Urgent Action Needed by World Community to Stamp Out Violence against Children, Newly Appointed Special Representative Tells Third Committee
Urgent Action Needed by World Community to Stamp Out Violence against Children, Newly Appointed Special Representative Tells Third Committee
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-fourth General Assembly
12th & 13th Meetings (AM & PM)
Urgent Action Needed by World Community to Stamp Out Violence against Children,
Newly Appointed Special Representative Tells Third Committee
Also Hears from Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict,
As It Begins Multi-Day Debate on Promotion, Protection of Rights of Child
Violence against children, and ways to stem that violence, figured prominently in a discussion between Member States and United Nations officials from the field of child rights, at the start of a multi-day discussion on the promotion and protection of the rights of children convened by the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).
In her first appearance before the Committee, Marta Santos Pais, the Secretary-General’s newly appointed Special Representative on Violence against Children, said she was counting on mutual support between herself and Member States to identify the most promising initiatives to stamp out violence against children. She made that statement in response to numerous questions posed by Member States on how she planned to conduct her work, and what role Governments were expected to play in the dispatch of her mandate.
Ms. Santos Pais, who assumed her post last month, said violence against children was an area where action was urgently needed. According to UNICEF, more than 85 per cent of children between 2 and 14 years of age experienced physical punishment or psychological aggression. National studies, although limited in number, confirmed similar rates. Available research suggested that between 500 million and 1.5 billion children endured some form of violence each year.
She noted that widely ratified treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the International Labour Organization’s Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, provided the normative foundation for the prevention and elimination of such violence. A 2006 United Nations Study on Violence against Children ‑‑ developed under the leadership of Paulo Pinheiro, while he was the United Nations’ Independent Expert on Violence against Children ‑‑ would be her “navigation chart”. That study had helped to challenge the acceptance of violence against children, she said.
In a lengthy question-and-answer session with Member States, she explained that the Special Representative’s mandate had been established for a period of three years. In that time, she would focus on the development of a national strategy in each State and the introduction of a legal ban on all forms of violence against children. She would also promote the establishment of a national data collection system and research agenda.
She talked of promising developments in those areas, saying that 24 countries had already established a comprehensive and explicit legal ban on violence against children, with many others following suit. Several countries had reinforced legislation to protect children from violence in schools, such as India with its ban on corporal punishment. Others were introducing laws on child trafficking and sexual exploitation or female genital mutilation, or were placing limits on early and forced marriage.
However, she also acknowledged that the international community was lagging behind on those goals. The Study on Violence against Children had set a deadline of 2007 for national strategies. Initiating legal reforms, as well as establishing a system of data collection, was to have been in place by the end of 2009.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, who addressed the Committee alongside Ms. Santos Pais, also highlighted the mutually reinforcing relationship between Member States and the Secretary-General’s Special Representatives. She said the General Assembly’s engagement had been “key” to the work of her Office, and that the world body had served as an “enabler” on ensuring the protection of children.
She said two resolutions of the Security Council had been particularly helpful to the cause. Resolution 1882 (2009) on children and armed conflict stipulated that sexual violence against children and the killing and maiming of children during conflict would no longer be tolerated, and that parties with a pattern of such behaviour would be named and shamed by the Secretary-General in his annual report to the Council. Resolution 1888 (2009) called for a Special Representative on Sexual Violence, and for information to be collected on parties that committed sexual violence.
“These developments stem from resolutions in the General Assembly through which Member States have collectively expressed their commitment to fight sexual violence in wartime, paving the way also for the Security Council to take decisive action,” she said.
Also delivering statements were Omar Abdi, Deputy Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Yanghee Lee, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, who provided highlights on recent work by their organizations.
The representatives of Sweden (speaking on behalf of the European Union) and Namibia (speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community) delivered country statements.
Earlier in the day, the Committee heard from remaining speakers on a previous agenda item, the advancement of women. Those speakers were the representatives of Tunisia, Rwanda, Cameroon, Mauritania, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Burundi, United Arab Emirates, Ethiopia, Nepal, Morocco, Lesotho, Serbia, Togo and Botswana.
The representatives of the International Labour Organization, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration also spoke on that issue.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. Thursday, 15 October, to conclude its discussion on the rights of the child.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its discussion on the advancement of women, and to take up the promotion and protection of the rights of children.
A report of the Secretary-General on the girl child (document A/64/315) discusses several persistent forms of discrimination against girls and efforts to improve their situation. They are: poverty, in the context of “the current political economic order”; abuse, exploitation and violence; the treatment of girls in conflict situations and humanitarian crises; the level of girls’ education; promoting human rights education; lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene; exposure to HIV/AIDS; and the level of girls’ political participation. The report also discusses the need to improve the health status of the girl child and United Nations collaboration in support of the girl child.
The report lists the treaties and conventions that provide for the rights of girls. Among them are the child rights convention, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which contains a section on women and girls. The 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing was the first to include a specific segment on the girl, with a specific chapter devoted to it in its Platform for Action. Also, the Commission on the Status of Women decided to consider “the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child” as the priority theme at its fifty-first session, within its agreed programme of work for 2007-2009.
The report contains a lengthy section on efforts to support the abandonment of female genital mutilation or cutting. There is awareness that if support for the practice is high, punitive legal measures cannot be enforced. In February 2008, the Deputy Secretary-General launched a publication entitled Eliminating Female Genital Mutilation: An Inter-agency Statement, reflecting the consensus position of 10 United Nations organizations setting out elements of a “programming approach” to support abandonment of that practice. A UNFPA-UNICEF joint programme on the issue, launched in 2007, is currently supporting action in 12 countries in Africa and will expand to five additional countries given enough resources.
The Secretary-General’s report on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (A/64/192) says there are over 200 million children who work in violation of international child labour standards. Through Convention No. 138, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has identified activities and situations deemed unacceptable for children in different age brackets. Another convention, on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (No. 182) reflects the need to prohibit and eliminate the “the worst forms of child labour” such as bonded labour, slavery, prostitution, drug production or trafficking as a matter of urgency. Along with the ILO’s Forced Labour Convention No. 29, those two conventions are key to the international framework for monitoring the rights of the child.
The report also refers to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which addresses the involvement of children in armed conflict, the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography. That Committee examines those issues in the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols, and addresses them in its General Comments and through periodic reviews of States party reports. Both that Committee and the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations frequently refer to each other’s comments.
Recent data reveals a decline in child labour over 2000-2004 by about 11 per cent, the report says. In general, the decline of child labour was seen most heavily in Latin America and the Caribbean, while the highest proportion of working children is in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV/AIDS is thought to propel children to work too early in that region, and the absence of functioning health systems in rural areas could further increase child labour rates. In 2010, the ILO will release a new global report based on date from 2008.
The report notes that attendance at school removed children from the labour market. The Global Task Force on Child Labour and Education for All, whose secretariat falls under the ILO, is focused on integrating child labour concerns into education policies. In addition, the ILO’s Global Action Plan on child labour aims to eliminate the worst forms of chid labour by 2016. A report planned for 2010 will take stock of progress achieved towards that target and the Netherlands will host a global conference in 2010 to map the way forward.
The report talks of a need to address the root cause of child labour, which range from simple indifference to the increase in migration. It lists various ways forward: ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, along with the ILO Conventions No. 138 and 182; cooperation with the Global Task Force on Child Labour and Education for All; achievement of the MDGs; and mitigating the effects of the world financial and economic crisis. It also encourages the use of the World Day against Child Labour to raise awareness.
The report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (A/64/254) discusses how children are affected by the changing character and tactics of war. In many new wars, especially in Asia and Africa, conflict takes place in peripheral areas where access is difficult. Children are increasingly targeted for violence. The report stresses, as well, the need to tackle the root causes of child soldiering, while also demanding accountability for acts committed by children during armed conflict. It discusses the need to fight impunity for sexual violence against children of both sexes, saying there must be systematic investigation and prosecution of such crimes at the national level. There must be more focus on the problem by international justice mechanisms.
On child protection during times of war, the report says it is critical for Governments to facilitate dialogue between non-state actors and the United Nations, without prejudice to the political and legal status of such groups. The child protection imperative should supersede political considerations, it adds. On the case of internally displaced children, the Special Representative has outlined the fundamental rights and guarantees for internally displaced children, in Annex I of the report. The Special Representative focuses attention on education in emergencies and in improving child participation in determining policy, suggesting that there should be more investment in infrastructure to facilitate those rights.
Annex II to the report lists the peace agreements since 2000 that have explicitly included concerns related to children affected by armed conflict. In addition to a discussion on internal mainstreaming of the issue in the key United Nations entities and integration of the issue into key United Nations-led institutional processes, the report also summarizes findings from field visits by the Special Representative to Chad and the Central African Republic, Nepal, Philippines and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
A note by the Secretariat on the promotion and protection of the rights of children (A/64/182) indicates that the Marta Santos Pais of Portugal was appointed Special Representative on violence against children at the level of Assistant Secretary-General, and was to have begun her work in September.
The Secretary-General’s report on follow-up to the special session of the General Assembly on children (A/64/285) assesses steps taken to achieve a world fit for children, as outlined in the outcome document of the high-level meeting of the General Assembly in December 2007. One of its goals was to remove barriers to services and to expand coverage of essential services for children. By the end of 2008, at least 85 programme countries had a national plan addressing key challenges in that regard. Various countries, several Governments and partners had made infant and young child feeding initiatives a priority. School fee abolition initiatives have gained wider support, as have cash transfers, free school meals, uniforms and textbooks.
The report discusses efforts by international partners to shore up public investment in children. In 2008, net disbursements of official development assistance increased to $119.8 billion, which was the highest dollar figure ever recorded and represented 0.3 per cent of developed countries’ combined gross national income.
The statistical tool “DevInfo” is being used in 121 countries to collect child-centred data for tracking progress towards a world fit for children, the report says. Child-relevant data is also collected through the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey and the Demographic and Health Survey. Several African countries have begun to deploy public expenditure tracking surveys. Columbia University has developed a system that uses mobile phones and SMS text messages to collect data from the field (“RapidSMS”), which is being piloted in Malawi to facilitate early warning.
The report says children’s health experienced unusual setbacks in 2008, calling for health and nutrition responses in 70 emergency-affected countries. Some 40 countries needed water, sanitation and hygiene interventions. A bulk of those efforts was geared at preventing the outbreak of cholera and nutritional deterioration, providing safe water and sanitation, and promoting hygiene.
The report contains a section on efforts to protect children against abuse, exploitation and violence. In the past few years, more effort has been made to reduce the number of children that are incarcerated or institutionalized, through diversion to mediation, community service, probation, life skills programmes, counselling or family group conferencing. Scores of countries have incorporated child protection in their emergency preparedness and response mechanisms. Efforts are being made to reintegrate children through child disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programmes in 13 countries. To address customary violence against children and women, such as female genital mutilation, countries were working to change their policies and legal frameworks. But, child marriage and child labour continue to defy solution.
Looking to the future, the report points to climate change as a source of additional vulnerability for children. It also raises the importance of accelerating interventions to reduce maternal and child mortality, promoting gender equality and equal access to education, protecting children against violence, improving health systems to combat HIV infection in children, and bridging persistent gaps in access to basic services.
Statements on Advancement of Women
GHAZI JOMAA ( Tunisia), aligning his statement with the remarks made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, commended the Secretary-General’s efforts through the UNiTE campaign to end violence against women and girls. The problem was not widespread in Tunisia, but a national plan to eliminate violent behaviour within families had been launched. He stressed that women were a fundamental part of building and promoting society, as well as protecting its cohesion and development. Based on this, Tunisia had followed a specific approach to progressively improve women’s status, which aimed to integrate women into development projects and expand her opportunities. Tunisia considered consolidating women’s rights as integral to securing human rights and strengthening family links, while also confirming the family as the basic unit of society. Tunisia was proud of its progress towards the advancement of women and believed that Tunisian women could be proud of their legislative heritage, which preserved these developments.
As concrete evidence of this progress, he said the Tunisian Parliament had 43 women in it out of 189 members. In the judicial arena, women represented over 40 per cent of staff and officers of the court. They also comprised 20 per cent of the economic and social council. The country had developed its constitution and legal bodies with the emancipation of women in mind. Its experience demonstrated that it was possible to have political development and social balance. Men and women had the same opportunities, ambitions and hopes and it was clear that women were the future of men. Indeed, understanding the imperative of shoring up women’s rights and ensuring cooperation mechanisms was the fundamental starting point to having fair and sustainable development.
MAKELE SAIDI ( Rwanda), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, expressed support for the formation of a gender entity, saying Rwanda was committed to advancing the status of women. In her country, women currently held 56 per cent of the seats in Parliament and 36 per cent of the posts in the Cabinet. Inheritance and land laws allowed women to inherit and own land. The government had recognized that gender development was a key component in improving economic and social well-being and had made education of girls a priority. Although gender parity had been achieved in primary education, girls at the secondary level were often unable to remain in school due to financial constraints or in order to take care of younger siblings.
She said that, because during the 1994 genocide some of the most inhumane acts of violence against women and girls had been committed including the deliberate infection of women with HIV/AIDS, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda had classified the crime of rape as a form of genocide for the first time. Including women in the promotion of peace and security in conflict and post-conflict situations was crucial. The current financial and economic crisis had had a disproportionate effect on women, resulting in increased unemployment and poverty, as well as rising levels of violence against women. The crisis, however, presented an opportunity for governments to create social safety nets, decent jobs and policies that specifically addressed the plight of women.
MBALLA EYENGA CECILE (Cameroon), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, remarked on the multifaceted challenges that remained, 30 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and on the eve of the fifteenth and tenth anniversaries of the Beijing Declaration and Millennium Summit respectively. The majority of the poor in the world were still women. They continued to suffer cultural stereotypes, lacked access to education and support services, had little participation in decision-making and the labour market, and were affected unduly by armed conflict and HIV/AIDS. The international community should place greater stock on the training and education of women and girls. She expressed hope that the new United Nations body on gender would contribute to the achievement of the full exercise of women’s rights. She also hoped that States would consider full implementation of the Monterrey Consensus agreed at the Conference on Financing for Development.
Cameroon tried in various ways to eliminate inequalities between men and women, she said, and to ensure the full participation of women in society and politics. The Government was trying to create an enabling environment for women, using the Beijing Declaration as guidance. Cameroon’s “Women and Development Plan” was the country’s roadmap for enhancing female human resources and building the capacity of women at the managerial level. It also had a new strategy for growth and education and an early warning system that served the interests of women. Centres had been set up to serve female victims of violence. The Government understood that women’s empowerment must involve all national structures, including the finance and planning sector. Also, people of both sexes must take part. However, the country was subject to resource constraints. International solidarity called upon States to work together, and she appealed to development partners to adhere to their commitments to assist others.
SIDI OULD GHADI ( Mauritania) said his country respected its international commitments regarding the promotion of women’s rights. It had set up a commission with a broad mandate to promote and protect those rights, as well as those of children. Programmes had also been adopted that guaranteed the consolidation of family life. Mauritania sought to raise awareness throughout society on women and children’s issues. It had made considerable progress to advance women’s status at many levels. Its laws combated discrimination and promoted gender equality. Currently, 30 per cent of municipal council seats were held by women, and women also held a number of senior positions in regional and local governments. Further, the country’s diplomatic services were, as of two months ago, headed up by a woman. That was unprecedented, he stressed.
He said that, as part of the goals of the national development strategy for the 2006-2010 period, women’s access to the means of production and to markets was being improved. Mauritania had also adopted a national strategy to shore up small- and medium-sized enterprises. Among other things, microcredits were being made available to women and resources that were allocated to women’s production had been increased. Over 1,500 projects had been financed to date. On education, girls’ enrolment stood at 98 per cent. The literacy rate over the past four years was at 78 per cent for men and 76 per cent for women. Maternal mortality had decreased significantly, due to wider access to health services before and during birth. Institutional means to combat violence against women had been established, with a national council to settle disputes at home. Victims of violence were also provided care. Women also had access to information and media, particularly through the radio.
JUDITE TAELA ( Mozambique) stressed that her country attached a great deal of importance to issues surrounding gender equality and the advancement of women, adding that its policies were enshrined in equality for all. Thus, she added, the Government had supported the creation of institutional mechanisms, policies and strategies for women’s social and economic advancement, as well as abiding by many international instruments. The country’s Gender Policy and Strategy identified actions towards fostering gender equality, human rights and bolstering women’s participation in development. The Government said it was particularly important for rural girls to enrol in schools and to ensure their economic empowerment through income generation activities. She said it had also approved and revised gender-sensitive land, labour and family laws.
As a signatory of numerous international instruments on gender equality and the advancement of women, Mozambique had also approved several national laws, in this regard, on issues ranging from promoting and protecting children’s rights to domestic violence against women. Condemning violence against women, she said her Government supported the Secretary-General’s “United to End Violence Against Women” (2008-2010) initiative. She said civic education also contributed to ending violence against women, in terms of advocacy and awareness-raising. She also described the commendable efforts of the First Lady in advocating for maternal and child health, as well as economic empowerment among women and youth. Since the adverse effects of the global financial and economic crisis had worsened women’s inferior public and private role, she urged international organizations to provide copious assistance to ensure the advancement of women. She concluded by voicing her country’s support for a composite entity at the highest level with the political, technical and financial capacities to strengthen the agenda for the advance of women.
MARCELINE TIENDREBEOGO (Burkina Faso), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, reaffirmed her country’s commitment to the Beijing Declaration, saying that topics chosen for the review period, including decent work for women, violence and security, and others, had produced several welcome measures. The proposed composite entity would undoubtedly enhance the United Nations’ efforts in the area of women’s empowerment. The Security Council’s resolutions on women and security were also welcome. For its part, her country had undertaken “vigorous work” to promote and protect women’s rights, establishing a Ministry for the Advancement of Women in 1997. It had worked to give women a higher profile in society, ensuring their full participation in the development process.
She highlighted the country’s fight against female genital mutilation, saying it had been given much political impetus from the highest levels. A national committee was formed to combat female genital mutilation and the practice was “introduced into the criminal code”. But, there were still pockets of resistance. In 2008, the First Lady convened her counterparts from other African countries to discuss ways to combat the cross-border practice of female genital mutilation. This year, while celebrating the Day against Female Genital Mutilation, whose theme was the achievement of zero tolerance, the President declared that practice a violation of the Constitution. He underscored that female genital mutilation undermined the future of women and the country’s human development. Indeed, real action was needed to combat violence in general, and female genital mutilation in particular, in order to advance the status of women in Burkina Faso. But, States, technical and financial partners, and civil society needed to work together to bring success. She thanked the United Nations system for its support in drafting the national action plan on violence against women in Burkina Faso.
ELSA HAILE (Eritrea), aligning her delegation with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said her country was marking the thirtieth anniversary of the National Union of Eritrean Women, which was founded in 1979. Its clear objective had been achieving equality between women and men by promoting the creation of better political, economic, social and cultural opportunities for women and by advocating for fundamental change in the way women were treated and perceived in Eritrea’s deeply traditional society. The organization enjoyed the full support and cooperation of the Government and had recently held workshops and discussions to asses how wide and deep the changes had been, and what tools were required to realize women’s advancement throughout Eritrea.
It was clear, she stressed, that no country could achieve sustainable development without recognizing the role and rights of women. But, the road toward full realization of these rights was difficult and bumpy. It was not enough to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices. Concerted efforts were needed to address and correct the root causes of gender imbalances. In Eritrea, no legal or constitutional barrier stood in the way of women. International commitments resulting from the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, and the Millennium Development Goals had all become part of Eritrea’s national strategy for women.
Despite ominous societal and structural constraints, women had been able to achieve certain progress in several areas, particularly through greater access to education, health care and clean drinking water. The Government had established a savings and microcredit programme that worked in all regions of the country. Women’s participation in illiteracy programmes was high. The reproductive health programme was at the forefront of National Health Policy, and maternal mortality had decreased. A law that criminalized female genital mutilation had been adopted, but the Government believed that legal steps in reducing violence against women would be ineffective unless it was accompanied by a public campaign.
NAVINE MUHIMPUNDU ( Burundi), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, said her country had drafted a national gender policy in 2003. With the support of various partners, it had implemented a strategic framework to combat poverty, which had made it possible to advance the status of women and achieve various Millennium Goals, such as universalizing primary education, moving closer to gender equality and women’s empowerment, and meeting maternal health targets. She said 30 per cent of seats in Parliament and other elected posts, as well as in communal councils, had been set aside for women. There were 600 women serving in the police and army, and Burundian women were serving in peacekeeping operations in Somalia and Darfur.
Also, more women were participating in business, she said, thanks to a special project funded under the priority plan for peacebuilding. Women were trained in income generating activities. Care was being provided for older women. Meanwhile, to combat violence against women, the revised penal code of 2009 contained provisions to combat such violence. In addition, free health care was being provided to mothers giving birth, helping to reduce the country’s maternal mortality rate. From 2010, it had been decided that medical care for pregnant women would be free from conception to delivery. As well, free primary education had allowed girls, especially in rural areas, to receive some schooling.
MARYAM EL KENDI ( United Arab Emirates) said the past years had witnessed increased attention to all issues related to women. Moreover, those issues had become an integral part of the development agenda. Efforts had been aimed to bolster women’s right to work, to social security and to property, as well as to ensure women received equal pay for equal work. The United Arab Emirates had acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Domestic laws had established national specialized mechanisms in the field of women and children. The state also considered women a main pillar in development and the prominent role of women in public life testified to its commitment in that regard.
She went on to say that women in her country had achieved major gains in the political arena, by holding positions in all three branches of government. Women’s cabinet representation had recently increased from 2 to 4 seats. Two women were appointed as ambassadors and they held 9 out of 40 seats in the federal economic council. They occupied 66 per cent of the Government sector positions. In addition, women worked in the armed forces, police and customs and had embarked on thousands of business initiatives. On the international stage, women represented the United Arab Emirates in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), among others.
She said her country was taking several measures to combat violence against women, such as establishing shelters and family courts. It was also working to protect women and children from trafficking, by providing shelter, support and counselling where needed. Divorced women were also being supported and laws now allowed them to see their children in federal buildings, rather than local police stations.
ASTEDU KIDANU (Ethiopia), aligning herself with the statement made by Sudan on behalf of the group of 77 and China, said that her Government had committed itself to establishing gender equality, which was indispensable to economic and social development, partly by deploying specific policies and strategies. The national policy on women, the national action plan on gender equality and the women’s development package were just one of those.
Significant efforts had been made to make the legal system and instruments more gender sensitive, she continued, notably by making female genital mutilation, rape and trafficking punishable crimes. In its bid to empower women economically, the Government had focused on their role in agriculture, with measures ranging from food security for female headed households, better access for women to agricultural credit, extension programmes and gender mainstreaming. Since the early 1990s, the health sector has paid more attention to women’s needs. Primary health care had focused on nutrition, maternal and child health.
In terms of education, she said, policies had been put in place to encourage more women to enrol and to narrow the gender gap, by including a gender focal point and a gender sensitive education package. To eliminate all forms of gender-based violence, the Government had created community-level programmes and dialogue across all levels of society. To give women equal decision-making power, Ethiopia had undertaken nationwide advocacy, awareness-raising and lobbying activities, with encouraging signs that there were more women in parliament and in regional councils. In conclusion, she said that her country and Ethiopian women’s firm commitment to changes in the laws and institutional mechanisms were such that the Millennium Development Goals might even be reached earlier than anticipated.
SUDHIR BHATTARAI (Nepal), associating his country with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said important treaties had been concluded for ending discrimination against women, but much remained to be done for the full and effective implementation of the commitments for the advancement of women at the national, regional and international levels. For its part, Nepal attached great importance to these goals and had entered an era of being a federal democratic republic, which paved the way for new opportunities for women. Its constituent assembly was one of the most inclusive assemblies in the world, with roughly one-third of its members women. Nepal had adopted a rights-based approach for the social, economic and political empowerment of women. The interim constitution guaranteed the civil rights of all people, including women. Discriminatory laws had also been amended. Single women were being provided skill development support. Gender budgeting mechanisms were being used by the Government in all sectors. Women were being included in formulating and implementing all local development programmes. Provisions for proportional and inclusive representation of women had been made in all State organs, including the civil service, police and army.
He stressed that, while improvements had been made in the gender development index and female-male disparities had been reduced, some disparities remained. To this end, the Government accorded high priority to poverty alleviation, girls’ education, access to health services and economic resources, as well as to the elimination of gender discrimination. It had been regularly submitting its country reports to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. It had also taken legal, administrative and other policy measures to end all forms of violence and discrimination against women. The Human Trafficking Control Act had been enacted. Service centres for victims had been established, and rehabilitation, legal aid and psychological counselling were some of the provisions of a new domestic violence and punishment bill. Nepal believed there should be coordinated efforts at all levels to combat violence against women migrant workers and to protect their rights. Finally, it welcomed the adoption of the General Assembly’s resolution on system-wide coherence, which provided for the consolidation of all existing United Nations gender bodies into a composite gender entity.
HASSAN EL MKHANTAR ( Morocco), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China, said the principle of equality between men and women was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The Organization had set up numerous conventions and mechanisms to promote and protect the rights of women. He paid tribute to the Division for the Advancement of Women and UNIFEM for their efforts to strengthen women’s contributions in the social and economic realms. Despite financial constraints, UNIFEM succeeded in working with Governments and civil society to advance their cause. He welcomed the adoption of the General Assembly resolution on the establishment of a gender entity at the United Nations, which would consolidate the Organizations’ efforts in the advancement of women. He also commended the Security Council for its adoption of two resolutions on sexual violence during situations of armed conflicts, and also praised the Secretary-General’s UNiTE programme.
He said Moroccan authorities were particularly interested in promoting the economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights of women. The Government had recently lifted its reservations to the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, reflecting the level of progress being made in Morocco on women’s rights issues. It was introducing legal reforms and institutional changes that reaffirmed its commitments in upholding human rights and gender equality, and guaranteeing good governance. In promoting the role of women in society, it sought inspiration from many sources, including Islamic law and other social values. Women were increasingly seen serving in political bodies and senior management positions, including as advisers to the king, as ambassadors, parliamentarians and within Government ministries. In 2008, the Government started a multisector programme on gender-based violence, as part of a Millennium Development Goal programme to reduce poverty and promote women’s empowerment. Several legal amendments were made to bolster women’s rights within the family, under the nationality code, and in trade law. The finance ministry was currently raising awareness on the country’s gender policies through its gender report, which was designed to help “clarify debates”.
MOTLATSI RAMAFOLE ( Lesotho), aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said his country was party to several international human rights instruments. Nationally, it had adopted a gender and development policy, which covered women’s advancement in the spheres of economics, health, politics and decision-making, education, and control over land and credit. In addition, it had passed a sexual offences act that made sexual violence a crime punishable by law. Another act abolished the “minority status” of married women, ensuring women had equal reproductive rights. It also provided protection for women’s property rights and promoted equal rights among spouses to communal property. Everyday members of society, as well as law enforcement officers, were being given training to ensure their understanding of those new laws.
He noted the upcoming fifteenth anniversary celebration of the Beijing Declaration, but remarked that many challenges remained in advancing the status of women. The biggest challenge came in the form of HIV/AIDS, which was a stumbling block to development. Women were said to be the hardest hit by that pandemic, which was certainly true for Lesotho. Women faced extra responsibilities in caring for HIV/AIDS patients, and often had households to head. The Government was working with its partners to intensify its efforts in eradicating that scourge.
MARINA IVANOVIC (Serbia), aligning her country with the delegation of Sweden on behalf of the European Union, said Serbia’s Constitution provided for the creation of equal opportunities, the introduction of special interim measures aimed at achieving full gender equality, prohibition of sexual abuse, equality in marriage and family and freedom to decide on childbirth, as well as special protection for mothers.
The country had created gender equality mechanisms at the national, provincial and local levels in recent years. For example, the Gender Equality Council was created in 2004 as an expert advisory body of the Serbian Government. The Council analyzed and evaluated the situation in the field of advancement of women and proposed short- and long-term measures, to the Government, for full gender equality and strengthening women’s position.
The Directorate for Gender Equality, lodged within the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, was created in 2008 to draft laws and strategies to improve women’s situation, implement ratified international instruments, and promote the policy of equal opportunities. The Directorate had established close cooperation with regional and international organizations, such as United Nations entities and the Council of Europe. Serbia’s Parliament had its own Gender Equality Committee, and the primary responsibility of one of the four deputies of the Ombudsman of the Government was responsible to deal with gender issues. As a result of these measures, the number of women has increased in the decision-making bodies of all three branches of government and public administration, the media and all areas of political and cultural life. For example, women made up 64 per cent of the judiciary and included the presidents of the Constitutional and Supreme Court. The presence of women was also increasing in the police and military. Serbia supported all international efforts to improve the situation of women worldwide, she said.
NAKPA POLO ( Togo), aligning her statement with the one made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said women had historically suffered from discrimination. While progress had been made to reduce that discrimination, her country could confirm that one of the as-yet unachieved struggles of the twenty-first century was the full flourishing of women’s rights. Women already played key roles in States, national development and social and economic processes, but expectations were not being met. Despite legal achievements, the partnership between men and women remained unequal. More should be done to lift traditional restrictions and remove taboos. Steps were also needed to further women’s empowerment and to aid women in reconciling public and private life.
She said that in Togo, the ministry for women’s advancement was progressively creating shelters and listening centres to implement its national law on female genital mutilation and to ban violence against women. It was also working to ensure that the perpetrators were punished. To promote women’s rights, awareness-raising campaigns were being implemented and the legal and institutional framework was being strengthened. The family code was also being revised to eliminate any disparities. Focal points had been named in different departments to ensure that women’s equality received priority treatment.
She noted that, in an international context of serious financial and economic crisis, investment priorities were delicate matters and it was not at all clear that women would receive enough support. But, no progress was possible without investing in human beings, and it should be remembered that women comprised over 50 per cent of humanity. Action for women must continue, without any steps backward, since empowering women meant empowering families. Togo was not losing sight of this imperative, despite economic hardship. Investing in women contributed to the improvement of the living conditions of all its citizens. Women were involved in all trades. To promote their activities and to strengthen economic power, the national development policy was promoting women’s entrepreneurship. They were also being promoted in management and they were being organized in production units and credit unions.
ELENA GASTALDO, International Labour Organization (ILO), said, at the ILO’s June session, the general discussion had focused on placing gender equality at the heart of decent work. One outcome of those discussions was the adoption of a resolution concerning gender equality being at the heart of decent work. The resolution examined such topics such as: equal remuneration for women and men for equal work; work-family reconciliation measures; the need to increase the share of women participating in social dialogue discussion; and women’s entrepreneurship development. A wide range of ILO units were expected to follow up on the actions outlined in the resolution.
She noted that a report on global employment trends for women, released in March, confirmed that women in the labour market were often at a disadvantage compared to men. In regions where women were more likely to be unemployed than men before the crisis, they were expected to continue having a harder time finding work than men. Given the serious prospect of a prolonged global increase in unemployment, the ILO adopted the Global Jobs Pact, which recognized that recovery packages needed to consider the different impacts the crisis had on men and women. She added that the ILO was putting special emphasis on the impact of the crisis on migration, and had produced a guide aimed at advancing knowledge on the nexus between migration, gender equality and development. In addition, the ILO provided Governments with training on gender budgeting, and was working with the European Commission to raise awareness among small companies on the need to overcome gender stereotypes.
TAPIWA MONGWA ( Botswana) aligned her delegation with the statements made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China and on behalf of the Southern African Development Community. She reaffirmed Botswana’s support for the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action and the outcome document of the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly as the guiding policy frameworks for gender equality and empowerment for all. Since Botswana acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1996, it had amended its statutes to make them more gender neutral. Taking a multi-faceted approach, Botswana had developed a number of gender-responsive national instruments to guide its efforts, including the Policy on Women in Development and the National Gender Programme Framework, among others. It was working with SADC and had benefited from mutual collaboration with its development partners, civil society and the private sectors.
While women’s participation was critical to the economic and social development of all societies, the current financial and economic crisis coupled with the food and energy crises undermined efforts in that regard. Serious challenges to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals continued. Thus, she said, concerted efforts were needed to help developing countries build capacity in ways that accounted for the needs and priorities of women. She noted the work of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and of UNIFEM. Her delegation remained concerned that the impact of HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis on women received less prominence in international discourse. It fully supported the Secretary-General’s UNiTE campaign and welcomed the adoption by the General Assembly of a resolution that established a new gender entity.
ANDA FILIP, Inter-Parliamentary Union, noted that women accounted for 18.6 per cent of members of parliament, which fell below the 30 per cent target set at the Beijing Fourth World Conference for Women. In comparison, only 9 per cent of the world’s mayors were women, 16 per cent were government ministers and 4.5 per cent were heads of State. Based on that, it was fair to say that parliament was more open to women. But, women’s political participation remained hindered by cultural attitudes, political party support and so on. The Union suggested that incentives be set, so that political parties earmarked specific allocations to support women’s candidatures, and spending limits could be implemented to level the playing field. Mentoring between women could also serve as an important way of cultivating new leaders, using local government as an entry point.
She said, notwithstanding the presence of women in parliament, its rules and procedures were typically established by men and “men’s clubs” were still in operation in some parliaments. There needed to be a critical mass of women -- of at least 30 per cent -- to begin to place women’s concerns on the parliamentary agenda. It was important, as well, to engage and collaborate with men as partners to cause change. Specialized parliamentary committees on gender equality were an important mechanism for gender mainstreaming. From the point of view of parliaments as a workplace, she said parliaments themselves must implement family-friendly and gender-sensitive measures.
WALTER FUELLEMAN, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), explained that, as early as 1999, the organization had adopted a plan of action to address the needs of women affected by armed conflict. Its work included actively pressing all parties to an armed conflict to respect the categorical prohibition on all forms of sexual violence. In addition to exposing women to the risk of bodily injury, war might also compromise their access to health care. It could force women to flee their homes, separate them from their family, or affect their access to clean drinking water or food. In addition, cultural and social restrictions might limit their mobility and render them less visible, making them less likely to receive humanitarian assistance.
He said the ICRC’s counselling centres were places where victims could meet trained “psychosocial assistants”, providing them an opportunity to talk about their trauma and discuss possible courses of action. If necessary, the counsellors could refer women to medical or legal services, and might also mediate between the victim and her family to reduce the risk of stigma or rejection. Decades of fighting could result in large numbers of men missing, leaving women without financial or emotional support. The ICRC responded to those needs by providing food, hygiene articles and essential household items. In cooperation with local non-governmental organizations, it supported income-generating activities, such as market gardening. It also supported the training of midwives. He ended by stressing the urgency of putting a stop to sexual violence committed in connection with armed conflict. The ICRC stood ready to work with all States parties to the Geneva Convention to suppress that war crime and punish its perpetrators.
ANKE STRAUSS, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said almost half of the world’s migrant workers were women. Contemporary migration dynamics showed a considerable increase in the number of women migrating independently, as opposed to migrating as an accompanying spouse, or with family members. While it might help empower women economically or socio-culturally, those opportunities were often marred by stereotypes, discrimination and pervasive harassment. During every stage of their migratory experience, women migrant workers might be more exposed to human rights violations compared to their male counterparts. They tended to enter gender segregated sectors that were largely informal and unregulated. They tended to have limited or no bargaining power. While they faced those challenges in “normal” times, during economic downturns, the situation of migrant workers, in particular women, became even worse.
In bad economic times, it was crucial to guard against policies aimed at sending migrant workers home, she said. Doing so would have negative consequences for development, given the drop in remittances that would follow. Societies also needed to guard against discrimination and stigma, as migrants mistakenly perceived as taking the jobs of local workers would fuel marginalization and xenophobia. That was particularly relevant for women migrant workers, who were frequently confined to low-skill and “typical women’s work”, including in the entertainment and sex industry and agriculture or assembly lines. Those areas of work were regularly characterized by bad working conditions and exploitation and abuse. The IOM’s gender mainstreaming policy was committed to the particular needs of migrant women, and recommended Governments give migrant women the same access to protection and legal redress as domestic workers. Policy-makers and practitioners needed to inform themselves about the vulnerability of women migrant workers.
In the afternoon, the Committee moved to its consideration of the promotion and protection of the rights of children.
Statement by the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict
RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said the General Assembly’s engagement and commitment to put the protection of children above partisan politics had been “key” to the work of her Office. Since Graca Machel’s report on the impact of conflict on children, the Assembly had served as the enabler of a strategic agenda to protect children, with Member States ensuring important advances.
The Security Council, she said, reiterated in resolution 1882 (2009) on children and armed conflict that sexual violence against children and the killing and maiming of children during conflict would no longer be tolerated. Parties that had a pattern of such behaviour would be named and shamed by the Secretary-General in his annual report to the Council. The Council also held out the possibility of targeted measures against repeat offenders. In another resolution, 1888 (2009), it called for a Special Representative on Sexual Violence and the provision of information regarding parties that committed sexual violence. It called on the Secretary-General to deploy a team of experts to situations of particular concern.
“These developments stem from resolutions in the General Assembly through which Member States have collectively expressed their commitment to fight sexual violence in wartime, paving the way also for the Security Council to take decisive action,” she said.
She spoke of girls she had met, as young as thirteen, carrying babies born of rape, some stigmatized and ostracized from their communities and/or even shunned by their families. “Sexual violence may be a direct tactic of war, but it also takes place because war often creates a climate of impunity where perpetrators take the opportunity to commit the most heinous acts of violence,” she said.
She said boys, too, were subject to abuse, describing the practice of Bacha Bazi in Central and South Asia, where young boys were taken by military leaders and war lords and made into male sexual slaves. They were made to dance and provide entertainment for older men, a practice that had been present in those societies since ancient times. Religious leaders in Afghanistan had appealed to the Special Representative to assist in combating those activities.
In her report, she recognized the need for international action on arms transfer, cluster munitions and land mines as measures that would help prevent unnecessary killing and maiming. She was also happy to note that, in reviewing procedures in different war time contexts, commanders were focused on the need to protect civilians, thus making the protection of children an essential part of military planning. That was a welcome development. Civilians had, in the last decade, been used as human shields and were victims of what was euphemistically called “collateral damage”. In that context, it was important to reiterate a commitment to the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law that highlighted the importance of separating civilians from combatants.
“Measures to protect civilians are essential and should be the centrepiece of any military strategy,” she said. Referring to the recent innovations of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), she added: “I am also encouraged that Member States are increasingly stipulating the protection of civilians as a tactical priority for United Nations peacekeeping operations.”
She noted that, for five years, the Secretary-General had listed parties that recruited and used children as combatants, leading many of the named groups to enter into action plans with the United Nations to release them into a United Nations reintegration process. That had recently taken place in the Philippines, Uganda, Sri Lanka and Burundi. There were high hopes for children who had just been released in the Central African Republic and Myanmar.
But “we need to take action against recalcitrant perpetrators,” she said. In that context, resolution 1882 established a procedure for communication between the working group on children and armed conflict and the sanctions committees. It was also important that juvenile justice protections were in place, since child soldiers were often made to commit terrible crimes. But, the International Criminal Court had made it clear that no person under 18 years would be prosecuted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Mohammed Jawad had been released from Guantanamo for that reason, and she looked forward to similar action being taken with another child, Omar Khadr.
Children should be made aware of the gravity of their acts, she said, but not in the context of a war crime prosecution. Truth and reconciliation commissions and other restorative justice measures were more appropriate, since the children were victims of adult cruelty and should be rehabilitated and assisted to find a constructive role in society. On the anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in May 2010, she said her Office planned to launch a world-wide campaign for universal ratification of its protocol relating to the recruitment and use of children in military conflicts.
She drew attention to a document containing the rights and guarantees of children internally displaced due to conflict. Their education should be an important part of emergency planning. She welcomed “General Comment 12” of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which had set out the framework for the participation of children. “We found that children had clear insights into the causes and consequences of war, and significant ideas on how they want to move forward,” she said, which needed to be tapped. But, care must be taken in promoting their participation; in Nepal, they were used as political footballs by groups intent on their own agendas.
She also pointed to the child protection policies of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and the work of UNICEF, ILO, OHCHR and UNHCR in fostering better protection for children. Those initiatives were described in her report. She also paid tribute to civil society, national governments and the Peacebuilding Commission for their support in the cause.
Ending with a story about Aziz, a boy from Iraq, who had witnessed the killing of his father and uncle during the war, she noted that war affected and destroyed the most vulnerable. “I realized this boy had seen and witnessed horrors that were unspeakable,” she said. “The primary duty of the United Nations, besides attempting to prevent wars and gross violations, is to help nation States take care of the victims of war. And that means taking care of the children.”
OMAR ABDI, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund(UNICEF), said that the world was on the cusp of two significant anniversaries related to the human rights of women and children. December would mark the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, while November would see the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The latter event served as an important opportunity to take stock of the many achievements made in the past 20 years to secure children’s human rights and to note the looming challenges.
To that end, he said the General Assembly had, in December 2007, reaffirmed the commitment of Governments to fully implement the Declaration and Action Plan contained in the “World Fit for Children” document. With the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals fast approaching, the world must come together with a shared sense of urgency to accelerate sustainable and measurable gains for children.
He noted the Secretary-General’s report on follow-up to the special session of the General Assembly on Children (document A/64/285) assessed steps taken in 2008 to achieve the goals of the “World Fit for Children” document and highlighted the gaps that must be bridged. Notably, the under-five mortality rate continued to decline. Overall child deaths had also declined, to an estimated 8.8 million in 2008 from 12.5 million in 1990, meaning 10,000 fewer children were dying each day. This was due to immunizations, the use of mosquito nets, vitamin A supplementation and better HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment. In terms of education, contributions to strategic partnerships had intensified and the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative had furthered the strategy of addressing gender as an entry point for tackling other educational disparity. Capacity development of national partners had been supported in improving quality through child-friendly schools, education policy and reform, and education in emergencies, post-conflict environments and transition.
He said UNICEF last week launched its “Progress for Children” report, which focused on child protection and, for the first time, brought together global data on that topic. It indicated that, because so much of it happened in secret, the true extent of violence against children was difficult to measure. Yet, some research suggested that between 500 million and 1.5 billion children experienced physical and sexual violence and emotional abuse, and UNICEF encouraged the Committee to support the Guidelines for the Alternative Care of Children.
Welcoming the appointment of Marta Santos Pais as the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Violence against Children, he said “ensuring the rights of women and girls is key to furthering human development”. He specifically noted that the Secretary-General’s current report on the girl child focused on female genital cutting. That practice functioned as a social norm in societies, making it difficult for individual families to abandon it. But, it was critical that the rights of girls and women to quality education, health care and social protection be upheld and the social acceptable of abuse, violence and exploitation be addressed.
He stressed that progress had been made in protecting children with disabilities, particularly through the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which, with 143 signatories and 71 States Parties, was now the second fasted ratified human rights treaty. A dramatic shift had also occurred in terms of children’s participation, which had most recently been seen at last month’s Summit on Climate Change.
Despite progress, children continued to face challenges to realizing their rights, he said. This was particularly true in the shadow of the current economic crisis. Acute malnutrition was on the rise and threatened to have a long-term impact on children and their countries. Accelerated progress was also needed in the area of child labour, which was the topic of this year’s report by the Secretary-General on the Status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The 2006 Global report on Child Labour from the International Labour Organization showed that it had declined 11 per cent from 2000 to 2004. But, an estimated 200 million children around the world continued to do work that was hazardous or physically straining. To address that fact, UNICEF continued to work with its partners to increase access to quality education, which remained the single most proven antidote to child labour.
Looking to the future, he said the best interests of the child should be the primary test of governance. Whether decisions related to taxation or trade, there was no such thing as a “child neutral” policy. All Government decisions and actions should be considered, monitored and evaluated for their implications for children’s rights. Further, capacities should be developed to realize those rights. Broad collaboration should be strengthened to accelerate results and meet the promise contained in the Convention. More must be done to unite governmental accountability with social and individual responsibility and to join the efforts of the State with those of families, schools, religious institutions, traditional leaders, non-governmental organizations, parliamentarians and children themselves. In the remaining years of the “World Fit for Children” decade, both good policy and effective action would determine whether the reality for children changed for the better.
Statement by the Special Representative on Violence against Children
MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative on Violence against Children, in her first appearance before the Committee since her appointment, said her agenda would build on the foundation provided by the United Nations Study on Violence against Children, developed under the leadership of Professor Paulo Pinheiro. The study had helped to challenge the acceptance of violence against children.
She noted that widely ratified treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the ILO Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, provided the normative foundation for the prevention and elimination of such violence. It was an area where action was urgently needed; according to UNICEF, more than 85 per cent of children between 2 and 14 years of age experienced physical punishment and/or psychological aggression. National studies, although limited in number, confirmed similar rates. Available research suggested that between 500 million and 1.5 billion children endured some form of violence each year.
But, there were gaps in data, she said. To gain a better understanding of the phenomenon, she suggested joining hands with young people and listening to their views. “Children express a strong sense of impatience when they voice their deep concern at the very high levels of violence affecting their lives and acknowledge the insufficient steps taken to address it,” she said. “This is the message we hear time after time.”
She said the mandate of the Special Representative had been established for a period of three years. Sound funding would be instrumental to ensuring tangible results in that short time, as were solid partnerships with United Nations agencies, human rights bodies and mechanisms, and regional organizations, civil society and children and young people.
She added that the 12 overarching recommendations of the Study on Violence against Children provided a navigation chart on a possible strategic agenda. In the immediate future, she would focus on the development of a national strategy in each State and the introduction of a legal ban on all forms of violence against children. She would also promote the establishment of a national data collection system and research agenda.
Promising change was already taking place in those fields, she said. At present, 24 countries had a comprehensive and explicit legal ban and many others were working towards the same end. Several countries had reinforced their legislation to protect children from violence in schools, as well as child trafficking and sexual exploitation, female genital mutilation, and early and forced marriage.
“Strong political will is essential to move this process forward,” she said. “With so many competing priorities and the increasing difficulty of securing funding at a time of financial and economic crisis, children’s rights and protection concerns run the risk of being placed in a waiting slot.”
Introduction of Reports
CRAIG MOKHIBER, Officer in Charge of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said the Committee had before it the report of the Secretary-General on the Girl Child (document A/64/315), which provided an overview of the existing international and regional legal framework with respect to the rights of the girl child and key obligations and commitments of States. It addressed progress and obstacles in combating discrimination. Relevant information had been sought from Member States and United Nations system in its preparation. It had also been informed by the outcome of the UNICEF “Expert meeting on Human Rights and the Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting in countries of prevalence and among immigrant communities” held in July in Geneva.
He said the Committee also had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the rights of the child (document A/64/172), which contained information on the status of the relevant Convention. He drew attention to part IV of the report, which outlined international efforts and national progress in tackling child labour and efforts aimed at eliminating the worst forms of child labour by 2016, highlighting the important role education in that regard.
When the floor was opened for questions, Chile’s representative asked Ms. Santos Pais what initiatives she had undertaken with regional groups and where her offices would be set up. On children in armed conflict, she asked Ms. Coomaraswamy for more information on recent successes in the area of education in conflicts. She also asked for more detail on the report of the Girl Child.
The representative of Sweden, speaking on behalf of the European Union, asked what, if any, synergies existed in relevant treaties and agreements in ensuring child protection strategies at the national level. Regarding children and armed conflict, he asked for information on how the new directive from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations would impact peacekeeping and peacebuilding missions. He also asked what sources the new Special Representative on violence against children would draw from in her work for the next three years. Also, how could children play a role in improving data gathering?
Iraq’s representative, noting that Ms. Coomaraswamy had mentioned an Iraqi child, said sectarian violence was estranged to his country’s culture and the nature of its people. Yet, when the Samarra shrine was destroyed, violence erupted and lasted two years. Iraq’s Government had worked to put an end to that violence, which was financed from outside. That violence had ended once and for all and, following a Government campaign, no armed militias existed in Iraq. Moreover, no arms existed outside the ranks of the armed forces. Thus, Ms Coomaraswamy’s statement referred to events that were now part of history.
The representative of Norway welcomed the new Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and asked her how other States could contribute to the Trust Fund set up to finance her office. Also, he wondered if Ms. Coomaraswamy could say more on the obstacles she faced on expanding the agenda on children in United Nations peace missions
Iran’s delegate stressed that his delegation believed more studies could be made on the causes of violence, including their moral dimensions. It was, in fact, “high time” that United Nations reports and studies addressed moral issues, especially in their focus on violence against children. Unfortunately he had not found any specific reference to the armed conflict in the Palestinian lands. Could Ms. Coomaraswamy’s brief on that, as well?
The representative of the Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine thanked Ms. Santos Pais for her advocacy work and asked her for her position on the “Goldstone report”, which was circulated on 15 September. That report outlined the disproportionate and deliberate attack by Israel on the Palestinian people, including its children. How would the Special Representative follow up on the report regarding how Palestinian children had been endangered, and how would their protection be ensured moving forward and for good?
The representative of Egypt said it was a great, but delayed, pleasure to welcome Ms. Santos Pais in her capacity as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children. It was late, she stressed, late for the mandate of the Special Representative to begin. By next year, it would be time for a review of that work. It was clear she had a very solid mandate, but very limited resources. The Egyptian delegation wanted her perspective on her work over the forthcoming period. Also, how would funds be raised for the Trust Fund set up to fund her office?
Noting that Ms. Coomaraswamy was making her twelfth report, she said her delegation had been looking for a more comprehensive look at the impact of violence against children in armed conflict. But, it addressed the issue of Palestinian children only superficially. Why had certain issues been overshadowed in the current report?
Uruguay’s representative asked how troop-contributing countries could help improve the effectiveness of mandates to protect children affected by armed conflict on the ground. In particular, how could effective participation of children be obtained without exposing them to experiences that could be harmful? She took special note of the challenges facing Ms. Santos Pais and expressed hope that when a review of her mandate took place, that mandate would at least have regular resources. Finally, how would she work with children in implementing her mandate?
The representative of Australia said her country was committed to protecting the rights of the child and had become party to several international instruments as a result. She asked the panel if it would encourage the participation of children in decision-making at the international level on issues that affected them, including those from marginalized groups such as children with disabilities. Also, her country had a national framework that provided for the safety and well-being of children in Australia, including children from minority groups. What could local communities do to complement the work of the Committee?
The United States delegate congratulated Ms. Santos Pais on assuming her mandate. She explained that trafficking and sexual exploitation of children was a problem for her country. For that reason, it was planning to sponsor a resolution on cyber-crime in the Second Committee (Economic and Financial). Was Ms. Santos Pais planning to devote attention to that issue? She also brought up the intersection of violence and health, as it related to maternal mortality and early marriage. There was a higher rate of death from childbirth among girls under 18 who were married. Were the speakers planning to look at such “MDG-related” questions in the course of their work, such as the problem of obstetric fistula? She commended Ms. Coomaraswamy for her work so far. Was she planning to investigate the case of sexual victimization of under-aged girls, based on Council resolutions 1882 and 1888?
The representative of India also congratulated Ms. Santos Pais but cautioned that her mandate should not overlap that of the Special Representative of Children and Armed conflict and existing United Nations agencies. How would she maintain the demarcation between her work and that of others? Also, she noted that the new Special Representative’s work would depend on voluntary contributions from Member States. How would that affect her independence? Like the representative of Sweden, she asked if Ms. Santos Pais would elaborate on a plan of action for the next three years. To UNICEF, she asked how that agency would move forward in anticipation of reduced resources.
Syria’s representative asked Ms. Santos Pais’s opinion on forms of violence facing children living under occupation that were not included under the Ms. Coomaraswamy’s mandate. Indeed, she was pleased that concerns of children under foreign occupation had been included under Ms. Santos Pais’s mandate. To Ms. Coomaraswamy, she remarked on her visits to various places, including the Palestinian territory. Her report contained summaries of those visits, except the one to the Palestinian territory. Why was that the case? The World Safe for Children report had devoted a paragraph on children under occupation, but it tended to be absent from almost all other United Nations documents.
The representative of C ôte d’Ivoire remarked that, as long as certain countries supported rebel movements, there would always be conflicts involving the use of children. On occasion, children also took arms to defend themselves, without having been recruited by anyone in particular. Did the speakers intend to put pressure on the international community in order not to legitimize rebellions, in general?
Israel’s representative congratulated Ms. Santos Pais and asked what she planned to do on the issue of death penalties against minors. To Ms. Coomaraswamy, who had visited her region twice in the past year, she asked what was being done to protect children victimized by terrorism. She asked what was being done about children who were recruited by terrorist organizations, and sometimes sent as suicide bombers to kill other children. Also, what could be done to prevent incitement of violence in school text books and other media?
The representative of Malaysia also congratulated Ms. Santos Pais on assuming her mandate. He noted that there had been little discussion on the socio-economic aspect of the rights of children. Much of the discourse focused on protecting children from violence and exploitation. But, the impact of underdevelopment and poverty on children also needed to be addressed, in serious terms. What was being done to protect children from the effects of the economic crisis? What could be done to strengthen role of the family to provide a caring environment for children, in which they could fulfil their potential? Children were being forced to work to supplement family income -- what was being done to keep them safe and to allow them to go to school?
Cameroon’s delegate welcomed Ms. Santos Pais to the Committee, asking for her views on poverty, which was a form of violence against children. What was she planning to do to combat it?
Responding, Ms. COOOMARAWAMY said she had not been making a comment on the political situation in Iraq. She merely meant to underline the need children in armed conflict had for psychosocial support.
Turning to Chile’s question on successful education initiatives in conflict zones, she said that, in some countries, schools had been made into zones of peace. Children could go study there without fear of attack.
She affirmed that her office was working to mainstream the issue of children and armed conflict, particularly with UNICEF and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children. In fact, they had already agreed to meet regularly and work to strengthen each other’s work and messaging. One meeting had already been held, and she looked forward to future ones.
She underlined the increasing role other United Nations agencies like UNICEF were playing in the field in conflict zones. Regarding the new Department of Peacekeeping Operations directive, she underscored the importance of interface in the field and expressed her hope that the directive be widely implemented, including in political missions.
She said that, before there was a push to have sexual violence against girls named as a trigger for parties to be listed in the annexes of the Secretary-General's Report on Children and Armed Conflict, there had been a meeting with all agencies that worked on women and girls. There, it had been agreed to push for this trigger. She said work was being done to enhance data collection, but it was very difficult to collect information on sexual violence in many cultures and societies. In the case of her office, it would be done through the task force at the national level.
Regarding the questions on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, she noted that she had submitted an exhaustive report to the Human Right Council on the grave violations committed against children in Gaza. That was perhaps one reason why the current report was not exhaustive. On the “Goldstone report”, she noted that her office had been consulted and had provided information. The published report was in complete conformity with her office’s findings. She assured delegations that she would continue to advocate against indiscriminate discrimination and killing of children. Further, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories would remain on her radar.
She said, in responses to Egypt’s comment, that her office had put forward a strategic framework in January, which had been sent out to all delegations. That framework set out the priorities for her office. They included, among others, ending impunity for the perpetrators of violence against children and increasing advocacy for the reintegration of children.
In response to Uruguay, she underlined how crucial the participation of troop-contributing countries was in protecting children. As one example of how they could help, she highlighted the Burundi mission, where troops were being educated and trained specifically in this regard. She had also recommended to the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations that this type of training be instituted at the pre-deployment phase. She would be grateful if Member States supported that recommendation.
Turning to the questions on child labour, she fully endorsed the comments on the rights of the child in this area and suggested there was a need for the development of a complaints procedure that would allow child workers to come forward. Moreover, she noted that she had met in the field with many children’s parliaments. Among the topics of conversation was reintegration and her office would continue to implement that part of its mandate.
Taking up the question from Côte d’Ivoire, she said the area of non-State actors was very important. Indeed, Security Council resolution 1612 (2005) on child soldiers required that, if names were listed in the annexes to the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict, consultations had to be held. In some parts of the world, her office did not have access to those groups or actors, and Member States were reluctant to grant it. But, her office was not seeking access to give any legitimacy to these groups, and intended to meet only at very low levels. Thus, access should be granted so her office could negotiate the required action plans.
She went on to say, in response to Israel, that her office needed to do more work on the changing nature of warfare, including terrorism and counter-terrorism. Indeed, she noted that her office had been told informally that the latest suicide bomber in Pakistan had been a 13-year-old. Also, with civilians at the centre of this whole area of warfare, it was important to insist that the Geneva Conventions continued to apply.
She agreed with Malaysia that child recruitment had to be prevented. Children were clearly open to abuse and, among other efforts to prevent that abuse, protections were needed at the local level.
Ms. SANTOS PAIS said she counted on mutual support between herself and Member States to identify the most promising initiatives to ignite Government action to prevent violence effectively, and to protect child victims and witnesses. The job needed to be done in strong partnership with others and with appropriate support; funding was very important in that regard.
Responding to the representative of Chile, she described her participation at the Pan American Congress in Peru, organized by the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Institute of the Child. The Ministerial level dialogue had been reassuring and indicated some possible ways forward. The idea of the “ Americas free from violence” in 2011 was ambitious, but feasible. She would return in December to pursue further discussions. As regards developments in Europe, she said the Council of Europe had established a platform for children’s rights that could provide information to her on developments in the region. She would meet them next week. In the Middle East, she had met with the local UNICEF office. Under the leadership of Egypt, she would meet with the OIC on violence against children. That region had many important initiatives that could be built upon, on banishing female genital mutilation, for example. The South Asian Forum, located in Nepal, was another regional network she had hoped to work more with.
She explained that the Secretary-General had envisioned her physical office to be based in New York, at the United Nations Secretariat. She was currently looking for office space. Funding would be crucial in that process.
Responding to Sweden, said she would certainly work with the Special Representative Children and Armed Conflict very closely. The celebration next year of the signing of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was a good place to start. She also intended to join hands with other special procedure mandate holders. Last June, she participated in a meeting with them in Geneva. There was no interest among them to compete with one another, cognizant of their lack of resources and especially in recognition of their inter-related mandates. For instance, she saw a great deal of intersection between her mandate and those of the special procedures dealing with child-related issues, such as children and armed conflict, and violence-related mandates, such as torture.
In response to the representatives of Malaysia and Cameroon, she acknowledged the importance of examining root causes. In that regard, she envisioned working with special mandate procedures on right to water and sanitation, food, and so on.
Looking ahead, it was important to have a clear vision, she said. The Study on Violence against Children provided some time-bound targets to work toward. The international community lagged behind on some of them: the Study had recommended that a national strategy be in place by 2007, and that legal reform and a system of data collection be in place by the end of 2009. The Study also highlighted the importance of changing society’s mindset regarding violence against children, and the need to engage with families to better understand the phenomenon. Already, 24 countries had such a legal ban on violence against children. Others were making changes to their laws on trafficking, sexual exploitation, and so on. India had prohibited corporal punishment in schools. She would work with countries in that regard.
On data collection, analysis and dissemination, she remarked that, at the moment, though no one could claim to know everything there was to know, people knew enough. A recent publication by UNICEF on child protection was a good place to start; the World Health Organization (WHO) had also done some instrumental work in that area. She did not intend to create a parallel process. For example, in response to the representative of the United States, she said data on the Millennium Development Goals was plentiful. It was widely known that the highest levels of early marriage and female genital mutilation, for example, were amongst families where the level of education of women (mothers) was low. But, more household surveys were needed to elicit children’s views on violence and possible solutions. A survey in Swaziland had shown a high level of physical, sexual and emotional violence in society. After collecting that data, that country now had a clear policy agenda.
On the participation of children, she noted that UNICEF was known to conduct surveys of young people. WHO used school-based surveys to understand bullying. These were useful instruments to capture children’s views on possible solutions.
On the Trust Fund for her office, she explained that UNICEF had been asked by the Secretary-General to be a custodian of the Fund to support her mandate. But cross-regional financial support was crucial to ensure that the Office was able to pursue its agenda and to address the perception of bias.
On the importance of changing the values and mindset in society, as brought up by the delegate of Iran, she noted that there must be direct involvement by communities in that process because change did not happen by magic. The goal was to try to find alternatives to violence against children.
She said she looked forward to going to Egypt and acknowledged that country’s role on combating female genital mutilation.
She commented briefly on child-produced materials that were being used in schools, which was inspiring, she said. Peer advocacy was an important strategy to pursue, as were discussions with children in schools. Children called attention to things that adults could miss. In West Africa, she said young kids were encouraged to take photographs of places that they considered risky -- that place was the local market!
It was important, as well, to pursue the ratification process of international treaties and to promote their effective implementation. Indeed, emerging issues such as cybercrime was part of her mandate.
She said her office would continue work closely with Ms. Coomaraswamy. Indeed, collaboration had to continue so that, as Syria had noted, no child was left out.
As Israel had reminded the Committee, the prohibition of the death penalty for children was a key recommendation in the study on violence against children, and the issued had appeared in the context of criminal justice and legal reform. Today, the penalty was being used less and less, with really a negligible amount of States still using it. Nevertheless, it remained an area where a difference could be made in promoting children’s rights.
Concluding, she said she looked forward to working with the Third Committee and Member States.
Responding on behalf of UNICEF, ELIZABETH GIBBONS, Chief of Global Policy, said the Fund had launched a joint programme for accelerating the abandonment of female genital mutilation. That programme was now operational in 12 countries.
She agreed that it was hard to find data on violence against children, but she directed delegations to pick up the UNICEF report “Progress for Children”, which was at the back of the room. It contained some data as well as analysis on child protections.
She stressed that communities could advance the Convention on the rights of the child by publicizing it, along with the national policies that were being undertaken to implement it. Creating an ethic where children came first was a tall order, but it would make a real difference at the all levels in implementing the Convention.
While many of the impacts of the financial crisis were unfolding slowly, malnutrition rates were clearly rising. Not only was UNICEF monitoring these rates, but it was also undertaking advocacy to protect budget allocations to support child nutrition, as well as overall child-sensitive social safety nets. A primary focus of this advocacy was on allowing children to stay in school, particularly girls. But, she stressed that everyone -- from Governments to civil society -- should be monitoring and guarding against the worst impacts of the crisis on children.
Finally, she thanked all delegations who expressed support for children’s increased participation in United Nations forums. The General Comment on Article 12 that was recently passed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child gave guidance to all on how to involve children in decisions that affected them. It was an important process for realizing child rights. She noted that the Third Committee would have a special event tomorrow that would feature children’s participation.
Statement by Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child
YANGHEE LEE, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, provided an update on the work of the Committee. She said the Assembly had last year approved its request for additional resources, allowing it to begin addressing a backlog of reports. It would meet in parallel chambers over three sessions in 2010.
She explained that, as of 15 September, the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had 132 States parties and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict had 130. Some 68 reports were received under the first Optional Protocol and 56 under the second. Once the reports were considered by the Committee, the overall number of reports to be considered by the Committee would be significantly reduced. But, because the number of reports before it was expected to grow in the long run, she invited suggestions on ways that the Committee could manage the review process.
She noted that two States had not ratified the Convention, Somalia and the United States, and encouraged them to do so.
She said the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention by the United Nations General Assembly would take place on 20 November. Already, a two-day event had been held in Geneva on 8 to 9 October, with the theme “Dignity, Development and Dialogue”, attended by 400 participants.
In June, she said the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution providing for the establishment of an Open-ended Working Group on an Optional Protocol to provide a communications procedure for the Convention. Preliminary meetings of States parties were supportive of that initiative, and the Working Group planned to convene in Geneva from 14 to 18 December. The Committee was expected to send a representative to that meeting.
In addition, the Human Rights Council had adopted a resolution on guidelines for the alternative care of children. It would submit them to the Assembly for review, with a view to their adoption on the twentieth anniversary of the Convention. The guidelines had stemmed from the Committee’s discussion on children without parental care, and were in the final stage of their elaboration.
She said the Committee was expected to adopt two new “General Comments”, to focus on non-discrimination and on the right of the child to be heard.
She ended by highlighting the number of “valuable collaborations” with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, UNICEF, the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, and was looking forward to a close collaboration with the Special Representative on Violence against Children. She paid tribute to independent national human rights institutions for their increased involvement and to civil society actors around the world. She reiterated the principle of “first call for children,” reminding States parties of the importance that resource allocation for children not be compromised by the economic downturn and expenditures related to the influenza pandemic.
PER ORNEUS ( Sweden), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Convention on the Rights of the Child was a “landmark” document that had fundamentally changed how the international community, governments and non-governmental organizations viewed children and their rights. The fact that the Convention was the most universally ratified human rights treaty was a significant sign of the global commitment to child rights. Substantial progress had been made in implementing the Convention in the past 20 years, as many countries had adopted legislative reform ensuring compliance. Additionally, more children go to school than ever before, and for the first time in recent history, the level of child mortality had dropped steadily over the past couple of years.
However despite major achievements, the world still faced persistent obstacles and emerging challenges, as child poverty continued to be prevalent and around 100 million children globally -- most of them girls -- were denied the right to education. At any given time, over 300,000 child soldiers as young as eight were exploited in armed conflict, and 15 million children had lost one or both parents to HIV and AIDS. The European Union was also dedicated to promoting the participation and individual development of children with disabilities. The Convention also highlighted that children had the right to express their views freely, and this topic was the theme of this year’s resolution on the rights of the child. He urged states to step up efforts to combat abuse against children, such as trafficking, and to penalize all forms of sexual exploitation of children and ensure prosecution of offenders.
Meanwhile, progress towards eliminating child labour was still “very slow”, but was “an ambitious but achievable goal” by 2016. He stressed that the plight of boys and girls caught in conflict zones, recruitment of child soldiers, and the killing, maiming and rape of children must end, and he called on all States to sign, ratify and implement the Optional Protocols to the Convention, so that the Protocols could enjoy the same universality as the Convention itself. With the target year of the Millennium Development Goals just five years away, he said education was a key element to poverty eradication, and the European Union would continue to work together with the United Nations system and other States to eliminate the remaining obstacles to the full realization of the right to education for girls and boys around the world.
KAIRE M. MBUENDE (Namibia), speaking on behalf of SADC, discussed the 2008 African Report on children’s well-being, which said that most African Governments had increased their budget allocations for health and made progress in securing access to safe drinking water. Provision of free antiretroviral drugs was another milestone, as witnessed by the ten-fold increase between 2003 and 2006 in the number of people receiving those drugs, to 1 million, in all of Africa. His delegation was fully committed to implementing commitments made at the 2002 Special Session on Children and its 2007 commemorative high-level meeting. Describing the Community’s strategic framework and action programme for the 2008-2015 period, he said it adopted a holistic and integrated approach to care for orphans, vulnerable children and youth. In implementing that framework, it would be important for organizations and agencies to work together to meet the developmental needs of children and youth.
In terms of the legal protection of children, he said many countries had harmonized national laws with international law and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. Instances of good practices included efforts to domesticate laws on children and reconcile universal values in international instruments with African customs, attitudes and practices. On the 2002 Special Session, he said that, while the Community had made progress in implementing its Plan of Action, contained in the “World Fit for Children” document, constrained resources were a challenge. The impacts of the global economic and financial crisis were exacerbated by the ongoing HIV pandemic, which had touched the lives of over 16 million orphans below the age of 18. Women and girls bore the burden of the disease as both victims and unpaid caregivers. Also, trafficking in persons was a criminal offence that required comprehensive legislation. The regional plan of action adopted in May at the Maputo Conference outlined areas for cooperation, and he called on all stakeholders to help States address that problem. He also emphasized that, this year, as in years past, Community members would sponsor a resolution on the girl child, which he hoped would be adopted by consensus.
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