representative of Portugal on policies and programmes involving youth (document A/C.3/56/L.12/Rev.1), the Assembly would urge all States, all United Nations bodies, the regional commissions, the specialized agencies and the intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned, in particular youth organizations, to make every possible effort toward the implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth to the year 2000 and Beyond.

The Committee was also expected to hear the introduction of two draft resolutions on items related to crime prevention, criminal justice and international drug control:

      The representative of the Sudan introduced a resolution on the United Nations African Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders (document A/C.3/56/L.16), by which the Assembly would urge the States members of the Institute to make every possible effort to meet their obligations to the Institute; and would request the Secretary-General to enhance the promotion of regional cooperation, coordination, and collaboration in the fight against crime, especially in the transnational dimension, which could not be dealt with adequately by national action alone.

      On international drug control, the Committee was expected to consider a four-part resolution introduced by the representative of Mexico on international cooperation against the world drug problem (document A/C.3/56/L.18).  By that text the Assembly would, among other things, call upon all States to take further action to promote effective cooperation at the international and regional levels in the efforts to counter the world drug problem so as to contribute to a climate conducive to that end, on the basis of the principles of equal rights and mutual respect.

      DEMETRIS HADJIARGYROU (Cyprus) said Cyprus, since its independence, had adopted and consistently pursued a policy of active promotion and protection of the rights of the child.  Cyprus had ratified the major international instruments for the protection and development of children without any reservations.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child, according to Cyprus' Constitution, had

superior force to any domestic law, and its provisions had been involved in court proceedings and had affected the outcome of such cases.  Cyprus had been one of the first countries to end corporal punishment.

     He said existing national legislation was extensive and effective.  Cyprus' desire to create a better world for all vulnerable groups in society, including children, was reflected in the State expenditure for the implementation of social programmes, which constituted 33 per cent of the total public expenditure in 1998.  Recognizing the importance of joint action for the promotion of social development, the Government worked in partnership with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Local Community Councils by providing technical assistance and annual grants for the operation of social programmes and services.  Last year, 38 per cent of State grants were directed at children's programmes run by the voluntary sector.

      Mr. Hadjiargyrou said that although the efforts of Cyprus had been considerable, there was still room for improvement in the situation of children there.  On the basis of its experience from monitoring the Convention’s implementation and in line with positive international trends concerning children, Cyprus was currently focusing on systematic collection of data on children and on improving the coordination of children's policies and programmes at the governmental, non-governmental and private levels.  His Government was also looking to improve the updating of legislation and administrative procedures ensuring children's participation in decisions which concerned them.  Lastly, his Government was attempting to raise public awareness of children's participatory rights.

      SILVIA ESPINDOLA (Ecuador) said children were the present and the future of the world, and it was important that they be taken care of, particularly in the areas of education and health.  Girls and boys deserved to live in a world that would provide them with the best opportunities.  It was important to end discrimination, armed conflict, the spread of diseases, and the lack of food, water, housing and education.  Those were all acute problems that required urgent solutions.

      She said Ecuador had signed many of the international conventions and treaties, and had implemented countless statutes in its domestic laws to meet the mandates and provisions of those agreements.  There were programmes that targeted children who were in danger of malnutrition, and of not receiving proper education, for example.  The infant mortality rate had dropped in recent years, which was evidence of the effectiveness of these policies.  In the legislative area, the political Constitution adopted in 1998 had established a legal framework for children.  The girls and boys of Ecuador participated actively in Government decisions affecting them.

Ms. Espindola said one of the reasons that countries could not pay for many of these programmes was because of the crippling external debt they faced.  It was important for developing countries to understand their responsibilities, but it was also important for developed countries to understand that those undertakings would not be effective if the country did not have the resources to implement them fully.  There were disturbing trends, despite progress.  In recent years, for example, the number of children who saw their fathers leave the family had increased from 60,000 to 140,000.  It was important for that trend to reverse itself, and that could only happen if the debt burden on those countries was eased.

      JORGE FERRER RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said that 11 years after the World Summit for Children, efforts to meet the noble goals which had been agreed upon there had been modest.  Indeed, the differences in the situations of children living in the North and South were becoming more marked.  That was particularly true when educational and health facilities in the two worlds were compared.  Children in the South continued to be adversely affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Solutions were not impossible as the cost of vaccinations for six of the most common infectious diseases was about 80 cents per dose.  That was the price of a cup of coffee in some of the world’s most industrialized countries.

Sadly, he said, selfishness and insufficient solidarity had made the issues that affected only a small portion of humankind the most prominent on the international agenda.  If that were to continue, the grave situation of the majority of the world’s children could never be successfully or comprehensively improved.

      For the past several years, he said Cuba had actively implemented its Plan of Action for children.  Every child in Cuba had a schoolroom and a teacher. Unfortunately, however, illiteracy had not been completely eradicated and work was continuing to address that problem.  Despite the illegal blockade imposed against the country by the Government of the United States, Cuba had achieved significant success in lowering infant mortality rates and improving overall health care systems.

Cuba recognized the importance of the issue of children in armed conflict, he said.  It noted with concern however, the increasing interference by the Security Council in such issues.  The General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) were the two bodies, which, under the Charter had the competency to best deal with social and humanitarian issues.

      MAI KHALIL (Egypt) said children who lived under foreign occupation were existing in unacceptable conditions.  That should be addressed at the special session of the General Assembly on children.  Children today would be the adults of tomorrow, and they needed to be taken care of.  It was hoped the international community would commit itself to strengthening the rights of the child.  Internationally, Egypt was one of the first countries to accede to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Nationally, it had safeguarded the necessary services through 2010 to protect the rights of the child.

She said one of the top priorities in Egypt was to eradicate child labour.  For all its efforts, Egypt did suffer with problems of child labour.  The Government prohibited children from doing dangerous work, and it also limited the amount of hours that children could work.  The Government was also looking at the phenomenon that led to this problem, which, mainly, was poverty.  The Government was undertaking development efforts, and trying to strengthen child protection within the family.

      ABBDELOUAHAB OSMANE (Algeria) said that just a month ago, heads of State and government from around the world had been scheduled to meet at the United Nations to discuss the present situation and future of the world's children. That meeting, which had been postponed, was a very important one, and he hoped it would be rescheduled to allow the global actors the opportunity to deliberate an issue of serious concern to the Committee and the wider international community.

      He said the situation of children in Africa continued to be of grave concern.  When compared with children living in northern, developed countries, the overall plight of African children was particularly alarming.  Over and above deepening poverty throughout the Continent, children and youth were faced with the debilitating effects of a lingering debt burden, widespread unemployment, persistent health crises, and almost continuous conflicts in many regions.

The African child more than ever needed the international community to provide the requisite official development assistance (ODA), which had sadly been steadily weakening over the last few years.  At the same time, progress was being achieved.  In Algeria, where 30 per cent of the population was under the age of 15, a ministry post had been created to monitor efforts to implement the tenets of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and also to promote the protection of those rights as well as the rights of mothers.

      RENATO MARTINO, Observer of the Holy See, said too many of the world's children were affected by war and conflict every day of their lives.  They all bore the physical and psychological scars which could have been the result of direct involvement as combatants, or through abductions, separation from family, malnutrition and lost educational opportunities.  The same could be said for those children who were victims of exploitation or abuse.  For those children, unimaginable horrors were an every day occurrence.  They also suffered physical and psychological trauma, which left scars that might never heal.

      He said that with its almost universal ratification, the Convention on the Rights of the Child continued to guide governments in their actions regarding the well-being of children through the recognition of their dignity and the acknowledgement that children, by reason of their physical and mental immaturity, needed special safeguards and care, including legal protection, before as well as after birth.  Having been the fourth State to ratify the Convention, and responding to the call by the Secretary-General, tomorrow the Holy See would ratify the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

      Archbishop Martino said the Holy See was pleased to note that the number of ratifications required for the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography to enter into force had been reached. The Holy See would now join those States in what it hoped would also be a universal ratification of such an important instrument.  The delegation was also pleased to note that only three more States had to ratify the Protocol on Child Soldiers before that, too, would enter into force.  In ratifying these Optional Protocols, the Holy See encouraged all other States to join in furthering the legal protection of children by ratifying or acceding to them.  There were many challenges in the world.  Each and every action that the United Nations system could take helped to chip away at the problems that continued to hamper the realization of the rights and assurances of the well-being of the child. Parents and the family had to be strengthened and helped in their role of providing the best for their children.  Continuing to create a world fit for children could only be possible with real cooperation and solidarity in the actions of the international community.

      ALFREDO CHUQUIHUARA (Peru) said one of the basic objectives of his Government had been the promotion and protection of human rights for all.  In that regard, it had consistently implemented measures which addressed the universality of those rights and also ensured the welfare of girls, boys and adolescents, whose future depended on the development opportunities offered them today.  Unequal economic distribution, social exclusion and poverty were the main factors affecting the social and developmental well-being of the children in his country. Those issues forced young girls and boys to enter the labour market at an early age or to live without protection on the streets where they were often subject to sexual abuse or early pregnancy.  They also often fell victim to drug and alcohol abuse.

      That was the reality for many children living in developing countries, he continued.  To address that grave situation, it was necessary to offer immediate and effective options aimed at enhancing the lives of children in those regions at all levels.  In that sense, Peru’s policies and programmes relevant to children and youth had been linked to the design and implementation of its broader social policies.  Peru had given special attention to girl children as well as indigenous and rural girls.  Activities were being designed to coordinate the efforts of regional governments and NGOs in the areas of education and health.  Those initiatives would aim to enhance development while at the same time preserving cultural and ethnic values.

      He announced that the Third Ibero-American Conference of Ministers and Senior Executives Responsible for Childhood and Youth would be held in Lima on 29 and 30 October.  It was widely hoped that an Action Plan would emerge from that meeting that would address new challenges and offer concrete suggestions to improve the lives of boys and girls in the region.  The goals set in that document would be set through 2015, and would serve as another example of efforts to address the plight of children who must survive harsh social and economic situations.

      CATHERINE OTITI (Uganda) said the rights of children were the supreme priority in all programme processes in Uganda.  The Uganda National Programme of Action for Children (UNPAC) was adopted in 1992 by the Government in honour of the pledge made to children at the World Summit in 1990.  The successful repatriation of demobilized child soldiers from Uganda to Ituri Province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo had been undertaken with the help of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).  Those children had been reunited with their families, and both were reintegrated into their communities. Schooling and vocational training was now being accessed by those children.

      Very important to Uganda, Ms. Otiti said, was the situation of children, especially in the northern and western parts of the country.  Thousands of children were victims of atrocities by the so-called Lord's Resistance Army in the north, and the Allied Democratic Forces in the west.  One could only imagine what the plight of these children was, and the only logical and factual conclusion was that they faced a despicable situation, to say the least.  The Government worked in close cooperation with UNICEF to deliver some of those children to freedom.  Most of the time, they could only leave captivity by embarking on terribly risky escapes.  Those who managed to escape left behind thousands whose fate remained unknown.  The delegation invited the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict to visit Uganda.  All children were innocent, and therefore, all efforts should be employed to save them.

      ILHAM IBRAHIM MOHAMED AHMED (Sudan) said social and economic progress for some did not translate into success for all.  The lack of basic services in many regions of the world was particularly debilitating for the children and youth living in those regions.  Despite the fact that many countries had put in place practical measures to address those negative effects, particularly to counter the effects of widespread poverty, the international community needed to generate the requisite political will to ensure that commitments to ODA were met.

She went on to say that the Sudan had created a National Programme of Action to implement the tenets of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  That Programme dealt with such issues as health and education.  The Sudan was also working hard to ensure stability within the country to deal with the situation of refugees, particularly those that were adolescents and children.  She urged the international community to condemn actions of rebel groups, mainly in the Southern part of the country, where children were kidnapped and forced to fight or, if they refused, used as shields.  Global actors should exert pressure on rebel movements and spare no efforts to bring them to the negotiating table.  Kidnapped children should be released and reintegrated into their communities. 

      CHA YOUNG-CHEOL (Republic of Korea) said in recent years, in response to the ever-changing demands of this fast-paced work, Korea had made a major shift in its policies on children.  Indicators showed that Korea had achieved a satisfactory level of standards regarding the well-being of its children, with near universal access to primary and secondary education, as well as health care.  However, when they were polled, the majority of children responded that they were unhappy.  Dissatisfaction with standardized school curricula and estrangement from parents and teachers were cited as the main reason.  Excessive peer pressures and violence in schools were also reported to be sources of major concern.

      He said the fact that children were unhappy was deeply disturbing.  It was a problem that merited great attention.  Thus, in the realm of education, Korea's focus had moved from providing basic education to providing higher quality education, geared to meet the individual needs of every child while instilling in them the necessary values to shape them into responsible global citizens.  An important part of the efforts had been to upgrade the content and standard of instruction -- teachers were required to participate in periodic training programmes to build upon their expertise and keep abreast of the diversifying needs of children.  In addition, greater efforts were being extended to develop programmes for children with special needs.

      While today's children were able to benefit from the technological and material advances taking place in all spheres of society, they were, by the same measure, exposed to new and potent hazards.  Notably, through the mass media, the Internet, and computer games, children came across too much violence in their daily lives.  The excessive exposure to violence could have a lasting impact on their psychological development.  The new mediums of communication could also be used as instruments to exploit children for such sinister purposes as child pornography or pedophilic criminal activities.  Particularly worrisome was the rise in cyber-crimes against children, corresponding with the expanding population of Internet users around the world.  The situation was a reminder that technology was only as good as the international community was prepared to make it.

      PAIMANEH HASTAEI (Islamic Republic of Iran) said that since the World Summit on Children in 1990, the world had undergone unforeseen changes.  Positive changes and progress in several areas set by the World Summit had led to the overall improvement in children's situation worldwide.  The positive and promising features related mainly to the areas of child health and education, where considerable progress had been made in many parts of the world.  Such accomplishments deserved gratitude and appreciation.  However, as indicators demonstrated, the overall achievements in child survival and development still fell short of expectations emerging from the priorities and the goals set in the World Summit.  Chronic poverty, child mortality, disparities between the rich and poor countries, violence against children in the situations of armed conflicts and foreign occupation, sexual and economic exploitation, resource constraints and shortage of international assistance were the depressing ills and challenges that had to be targeted by the international community's future actions and programmes in the next decade.

      One of the major challenges, Ms. Hastaei said, was the need to protect children from the horror of war and armed conflicts.  The growing awareness of the plight of war affected children and the increasing focus on their protection and rehabilitation had not yet, regrettably, ended children's suffering during and after armed conflicts.  Observing the horrendous atrocities perpetrated against children in times of war and in conflicts in different regions throughout the world, particularly in occupied Palestine, one should argue that the international community had to be serious in bringing to justice all those who committed war crimes, particularly against women and children. Protection of children who were the civilian targets, especially those in territories under foreign occupation, needed to be given prominence.  More than two decades of war in Afghanistan had all but destroyed any hope the children of this country had for a better future.  The international community had a collective obligation to ensure the dedication of increased and enhanced international assistance to those children, particularly refugee and displaced children.

      ERIC N'DRY (Cote D'Ivoire), on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)), said that 10 years after the World Summit on Children, the fate of that part of the population continued to be of concern.  Over 10 million children died each year from various causes, and more than 1 million children a year joined the sex industry against their will.  Millions continued to work, which kept them out of school.  Those were part of the realities for children in West Africa.  There was also trans-boundary trafficking in children and children in armed conflict, among many other realities.

      He said there were children who were trafficked into labour by their parents.  The authorities of both the host countries and countries of origin had undertaken several policies that had recently started to bear fruit. Agreements had been signed by countries in the region, and traffickers had been arrested.  All of those actions were in harmony with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which all countries in the region were a party.  The last few decades had seen children increasingly become victims against their will.  The United Nations estimated the number of children in armed conflicts at 300,000.  Some were killed, and other were injured.  All were torn from their families, and many were victims of physical or sexual abuse.  It was time to fully implement the promises that had been made by the international community about children affected by war.  In addition, greater attention should be given to refugee, displaced or street children, who because of their own dramatic situations, needed special protection and assistance.

      He said that 10 years after the Summit, the time had come to give new momentum to ensuring that all children enjoyed basic rights.  It was important to ratify the two Optional Protocol to the Convention that dealt with armed conflict and the child prostitution.  There was an Optional Protocol to the Convention against Transnational Organized Crime that could be ratified.  And States should sign Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization that banned the worst forms of child labour.  It was important to strengthen the role of the family so the family could improve its ability in raising children.  In a few months, the United Nations would hold a special session on children. The States of West Africa pinned great hopes on that summit.  The delegations of West Africa would spare no expense in reaching consensus with other countries so the summit could address all the needs to brighten the future of all children.

      HEATHER WARD (New Zealand) called upon States to remain focused on the noble goals of the Assembly’s special session on children.  That event, she said, would enable the international community to highlight the situation of indigenous children around the world, especially regarding equal opportunities for education, including that related to their own language and culture.  New Zealand also considered it important to promote access to reproductive health services and information so that young people could make informed choices in their lives.  In that respect, the HIV/AIDS pandemic had starkly underlined the need to empower young people.

      She said that it was time for the international community to acknowledge the appalling impact of armed conflict on the lives of innocent children.  New Zealand called upon governments to resolve conflicts within their regions through political dialogue and to concentrate their efforts towards building a better world for children. 

Her country was continuing its efforts to protect and promote the rights of children, she said.  Her Government had recently introduced legislation that would provide the country’s Commissioner for children with greater powers to promote the Convention and to monitor compliance.  Government funding had also been increased for child care and protection services.  Her country was currently developing an Agenda for Children as well as a Development Strategy for Youth in order to set goals and provide a framework for policies and programmes in those areas.

      ALVARO TIRADO (Colombia) said his country had sought to uphold the tenets of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The Government’s policies to that end were based on recognition of the central role of girls and boys as builders of the future and as true citizens, capable of making important decisions on issues that affected them.  Colombia’s initiatives would also establish a set of indicators that would allow the Government to monitor the efficiency and quality of implementation efforts at local and national levels.

He said that Colombia had made great efforts to remove children from situations of armed conflict which plagued the country.  The Government had raised recruitment age to 18 and had further moved to demobilize children who were under that age.  Still, children were affected by war in many ways.  Comprehensive efforts aimed at rehabilitation and reintegration which would detach them from armed groups were necessary.  Colombia would also promote the creation of special social programmes which provided a national support network.  A national care plan for displaced populations with particular emphasis on infants and children was also underway.

      JOELLE JENNY, Observer for Switzerland, said legal protection of children had been significantly strengthened with the near-universal adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  She encouraged all States to ratify the Convention’s optional protocols, as well as the Convention 182 of the International Labour Organization on the worst forms of child labour.  Switzerland was prepared to present the optional protocol on children in armed conflict to its parliament.  She added that the Government had raised the age for voluntary military service to 18.

      It was unfortunate however, that children, particularly girls, continued to be exploited and abused by law enforcement and social welfare agencies that had been designed to protect them.  She called upon all States to end application of the death penalty.  Switzerland actively would take part in international initiatives aimed at eradicating all forms of torture and sexual exploitation of children and youths.

      Protecting children in armed conflicts was a major imperative for the international community, she continued.  All parties to conflict must do the utmost to ensure the safety of children and their detachment from conflict situations and reintegration into society.  Switzerland would also continue to be seized with the phenomenon of child soldiers.  Her delegation looked forward to the Assembly’s announcement of new dates for the special session on children.  Her country would, in the meantime, remain energized to that end and would participate actively when the new dates were set.

 

For information media. Not an official record.
Footnotes: 

gashc3643.rev1.doc