Fifty-sixth General Assembly
20th Meeting (AM)
IN CONTINUING DEBATE ON PROTECTION OF CHILDREN’S RIGHTS, THIRD COMMITTEE
Hears Calls For Concerted Action Against Aids, Malaria, Tuberculosis
The international community must band together to formulate a coordinated approach to the scourge of HIV/AIDS, several speakers told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) this morning as it continued its consideration of the promotion and protection of the rights of children.
The representative of Thailand said HIV/AIDS was spreading across the globe at an alarming rate, killing innocent children indiscriminately. About
1.4 million children were already infected with the virus, and nearly
600,000 infants were infected annually through mother-to-child transmission.
The pandemic, he and others stressed, generated other distressing statistics that opened doors to further problems. More than 2.3 million children had been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, depriving them of the loving care of either or both parents. The representative of San Marino called it the “doubly-deadly” aspect of the disease.
It was imperative, they said, for global players to implement, as quickly as possible, the promises and provisions of the twenty-sixth special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS, held last June. Such actions included preventive measures through education, making treatment accessible and affordable, and putting in place strong support systems.
Another major health objective for children, speakers said, was eradicating polio, malaria, and tuberculosis. Those were preventable maladies that also required concerted efforts from the international community. Malaria, for example, was generally associated with poverty and underdevelopment. Social efforts to eradicate poverty could also help, in the long term, stem the prevalence of the disease. In the short term, more than 1 million mosquito nets had been sprayed in highly-infected areas, and had proven helpful in containing malaria. That, however, was not a long-term solution.
Other delegations spoke about the dangers of drugs and drug addiction among younger populations. The representative of Iceland described his country’s efforts to implement preventive efforts to stop children from using drugs in the first place. But, he added, there was in place a comprehensive system offering treatment and rehabilitation that was especially designed for children. That, he said, was in line with the input of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention to the General Assembly special session on children, where, citing the increases in drug abuse among children and noting the lowering of age
of first use, the Office pointed to the need to develop services that were open and accessible to young people.
At the start of the meeting, the Chairman noted that today marked a double celebration –- it was the fifty-sixth anniversary of the United Nations, and the Organization, and its Secretary-General had just won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Also participating in the debate this morning were representatives of Bangladesh, Mongolia, Japan, Romania, Venezuela, Iraq, Costa Rica and Angola.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. it will take action on several draft resolutions and then continue its deliberations on the promotion and protection of children.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, Cultural) met this morning to continue its discussion of items related to the protection and promotion of the rights of children.
M. SHAMEEM AHSAN (Bangladesh) said his country was fully committed to the protection and promotion of the human rights of children, and had given particular consideration to the unique situation of the girl child. Bangladesh had developed national machineries in that regard, including the establishment of a 10 member Parliamentary Standing Committee on women’s and children’s affairs. The years 2001 to 2010 had been declared the Decade of the Rights of the Child.
Different programmes under way also involved the active participation of NGO, civil society and private partners, he continued. Those included immunization programmes, birth registration, and programmes aimed at controlling childhood diseases and improving the nutrition of children. Those initiatives had resulted in considerable improvements overall, but two areas –- education and health care -– had shown particularly significant gains. Primary education had been made compulsory in 1990 and a national Plan of Action on Education for All had resulted in a literacy rate of 62 per cent. Gender disparity in primary enrolment had also been reduced, thanks to incentives to increase female enrolment and address issues that might lead to dropping out of school.
He went on to say that in the health sector, successful interventions had resulted in a decline in infant mortality from 70 per 1000 births in 1990 to
57 per 1000 by 1998. More than 85 per cent of the country’s children were covered by a national immunization programme. Looking ahead, he said research had begun to gather information on a number of other child protection issues, most notably child labour and the sexual exploitation of children. One successful venture thus far, in collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO), had been the phasing out of child labour in the ready-to-wear industry. Further, national efforts against trafficking had been complimented by efforts at the regional level.
PUREVJAV GANSUKH (Mongolia) said Mongolia attached particular importance to child issues, since nearly half of its population was under the age of 18. Much had been accomplished in Mongolia in promoting the development of children within the framework of the National Programme of Action for the Development of Children in the 1990s, which was adopted in 1993, in line with the World Summit Plan of Action.
Step-by-step measures, he said, had been undertaken in recent years to improve the legal framework for the promotion and protection of children in Mongolia. Today, Mongolia was a party to 30 international human rights treaties, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which it ratified in 1990. Last year, its Parliament ratified the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour. In the implementation of the Millennium Declaration, in which world leaders resolved to encourage the ratification and full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, the Government was going to sign the two Protocols next month. During the past decade, a number of national laws, including the Law on Education, the Health Law, the Law on Social Benefits, the Family Law, the Labour Code, amongst others, had been renewed, taking into account new circumstances in the country. In that regard, much emphasis was placed on the Law Protecting Children’s Rights, adopted in 1996, which focused on the protection of children living in difficult circumstances.
He said specific actions had been carried out by the Government for child survival, protection and development through various national programmes on poverty alleviation, promotion of education, health care, nutrition and social protection. Nevertheless, the country still faced serious difficulties in meeting the challenges of its transitional period. The growing number of street children, poverty, hunger and school drop-outs were a serious cause of concern. The Government therefore attached high priority to its social policy, and was making every effort to redress the present situation and take concrete actions for the further development of children.
ELENA MOLARONI (San Marino) said that one of the main challenges for the international community in its efforts to protect the world’s children was the need to ensure the implementation of comprehensive vaccination programmes. Too many children, she said, still died from diseases that could be easily prevented. Governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and private-sector partners should work together to finance wide-scale vaccination initiatives. Prevention was the main factor in preventing child mortality and improving world health overall.
Two preventable diseases that disproportionately affected children, polio and malaria, deserved particular attention, she continued. Malaria, a subtle disease, was generally associated with poverty and underdevelopment. The nearly
1 million sprayed mosquito nets that had been distributed in the most affected areas last year had been helpful in preventing the spread of that disease but had by no means provided a durable solution.
Another disease, AIDS, was doubly deadly, she said, because it not only killed children, but parents as well, leaving orphans who were by and large unable to fend for themselves. She added that malnutrition was another appalling plague that needed to be addressed immediately. Another child protection issue deserving attention was the recruitment of child soldiers. While San Marino had no army, it had contributed to many projects for the protection of children in armed conflict.
CHUCHAI KASEMSARN (Thailand) said his Government was particularly concerned at the widespread use of narcotic drugs, including psychotropic substances, especially amphetamine-type stimulants, among children. Some children, especially street children, were exploited in the production and distribution of these evils. The narcotic drug problem was devastating. It had long-term effects, not only on children, but also on society at large. The Thai Government had thus declared a war on illicit drugs. The fight included enhanced preventive educational campaigns, making treatment and rehabilitation more accessible for affected children, suppressing narcotic drug cartels, and strict imposition of severe penalties on both drug producers and traffickers.
He said there was alarm about the impact of the accelerating spread of HIV/AIDS, which killed indiscriminately. Innocent children had fallen victims to that horrendous disease. Already some 1.4 million children under the age of 15 worldwide were infected with HIV. Nearly 600,000 innocent infants each year were infected through mother-to-child transmission. It was distressing to note that 2.3 million children had been orphaned and deprived of the loving care of either or both of their parents. For the sake of humanity, the international community had to be united to put an end to that growing disease. There needed to be quick action on the commitments that were made during the twenty-sixth special session of the General Assembly on HIV/AIDS to halt and reverse the situation through preventive education, provision of care and support, and accessible, affordable treatment. The Government had considered the plight and needs of affected children as an integral part of its comprehensive national AIDS strategy.
Education could not be stressed enough if the goal was the betterment of the well being of children, he said. Education would enable children to develop their full potentials and to grow up to be a national asset, decent citizens and responsible parents. Education, if not a panacea, was a cure for many social ills and health hazards confronting children. Thailand therefore welcomed the resolve of the international community, as expressed in the Millennium Declaration, to ensure that, by 2015, children everywhere would be able to complete a full course of primary schooling, and that girls and boys would have equal access to all levels of education. Thailand had been resolute in undertaking reforms to develop its national education system. Those included expanding mandatory education from nine to 12 years by 2002, increasing access for children in disadvantaged situations, including those with disabilities, and raising and guaranteeing the quality of education.
TSUNEKO YANAGAWA (Japan) said one of her Government’s most important child protection initiatives was the Second World Congress against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. That Congress would be held in Yokohama from 17 to
20 December this year, in coordination with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and relevant NGOs and civil society partners.
She said the objective of the meeting would be to review progress in implementation of the Agenda for Action adopted at the First World Congress, held in Sweden in 1996, and to strengthen measures to eradicate commercial exploitation of children. Main themes would include prevention, protection and recovery of children from sexual exploitation, trafficking in children, as well as profiling of sexual exploiters. She added that youth participation in the Congress would be crucial to its success, and Japan had initiated several programmes with NGOs to raise awareness of the event. She encouraged active participation of governments in the regional preparations currently being discussed with UNICEF. Finally, she called for special attention to the situation of refugees and internally displaced children in and around Afghanistan, where winter was about to begin.
THORSTEINN INGOLFSSON (Iceland) said violence against children existed to a varying degree in all societies. Their right to be protected against all forms of violence should be reflected in the outcome document of the special session. Violence against children, including bullying and sexual violence, had received increased attention in the past few years in Iceland. To better address sexual violence while at the same time minimizing the negative impact on the child victim, the Government in 1998 established a special centre called the Children’s House. It was an interdisciplinary and multi-agency centre where different professionals worked under one roof in the investigation of child sexual abuse cases.
The basic concept, he said, was to avoid subjecting the child to repeated interviews by many agencies in different locations. Research showed that when that happened, it could be very traumatic for the child, and repeated interviews were likely to distort the child’s account of events. The Children’s House was designed to maximize the child’s comfort and reduce its anxiety. Treatment services were provided for child victims of sexual abuse and their families. The child was interviewed in a special room by a trained investigative interviewer. The interview was observed in a different room by a judge, a social worker, the police, the prosecution, defense attorneys, and the child’s advocate. The interview was videotaped and could be used in court. Following the interview, the child could have a medical examination in the on-site medical clinic.
During the preparatory process for the General Assembly’s special session on children, he said, Iceland had advocated including a provision in the outcome document providing for appropriate treatment and rehabilitation for child victims of alcohol and drug abuse. While the emphasis in Iceland was on preventive measures, there was also a comprehensive system offering treatment and rehabilitation, especially designed for children, when those measures failed. That was in line with the input of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UNDCP) to the special session, where the UNDCP recognized that the increase in drug abuse among children, and the dwindling age of first use, pointed to the need to develop services that were open and accessible to young people who did not always go to traditional centres when they had problems with substance abuse.
MIHAELA BLAJAN (Romania) said that although the tragic events of
11 September had forced the postponement of the Assembly special session on children, her delegation remained committed to high-level participation in that event when it convened next year. The session should adopt a strong action plan capable of identifying future policies and initiatives in child protection. For her Government, the Convention on the Rights of the Child represented the foundation for effective legislative and institutional measures aimed at realizing children’s rights, and for forging an atmosphere conducive to the development of their creativity.
Her Government had recently initiated new and decisive measures to ensure that the tenets of the Convention were fully reflected in domestic legislation and institutional practice. The Strategy for the Protection of Children in Difficulty, covering 2001-2004, promoted increased coordination between various governmental institutions, local authorities and NGOs responsible for child protection. Current initiatives recognized the need to effectively respond to specific difficulties and challenges, such as Romania’s high number of abandoned and institutionalized children, and the situation of street children and children with disabilities.
She said that Romanian authorities were currently reviewing legislation on adoption procedures, including international adoptions, to ensure the best interest of the child was given priority. Romania was convinced that those and other reform measures, steadily put in practice along with adequate financing and management of human as well as financial resources, would lead to positive results and improvement in the situation of the country’s children.
MARIA INES FONSECA (Venezuela) said her country’s new Constitution, adopted in 1999, stipulated that indivisible human rights must be protected. That applied to children. The promotion of their rights was a high priority, and it was ensured by Venezuela’s signature to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Government had a Strategic Plan for Boys, Girls and Adolescents that was adopted in February 2001. The Plan broke down constitutionally guaranteed rights into four categories: the right to life; the right to development, which included access to education, recreation and culture; the right to protection, including protection from trafficking; and the right to participation, which included freedom of speech, expression and opinion.
The suspension of the special session on children last month had not caused any wavering in the support from Venezuela, she said. The Government was continuing with its preparatory work. It favoured a document that spelled out clearly the rights of children, and what they needed to fully enjoy those rights. The Government was attempting to correct the tremendous distortions and injustices that had existed in the past and that kept children from enjoying their fundamental rights. Non-discrimination was a top priority, and the provisions of the Constitution would be applied to children equally. The Constitution also gave all children access to education, the right to culture and tradition, and the right to health care. The Government had seen mortality rates decline for infants and children. Clean drinking water was available to 89 per cent of the population. Children had access to good nutrition.
She said Venezuela was committed to keeping children out of armed conflict. The age of recruitment into the armed forces was 18. The problem of the trafficking of children was not an easy one to tackle. The two Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child were both signed by Venezuela last month, and had been presented to the Parliament for ratification.
SAID AHMED K. (Iraq) said it was appalling that hundreds of millions of children around the world still suffered from armed conflict and the negative effects of economic blockades. It was therefore incumbent on the international community to follow up international commitments to ensure the social development and overall protection of children. For its part, the Iraqi Government had placed particular emphasis on education initiatives to guarantee the social welfare of its children. It had also taken economic, social and development initiatives in that regard.
Despite the economic blockade, Iraq continued to press ahead with literacy and education initiatives. It was important to realize that children had been the first victims of the sanctions against his country. Infant mortality rates had risen, mainly due to the spread of disease and malnutrition. The crimes committed against the children of Iraq were just as abominable as the use of depleted uranium and other weapons during the American aggression against his country in 1991. In the years immediately following that attack, children suffered a variety of health problems resulting mainly from birth defects.
He said that many agencies within the United Nations family and the wider international community had denounced that attack, as well as the sanctions that followed it. With such widespread recognition, it was important for global actors to work with Iraq to ensure the protection and promotion of the rights of children and all people within that country.
BERND NIEHAUS (Costa Rica) said that just a year ago Costa Rica had signed the additional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which
addressed child pornography and children in armed conflict. The Government was undertaking several reforms in its domestic laws, which would bring the country further in line with the Convention. Among the laws being passed was one which provided additional support and protection for teenage mothers.
He said his delegation had been looking forward to the special session of the Assembly on children, and would work hard to ensure that it would be held in the first half of 2002. There was still some work to be done on the draft document, particularly regarding health and reproductive health services. In Costa Rica, it should be understood that those terms never meant the right to abortion. Lastly, Costa Rica wanted to appeal to the international community for all to work together to ensure that all children’s human rights were respected.
ANTONIO LEAL CORDEIRO (Angola) said children in his country lived in extremely precarious conditions. About one child in ten was displaced, nearly 90,000 had been handicapped by landmine explosions, and 42 per cent grappled with persistent diseases such as malaria and polio. What was worse, nearly 15 per cent of Angolan children had lost one of their parents, and nearly all had been exposed to the horrors of war. There was no question that they suffered from such traumatizing experiences.
Prolonged conflict had weakened institutional capacity to improve the situation of children, he continued. Moreover, as war severely affected the country’s ability to educate its children, efforts to improve health and nutrition, to address the causes and impact of AIDS, and to reduce infant and child mortality had also been undermined. Efforts to strengthen democracy, good governance and the achievement of other fundamental rights were also affected.
Nevertheless, he said, reversing those trends and overcoming crisis was possible. The Government had already put together several policies aimed at achieving peace as well as broad macro-economic stabilization. The Government had, among other things, begun promoting national peace and reconciliation as a prerequisite for sustainable improvement in children’s living conditions, and had integrated strategies to improve the national education system through the provision of financial and material resources and the gradual reduction of the number of drop outs.
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