'Too Many Children Are Being Left Behind' Simply Because They Are Born Female, Have Disabilities, Live in World’s Poorest Places, Third Committee Told
'Too Many Children Are Being Left Behind' Simply Because They Are Born Female, Have Disabilities, Live in World’s Poorest Places, Third Committee Told
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-sixth General Assembly
13th & 14th Meetings (AM & PM)
‘Too Many Children Are Being Left Behind’ Simply Because They Are Born Female,
Have Disabilities, Live in World’s Poorest Places, Third Committee Told
Hears from UN Children’s Fund Head; UN Envoys on Violence against Children,
Sale of Children, Children in Armed Conflict; Chair of Child Rights Committee
Protection systems and monitoring mechanisms rarely addressed the special challenges facing girls, children with disabilities and the world’s most impoverished young people at great cost not just to them, but to their entire societies, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.
“Too many children are being left behind, deprived of their right to thrive and grow simply because they were born female, or have a disability or live in one of the world’s poorest and most isolated places,” Anthony Lake said, as he launched the Committee’s three-day discussion on the promotion and protection of the rights of children.
Most development experts had long believed that it was simply too expensive to focus on those “forgotten children,” but that was no longer true, he said. Advances in vaccines, technologies and micro-nutrients had improved the ability to reach them, and it was not only the right thing, but the smart thing to do because it was more effective — and more cost-effective.
He said that, according to a UNICEF study released last year, every additional dollar invested in reaching the most vulnerable children in low-income, high-mortality countries could avert up to 60 per cent more child deaths than the current approach. Investing in the social sector was also vital to the long-term growth and future strength of societies.
He further stressed that Governments, international organizations, civil societies and communities must put the hardest to reach children at the centre of national plans, policies and programmes. They should better identify children with disabilities, mapping the areas of greatest need and looking beyond national averages that concealed pockets of deprivation and widening disparities. More investment was also needed in community-based ways to overcome cultural barriers and norms that excluded and even endangered girls.
“We must succeed,” he argued. “At stake are the lives and futures of [these] children.” For children with disabilities, he said this meant achieving full ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. For girls, it meant banning the practice of forced marriage and child marriage once and for all. For the most vulnerable, it meant achieving universal ratification of the Optional Protocols on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Mr. Lake was among several top United Nations Officials who appeared today to testify to the complex obstacles preventing children around the world from fully enjoying their rights, including the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy; the Special Representative on Violence against Children, Marta Santos Pais; the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Jean Zermatten; and the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat Maalla M'jid.
Highlighting the issue of children and justice in armed conflict or post-conflict situations, Ms. Coomaraswamy said States were increasingly arresting and detaining children associated with armed groups, sometimes keeping them in conditions which did not meet the minimum standards set in various legal instruments, risking ill-treatment and torture.
While prosecuting these child detainees for acts committed while associated with an armed group, national courts and military tribunals did not generally apply juvenile standards. “Given the forced nature of their association with armed groups, and considering their age, children should be treated primarily as victims, not as perpetrators,” she said, suggesting that emphasis should be placed on prosecuting adult recruiters and commanders based on the concept of command responsibility.
Ms. Santos Pais said the second year of her mandate had been crucial in consolidating support for implementing the recommendations of the United Nations Study on Violence against Children. Underscoring law reform as one critical area of change, she said the number of countries with legislation prohibiting violence against children in all settings had doubled since the United Nations study was finalized.
“Despite these encouraging developments, only 5 per cent of the children of the world are protected by legal protections in the law itself,” she acknowledged, adding that while law reform was an indispensable building block of robust national child protection system, it must be approached as an ongoing process. In addition, legislation needed to be comprehensive, wide-ranging, and convey a clear and unequivocal message on the imperative of safeguarding children from violence.
Earlier today, delegates from 26 countries also took the floor to continue their debate on the advancement of women. Detailing new laws, as well as revisions to existing legislation, a number of speakers highlighted national efforts to curb sexual harassment, domestic abuse and rape. Noting the systematic use of rape against local populations in the eastern part of her country, the representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo said travelling courts had been used to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of the alleged crimes, resulting in the recent conviction of nine soldiers for crimes against humanity for the mass rape of forty women and girls.
Other speakers highlighted Government initiatives to end the practice of female genital mutilation. Among the policies and programmes they outlined were a zero-tolerance plan in Burkina Faso, a policy for “systemic repression” through the establishment of more than 400 anti-female genital mutilation committees throughout Côte d’Ivoire, and a public awareness campaign in Mauritania arguing that the practice was counter to Islam.
Also speaking today during that debate were the representative of Nepal, Burkina Faso, Algeria, Bangladesh, Congo, Bahrain, Turkey, Sweden, Myanmar, Niger, Finland, Côte d’Ivoire, Georgia, Maldives, Montenegro, Sri Lanka, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iceland, Viet Nam, Serbia, Timor-Leste, Fiji, Malta, Philippines, Mauritania and Kuwait.
The representative of Iraq spoke in exercise of his right of reply.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. Thursday, 13 October, to conclude its discussion on women’s advancement and to continue its consideration of the promotion and protection of the rights of children.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to complete its discussion on the advancement of women (for more information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/4008) and to begin its discussion on the rights of children.
It had before it the report of the committee on the rights of the child (document A/66/41 (Supplemental)), as well as the second annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children (document A/66/227). The latter is guided by the report of the independent expert for the United Nations study on violence against children (A/61/299) and builds upon the vision and the priority areas identified by the Special Representative in her initial report (A/65/292). The report also complements the annual report of the Special Representative to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/16/54) and reviews key developments and initiatives promoted to advance progress in the follow-up to the study at the global, regional and national levels, institutionalize regional governance structures and strengthen strategic alliances to speed up global progress towards a world free from violence.
The report identifies areas to which the Special Representative will devote special attention in the forthcoming period: promoting the universal ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child; further consolidating regional governance structures on violence against children; continuing the series of expert consultations on violence-related topics; and conducting a global survey to assess progress and inform further action in the area of preventing and responding to violence.
Also before the Committee was the note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (document A/66/228). The report describes the activities undertaken by the Special Rapporteur during the period from July 2010 to July 2011. It is intended to be used as a tool for effectively implementing recommendations formulated since the beginning of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.
To that end, the report provides the guiding principles and essential components of a comprehensive rights-based child protection system aimed at preventing and combating the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. It also offers a set of conclusions for ensuring the implementation such child protection systems, which underline the need for the strong political will of Governments, backed by the allocation of adequate resources, the full engagement of all actors, and effective cooperation at the national, regional and international levels.
The Secretary-General’s report on the status of the convention on the rights of the child (document A/66/230) says that, as of 1 July 2011, the Convention had been ratified or acceded to by 193 States, and 2 States had signed the Convention. Also as of that date, the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict had been ratified by 142 States, while the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had been ratified by 144 States.
The Committee also had before it the report of the special representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict (document A/66/256), which covers the period from August 2010 to August 2011 and provides an overview of progress in the children and armed conflict agenda, followed by an account of the trends and remaining challenges faced. It details progress made over the past year, including on awareness-raising, partnership building, information collection and the release of children from armed forces and groups. It also highlights remaining challenges in the context of the changing nature of conflict and outlines other emerging issues of concern and describes the way forward in terms of ending violations committed against children.
Its final two sections describe actions taken to mainstream the children and armed conflict agenda within the United Nations system and presents a set of actionable recommendations on the protection of children affected by conflict for the General Assembly’s attention. An annex to the report sets out suggested standard operating procedures, outlining minimum measures that may be put in place by national armed forces, as well as multinational and peacekeeping forces, to ensure the protection of children in the course of military operations.
The bulk of the report focuses on the implementation of the rights of children with disabilities, highlighting issues relating to discrimination, data collection, the Millennium Development Goals and disability, and the right of children with disabilities to be heard, among others. In outlining the way forward on this issue, the report warns that the scale and severity of violations against rights of children with disabilities, in all regions of the world, constitute a hidden emergency. It calls for the removal of barriers that impede the realization of the rights of disabled children, and greater recognition of the importance of international cooperation for improving their living conditions in every country, particularly in developing countries.
Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on the girl child (document A/66/257), which offers a brief overview of international obligations and commitments with respect to the girl child stemming from human rights treaties and international conferences, as well as legal and policy development. It assesses the negative impact on the girl child caused by poverty and the global economic crisis; violence, abuse and exploitation; gender disparities in education; lack of adequate water, sanitation and hygiene; inadequate nutrition; and HIV/AIDS. It also covers issues related to adolescent health, disabilities, humanitarian crises, and lack of participation. The report has a separate section on ending child and forced marriages as that was highlighted by the General Assembly as a point of emphasis in calling for the report. It goes on to outline progress and achievements made in remedying the range of challenges facing the girl child. Among its key recommendations is the imperative of keeping girls in school and the need to expand and improve the services offered them.
The Committee also had before it the Secretary-General’s report on the follow-up to the special session of the General Assembly on children (document A/66/258), which details efforts toward implementing the commitments contained in the 2007 special session’s outcome document, “A world fit for children” (S-27/2). The report provides an overview of specific progress made and outlines remaining challenges, as well as the actions needed to achieve further progress, particularly in reaching the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.
Among other things, the report says that declining social investments, combined with long-standing challenges, such as the social exclusion of indigenous and disadvantaged minority groups, children with disabilities and girls, as well as the effects of migration, rapid urban expansion and climate instability, are making the implementation of “A world fit for children” more challenging. It also notes that failure to achieve the commitments will significantly undermine efforts towards realizing the aspirations of the United Nations Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 and beyond.
RUDRA KUMAR NEPAL ( Nepal) said the advancement of women was not possible without empowerment, and empowerment was inconceivable without education and a change in social attitude. His country had, therefore, adopted a multi-pronged approach, including social, economic, administrative and legal measures for the advancement of women. Women continued to play an important role in the transformation of Nepalese society. The Constituent Assembly consisted of almost one-third women, including the Deputy Speaker of parliament. Through affirmative action, capacity building and empowerment, the presence of women in the national civil service and other State institutions had grown significantly in recent years. New legislation had been enacted to ensure gender equality and prohibit violence and discrimination against women.
He said his country had, among other international instruments, ratified the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution, as human trafficking was a serious global problem. His country was doing its best to grapple with the problem. There was also a growing concern for the safety of women in foreign employment. There should be coordinated efforts at the national, regional and international levels to combat violence against women migrant workers and to protect their rights. The international community should invest additional financial and technical resources in least developed countries, especially those emerging from conflict, to complement their national endeavours in ensuring gender equality and the empowerment of women.
FANTA YARO ( Burkina Faso) said over the past year, consideration by Member States of gender equality, security and female empowerment issues had led to several positive inter-governmental measures for female equality. For its part, Burkina Faso subscribed fully to the goals of UN-Women, and hoped it would have sufficient resources to fulfil its goals. Also, her country had undertaken a number of initiatives to combat discriminatory practices that hindered full advancement of women, ensuring girls had access to school, and women had access to technology and microcredit. The country had also adopted a number of documents and bills for women in areas such as health care and quotas for political participation.
Despite progress in living conditions for women and girls, several inequalities persisted in the country, she said. Most notably, women in rural areas were socially and economically disadvantaged. In response, the Government had provided access to credit and drafted a bill on land rights to give equal access to control of land. She also welcomed the adoption and implementation of a zero-tolerance plan for female genital mutilation, from now to 2015, and the resolution by the African Group to ban the practice at the global level, which she hoped would receive the support of the whole international community.
MOURAD BENMEHIDI ( Algeria), aligning with the Group of 77 and China, said the scope of the challenge in furthering women’s advancement remained huge. That challenge was exacerbated by the current global crises, which deepened poverty and discrimination. Algeria was working to reform its national legal framework to put gender equality and women’s empowerment at the heart of its policies. The Family Code had been extensively revised to increase balance in terms of parental responsibility. The Nationality Code gave Algerian citizenship to children born of an Algerian mother, while the Criminal Code penalized trafficking in humans. The Algerian constitution was also revised in 2008 to facilitate women’s access to participation in elected assemblies. In addition, a bill had just been drafted that set a quota for women of 30 per cent of the seats in all elected assemblies.
He said Algeria’s national strategy for combating violence against women introduced priorities for enhancing the capacities of all partners. Algeria’s fundamental educational principle enshrined the right to education for all and had resulted in enrolment rates for girls of 97.3 per cent in 2010. Parity indicators showed that girls now represented the majority of students at all educational levels. Women were also participating in the public sector. Resolute action on the ground was underway to train and teach rural women to read and to provide wider access to micro-credits. Algeria would present its third and fourth periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2012.
ABDUL HANNAN ( Bangladesh) said his country’s Government had initiated various projects for the development of women, which were contributing towards achieving the targets set in the “Vision Paper 2021,” which aimed to ensure women’s overall development through equal and active participation in mainstream economic activities. To expedite women’s economic empowerment, Bangladesh had provided extensive training, created job opportunities, ensured participation in the labour market and provided support to small and medium-sized entrepreneurs. Additionally, he said, Bangladesh’s Constitution guaranteed equal rights to women, and several laws and policies dealt with matters related to women.
These policies had led to political empowerment of Bangladesh’s women, who were at the highest levels of decision-making; the Prime Minister, Deputy Leader of Parliament, five Ministers in the cabinet and the opposition leader were all women. It was also Bangladesh’s hope that all Member States would help each other implement the Global Plan of Action against human trafficking. On the national front, Bangladesh’s Cabinet had approved in principle a draft law to combat trafficking in persons in July this year, detailing a comprehensive approach that addressed labour trafficking in a direct manner for the first time.
SEM RAYMOND SERGE BALÉ ( Congo) said the award of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to three women was highly symbolic and recognized the status women should enjoy, as one half of humanity. Underlining his Government’s commitment to promoting women’s empowerment, he said it prioritized gender equality in all policies. Women outnumbered men in his country, meaning that gender equality was not just a question of recognizing women’s rights, but a matter of sustainable development. Among other things, the State recognized that women had ownership rights and should play a role in Government. Nonetheless, major challenges preventing women’s full enjoyment of their rights remained and the Government was working to break through entrenched socio-cultural prejudices and to boost women’s participation in national, social, political and economic life.
He said his country welcomed support from its bilateral and international partners in promoting gender quality, noting in particular a capacity building programme in rural areas. Civil society and Government institutions were working together in a more coordinated fashion to combat violence against women. On the tenth anniversary of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), it was now new standard practice to consider issues affecting women when addressing matters of peace and security. Specific national action plans for all Council and General Assembly resolutions linking women and armed conflicts were needed. In that context, he noted that history would show that women paid the highest price in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the 1990s.
RANA MOHAMED ( Bahrain), aligning with the statement of the Arab Group, said empowerment and the advancement of women were very important to the international community, and necessary in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. UN-Women was a very important step in reform of the Organization, unifying responsibilities toward the advancement of women. Women were pillars in the development of countries, and Bahrain worked for their advancement so they could work with men to build families, the state and society, as well as take part in decision-making.
Women in Bahrain received special benefits in education, and participated in the fairest local elections to be held in the Gulf region, she said. Women pursued studies in various universities, and participated in many Arab and international conferences. Bahrain was a leader in the development of women’s resources in the region, because the government believed in the advancement of women in economic, social and all related fields. Royal programmes supported the empowerment of women, especially so they could become candidates in elections. There were now four women in parliament, while there were eleven women on the Consultative Council. Women in Bahrain could now assume a number of leadership posts, including minister, judge, ambassador and Member of Parliament. Having made those gains, the country would continue its march towards more progress for its women.
ERTUĞRUL APAKAN ( Turkey) expressed satisfaction with the progress that UN-Women had achieved, noting that his delegation supported the vision, mission, objectives and deliverables presented in its Strategic Plan 2011-2013, which provided tangible terms of reference in coordinating and promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment within the United Nations and around the world. He stressed that the recent passing of Wangari Maathai of Kenya and the award of the 2011 Peace Prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman deserved due attention and must not pass unnoticed. Indeed, the Nobel Committee’s decision demonstrated that democracy and lasting peace could not be achieved if women did not obtain the same opportunities as men to influence development at all levels.
Turkey noticed a greater awareness of the rights and needs of women today, he said, noting that more women had access to governance, education, health, capital and markets. Further, more equitable laws protected women from discrimination. But, more still needed to be done to ensure the universal adherence to the rights of women, and it was time that the international community moved from words to deeds to deliver women’s needs. He further stressed that the active participation of women on equal terms with men at all levels of any decision-making process was essential to the achievement of equality, sustainable development, peace and democracy.
SIGNE BURGSTALLER ( Sweden) said the core of the issue of women’s advancement was that all women were entitled to full and equal enjoyment of all human rights. Yet, many were still being denied their rights. Thirty years after the entry into force of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the international community was lagging behind in several areas, including women’s right to equality before the law; women’s participation in political and public life; women’s economic and social rights; women’s right to health, and the right of women to control their own bodies and sexuality. As Sweden’s Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt stressed to the General Assembly three weeks ago, the unmet human, political, economic and social rights for 3.5 billion women and girls were probably the most important human rights failure of all. “Gender equality is not only politically and morally, but also economically right,” she said, stressing that no society that squandered half of talent could be called smart or interested in development.
Achieving gender equality would require a concerted effort by all, she continued. Women’s emancipation and empowerment was key, as was women’s liberation from gender stereotypes, which trapped persons in roles they had not chosen for themselves. To that end, perceptions of womanhood and masculinity must be challenged and mindsets changed. Similarly, stereotypes regarding sexual and reproductive life were of great concern. It was urgent to make a determined call for the equal enjoyment of human rights and opportunities for everyone, irrespective of ethnic origin, disability, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or any other status. For that reason, Sweden welcomed the adoption by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women of a state-of-the-art general recommendation on anti-discrimination as understood in paragraph 2 of the Convention. Further, her Government looked to UN-Women to serve as a catalytic force for the entire United Nations system in efforts to achieve gender equality.
AYE THIDAR MYO ( Myanmar) associated herself the statement on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and the statement on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Her delegation commended the Secretary-General for the reports on agenda item 28: “Advancement of Women,” including the report on the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Touching upon Myanmar’s efforts in the area of advancement of women, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, in collaboration with concerned government agencies, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and International Non-Governmental Organizations (INGOs), had drawn up a National Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women (2011-2015). Moreover, as a state party to the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, Myanmar was preparing to submit a fourth and fifth combined periodic report to the Monitoring Committee, due in 2014.
It was of utmost importance to give specific attention to gender equality and the empowerment of women in order to fulfil the development agenda of a nation, she said. In Myanmar, women constituted 50.3 per cent of the total population. Today, women enjoyed fundamental rights as citizens. Article 120 of the state constitution also guaranteed Myanmar women equal rights with men in the political arena. During multi-party democratic elections on 7 November last year, of 104 women candidates, 45 women were elected to Parliament. In the private sector, women enjoyed managing their business successfully and effectively. Myanmar had made significant steps toward the advancement of women subsequent to becoming a State party to the Convention in 1997. To that end, she reaffirmed that Myanmar would continue its efforts not only on the advancement of women, but also in eliminating gender discrimination and promoting women’s rights.
MAIMOUNA ANGO (Niger), aligning with statements on the behalf of the Group of 77 and China and the African Group, said political resolve had resulted in considerably more resources being allocated to the advancement of women. In Niger, implementation of a health road map had improved reproductive health, an important initiative that had had brought a drop in maternal mortality from 700 to 648 per 100,000 live births. Education of young girls was also a priority, and the Ministry of Education had established a directorate for girls, as well as a prize for girls who achieved the best results, improving the ratio of girls achieving primary education. Niger’s microcredit programmes had also allowed 141,750 women to receive loans for income generating activities.
To combat violence against women, Niger had enacted new laws in a review of its criminal code to better cope with crimes such as sexual harassment, enslavement and deliberately striking a woman, she said. Niger had also established a committee against trafficking of women in its Ministry of Justice, and was taking other actions to curb violence against women. To improve the political participation of women, it was now mandated that at least 25 per cent of nominated posts and 10 per cent of elected posts go to women. Women made up 2.4 per cent of Members of Parliament in 2003, but around 13 per cent in the current year. The head of Niger’s constitutional court was a woman, and there had also been a woman candidate for first time in the recent presidential elections. But stronger efforts were still needed on health, empowerment, representation and protection against violence.
JARMO VIINANEN ( Finland) said that the realization of the human rights and equal participation of women was a prerequisite for achieving international peace and security, development and other common goals. The key components of women’s participation were fair and equitable conditions for education and work, combined with the chance to lead a life of security and opportunity. Educational parity could serve as a measure for achieving Millennium Goal 3, promoting gender equality and empowering women, he said, noting that school enrolment for girls remained lower than for boys in much of the world and was the lowest among the most vulnerable groups. Finland had been recognized by the World Economic Forum to be among the most competitive economies in the world. In part, that was due to the gender equality that enabled men and women to play an effective part in the economy, he said, adding that women’s economic empowerment was crucial to development.
He regretted the scant progress in improving maternal health, which was a reminder of the status of women and girls in society. Recognition of sexual and reproductive health as human rights was central to promoting gender equality. Also, he said, women’s perspectives should be represented at all high-level debates as women had a crucial role in promoting all aspects of sustainable development. Further, he stressed the importance of women’s role in conflict prevention, mediation, peace negotiations, peacekeeping and peacebuilding and reconstruction, noting implementation of Finland’s National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Noting that women were key actors working for human rights, he said that violence against women was an alarming global problem that occurred across cultures and classes and that was also directed against women human rights advocates, who deserved special support. Finland had worked for a comprehensive regional arrangement and was among the first countries to sign the Council of Europe’s European Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.
YOUSSOUFOU BAMBA (C ôte d’Ivoire), saluting the recent award of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to three women, stressed that despite that joyous recognition, women remained vulnerable owing to the negligence and discrimination they suffered at the hands of their societies. It was also clear that situations of armed conflict exacerbated the existing inequalities between men and women. Outlining recent steps taken by the Ivoirian Government, he said a complementary report to its second and third period report to the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Committee had been drafted to reflect changes since the post-electoral crisis. The Government had also ratified, in September 2011, the Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which concerns the Rights of Women in Africa. Draft revisions to the family code and the penal code had been made, while decrees on a quota for women in elections were being drafted.
He noted that a national committee for combating violence against women had established partnerships with the country’s police forces. A pilot project had been initiated to support victims of such violence, by offering them legal assistance. To address female genital mutilation, the State had decided to move towards systemic repression and 454 anti-female genital mutilation committees had been established by the non-governmental organization partners of the Ministry of the Family, Women and Children. Four women had been named to the Commission for National Dialogue, Truth and Reconciliation. In other areas, efforts were being made to increase the school enrolment of girls. Nonetheless, the challenges in advancing women’s causes were vast and the resources limited. The support of the international community was thus, critical.
NELI SHIOLASHVILI ( Georgia) stressed the important role of UN-Women and expressed her country’s support to all initiatives undertaken by the entity. Georgia would also submit its next periodic report on the implementation of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention in a timely manner, as it considered gender equality and empowerment of women a national priority. Education and awareness-raising were among the priorities of Georgia’s action plan for gender equity, being implemented from 2011 to 2013, which aimed to conduct periodic surveys and regular media campaigns. The plan also made gender analysis of budgeting at every level a priority, since it was a major tool for social integrity. Gender aspects were being considered in healthcare and social security as well, with particular attention on the rural population.
The plan also focused on reproductive care in rural doctors’ retraining, she said. Those ongoing reforms had a positive impact on women’s social and political conditions in Georgia — there were more women cabinet ministers than ever before, and women occupied vice-ministerial positions in every ministry but certainly a lot remained to be done in that direction. Georgia also spared no effort in providing over 400,000 internally displaced persons, most of them women and girls, with decent living conditions. “Gross, massive and systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms still occur in both regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. Unfortunately, human rights watchdogs and international missions are banned from monitoring the humanitarian and human rights situation in the occupied territories, thus leaving these regions off the United Nations radars,” he said.
RISHFA RASHEED ( Maldives) said her country had developed a culture of education for girls and boys alike, instilling a desire and respect for education among all socio-economic groups. This had translated into high levels of women in education, university-level programmes. Yet, the social and economic power structure had strengthened gender inequality and women were still prevented from being equal partners in the country’s three major economic sectors — namely, tourism, fisheries and construction. The Government was also concerned with the rapid rise of fundamental interpretations of the Islamic faith, which had resulted in a sharp decline in women engaging in many social issues, including education and workplace rights. The Government strongly believed that Islam was a faith that gave the utmost respect, equality and security to women, and it would work to reverse the fundamentalist trend.
Outlining Government efforts to further the advancement of women, she said all agencies were required to analyse the gender impact of national initiatives. Temporary special measures aimed at the economic empowerment of women were ongoing. The new, landmark Domestic Violence Bill had addressed many issues that had traditionally been marked as taboo. While the Government agreed that a holistic approach was needed to overcome discrimination against women, prevention and protection required universal adherence from Member States. Indeed, that was necessary to address the structural and systematic deficiencies faced by women all over the world.
MILORAD ŠĆEPANOVIĆ ( Montenegro) said his country was undertaking activities on the political empowerment of women, their participation in political and public life, and greater representation in decision-making processes. Its recent electoral law for example, obliges electoral lists to be at least 30 per cent women. In cooperation with the European Commission and the United Nations Development Programme, his Government would implement a programme of gender equality over the next three years that focused on women’s political participation, the economic empowerment of women and domestic violence. Further, cooperation between national and local mechanisms for gender equality had intensified, he said.
In July this year, Montenegro adopted its law on domestic violence, he said. The process for creation of the commission for coordination, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the strategy to improve the protection of women was currently ongoing. The country also paid greater attention to improvement of the status of marginalized women and vulnerable groups, such as rural women, the elderly, unemployed, and women with disabilities. The new action plan for achieving gender equality in Montenegro for 2013-2017 would give more attention to economic empowerment of the groups.
PALITHA T.B. KOHONA ( Sri Lanka) said his country had, over the past six decades, meaningfully integrated women as equal partners in shaping economic, political and social life. The Government recognized that civil and political rights were interlinked with social, cultural and economic rights and that those rights reinforced each other. The Millennium Development Goals had been integrating into the national development agenda, and Sri Lanka was on track to reach most indicators. In its post-conflict phase, the State had invested in an ambitious development programme in former conflict areas focusing on infrastructure and livelihood development. Special Women’s Protection Units had been set up in the camps for internally displaced persons and bilateral assistance had been obtained to initiate a self-employment programme for war widows in Batticaloa.
In other areas, he said the State had taken significant measure to protect women against domestic violence, including by creating gender sensitive laws and setting up institutional mechanisms. The National Plan for the Protection of Human Rights contained a strong focus on violence against women, women and the criminal justice system, female migrant workers and trafficking in women and children. Training programmes for law enforcement officials had been conducted. Policy-makers continued to be mindful that new laws would have no impact without capacity-building and systems and structures to support implementation. The Government was both conscious and circumspect that certain concerns in the area of women’s rights needed to be approached with sensitivity and in a manner that would be accepted by all communities. To that end, it had been consistent in engaging civil society activists, community leaders, and local and international experts to guide Government policy to address concerns in reforming its personal laws.
CHARLOTTE MALENGA OMOY (Democratic Republic of Congo), aligning with statements of the Southern African Development community (SADC), the African Group, and the Group of 77 and China, said the recent report by the Special Rapporteur on violence against women referred to the human rights situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo in March 2011 and recommended a special procedure mandate that followed up on the plan of action. But, her delegation would like to draw attention to the Committee that the question of human rights in the Democratic Republic of Congo was no longer within its remit. The country, however, remained profoundly committed to upholding the rights of women.
Sexual violence against women and girls in the east of the country was a disgraceful, serious crime that threatened international peace and security. Her country, however, would like to recall that sexual violence appeared there in 1994, as a result of the international community’s request that the Democratic Republic of Congo open a humanitarian corridor there to save human lives, without taking precautions to protect local populations. The short, medium and long term effects of that situation had driven the complicity between foreign armed groups and certain national groups, as they systematically violated human rights and raped women there. The country had implemented a zero tolerance policy against those rapes, establishing travelling courts to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of the alleged crimes. The recent conviction of nine soldiers for crimes against humanity for the mass rape of 40 women and girls showed the country’s commitment to eradicating that scourge.
GRÉTA GUNNARSDÓTTIR (Iceland) said the three Nobel Peace Prize winners had shown extraordinary courage and determination in their fight for peace and their fellow countrymen and women could be proud not only of their contributions, but for the example they had set for all peoples. She particularly encouraged the Government of Yemen to recognize the honour granted the Yemeni people with the award to Tawakkul Karman and allow her supporters to exercise their freedom of expression and their right of peaceful assembly without fear of violence. Highlighting Security Council resolution 1325 (2000), she stressed that the participation of women was an important perquisite for sustainable peace. Moreover, there was no democracy without women, and women everywhere should be part of the political process, as candidates and voters. In that regard, she welcomed the part played by women in the Arab spring and strongly encouraged the Secretary-General and his representatives, as well as all others involved in the process of bringing stability to Libya, to ensure that resolution 1325 was fully implemented in their work.
Underlining the importance of the full implementation and universal ratification of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, she called on all States that had not yet done so to ratify or accede to that international instrument as soon as possible. She also called on those States that had made reservations that were incompatible with the treaty’s purpose and objectives to immediately withdraw them. Finally, she reaffirmed her country’s commitment to UN-Women and voiced full support for the vision and priorities set out in its Strategic Plan.
PHAM BINH ANH (Viet Nam), aligning with statements by the Group of 77 and China as well as the Association of South-East Asian Nations, said, despite progress in women’s rights, it had been uneven and fragile. “It’s not uncommon to see their employment still limited to low-paying jobs, with long working hours, and many of them continuing to fall victim to violence, or under-education, and other serious injustices,” he said. But, studies showed that, for every 1 per cent increase in the proportion of women with secondary education, a country’s annual per-capita income growth rate increased by about 0.3 per cent. “Women’s freedom and economic viability, thus, are pivotal to our collective well-being,” he said.
Since gender mainstreaming was one of the most effective measures for attaining gender equality, there was a huge imperative to enact such measures in policies and programmes at all levels, he said. Implementing laws for the advancement of women had resulted in significant progress in promoting gender equality and improving the status of women in Viet Nam. With better access to education and healthcare, a growing number of women were also actively engaged in managerial responsibilities. There was still a gap between policy and law, on the one hand, and their implementation, on the other. But, Viet Nam was strongly committed to the cause of gender equality and the advancement of women and was ready to do its utmost with all agencies and the international community, to bring about what was best for women.
MARINA IVANOVIC ( Serbia) noted that her country had made a humble financial contribution to the core UN-Women budget last year and would consider yearly contributions in the future. Serbia had also expressed its interest in becoming a member of that agency’s executive board. Serbia was committed to the full and effective implementation of the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention, and its combined second and third periodic report would be considered by the Committee monitoring that treaty next year. She noted that Serbia had developed a solid, strategic, legislative and institutional framework for promoting gender equality and the advancement of women, including a national strategy for the prevention and suppression of domestic violence last year. Gender equality mechanisms had also been set up at national, provincial and local levels. A national action plan for implementing Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) had also been adopted.
Continuing, she said the Serbian Government recognized that the need to improve the positions and protection of the human rights of vulnerable groups of women, such as refugees, internally displaced women, Roma women and girls, women with disabilities and rural women. Serbia was also committed to contributing to the advancement and empowerment of women worldwide. In that context, she stressed that information and communications technologies provided powerful empowerment tools for all, particularly those in developing countries. But, by and large, the information and communications technology sector continued to be dominated by men, and Serbia had initiated, with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a “Global Network of Women Decision-makers in Information and Communications Technologies”. Launched last February, the network aimed to narrow the digital divide between men and women.
SOFIA BORGES (Timor-Leste), aligning with the statement by the Group of 77 and China, said gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls was a priority for her country. She was proud to highlight that women made up 29 per cent of parliament, the highest in the region, and it planned to surpass that figure by setting a goal of 35 per cent women by 2015. The newly adopted electoral law stated one in three candidates nominated by a political party must be a women, while at local levels, leadership training for female candidates was expected to increase the levels of women on village councils.
As a young country, Timor-Leste was committed to building strong justice institutions that promoted equality at all levels of society, she said. This past year the first woman judge was appointed to its Court of Appeals. Prevention of violence and discrimination was a very serious concern, and work was being done to address unreported crimes of gender-based violence. Awareness campaigns were being conducted in approximately ten villages per month to combat violence against women, while four women’s centres had opened to provide shelter and social services to women and children, with plans to open similar centres in other areas.
LUKE DAUNIVALU ( Fiji) said women’s causes globally faced both opportunities and challenges and an enormous amount of work remained to be done to ensure that women were afforded the rights they were due. Collaborative efforts at all levels were needed, and Fiji not only acknowledged the good work that UN-Women had been carrying out during its first year, but endorsed its priority work areas. The entity’s presence in the Pacific through its regional Fiji-based office was essential to delivering on those priority areas among the Pacific small island developing States, and his Government called for the office’s strengthening.
He went on to say that the Government had taken steps to align domestic laws with the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention. Those efforts had brought about welcome change, including greater participation by women in local decision-making bodies; increased enrolment of women and girls in tertiary education; gender mainstreaming within the Government system; and increased welfare assistance provisions to the marginalized. The domestic violence law adopted last year was being implemented. The State further recognized that women’s access to, and participation in, education and training, and equal access to full employment, would ensure their empowerment and advancement. Economic reforms had encouraged women’s equal access to the labour market and better and fairer employment practices, including a national policy on sexual harassment and the implementation of a 30 per cent target for women in all Government-appointed boards and committees.
SAVIOUR F. BORG ( Malta) said his Government was working to improve gender equality and enhance women’s participation in society, using its National Commission for the Promotion of Equity to work with stakeholders towards gender mainstreaming. In recent years, the female employment rate had increased by 6 per cent, while the rate of female graduates in Malta had also increased. Advancement of women was a multifaceted issue; particular attention had to be given to the situation of older women, who were, unfortunately, often marginalized and forgotten. “Gender based roles in society, high rates of unemployment, deficiencies in health systems and limited education opportunities are factors that negatively affect them,” he said.
Since that vulnerable group often experienced inequalities that were not always specifically addressed by resolutions or reports, he welcomed consideration given to the situation of older women by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Promotion and protection of the well-being of older women was one area where the International Institute on Ageing, which Malta had hosted for the last 23 years, had played a very active role.
ANA HERNANDO (Philippines), aligning with the Group of 77 and China, and the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), stressed that gender equality was no longer just a women’s issue, but a human rights and development issue. This year provided an opportunity to focus on the pressing concerns faced by rural women, older women and women migrant workers, whose empowerment was integral to the progress of every society. Rural women continued to be economically and socially disadvantaged, because of their lack of access to economic resources and opportunities, their exclusions from planning and decision-making processes, and their disproportionate burden of unpaid work. The economic empowerment of rural women must be systematically integrated into national development plans. Key gaps persisted in implementing global normative and policy frameworks for protecting women migrant workers against discrimination, violence and violations of their rights. Targeted measures to specifically address discrimination and violence against women migrant workers were lacking. “This is unacceptable,” she stressed.
Turning to domestic efforts to promote women’s empowerment and gender equality, she said Republic Act 9710, known as the “Magna Carta of Women,” served as the country’s legal framework for protecting women against discrimination, exploitation, unsafe working conditions and human trafficking. It focused in particular, on the right of women in marginalized sectors, such as small farmers and rural workers, informal sector workers and the urban poor, indigenous and disabled women and older women. The law ensured their right to food security, affordable and secure housing, employment and the recognition and preservation of their cultural identity. It mandated that local government units establish a Violence against Women Desk to address domestic and other abuse. It also provided for affirmative action to accelerate and ensure women’s equitable participation and representation in the civil service, development councils, political parties and the private sector, among others.
SIDATI OULD CHEIKH ( Mauritania) said his country had established a national strategy to foster gender equality through a series of legal measures pursuant to the Women’s Anti-Discrimination Convention. It had also incorporated the gender dimension in implementing national policies. A ministry for women’s affairs had been created, while parallel structures — such as a network of women ministers — had been set up. Steps were being taken to address violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation. To that end, the Government had implemented a programme to eradicate female genitalia mutilation that included a publicity campaign describing the practice as counter to Islam. Other measures sought to enhance women’s economic empowerment and raise school-enrolment rates among girls.
Providing greater access to jobs by women in both urban and rural areas was part of the Government’s focus on their economic empowerment, he said. Among other things, the literacy rate among women aged 15 to 24 years had increased by more than 20 per cent in the last 10 years. Meanwhile, more and more women were involved in decision-making processes and 20 per cent of the Government’s ranks were women. Women also held 33 per cent of the seats in the country’s municipal councils. In other areas, efforts to promote the political role of women had led to wider training of female parliamentarians, while other State strategies sought to eliminate gender stereotypes.
EYLAF RAZOUQI ( Kuwait) said her country had worked to give complete form to the principles of equality and justice. In Kuwait, there was no discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, language or religion either. A woman was a citizen, equal with her male peers. Many women in Kuwait ran their home affairs, or community affairs, and had since the early 1960s been forging ahead in higher education to improve their economic opportunities. Women also helped volunteer during the brutal Iragi occupation, and afterwards had been given a larger space in Kuwaiti society to help rebuild the homeland they had helped to defend.
Given the floor by the Chair on a point of order, Iraq’s representative said his delegation had reservations on reference to the brutal Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. That occupation was by the Saddam regime, the victims of which were Kuwait as well as Iraq, he said.
Following that, the Chair clarified that the intervention by the Iraqi delegation was not a point of order, but a right of reply, which were delivered at the end of the day.
Continuing with her statement, Ms. Razouqi said women had higher positions throughout the country and, with the right to vote, they had run for posts in the last election. Kuwait’s State and civil society also encouraged women through cultural and media programmes, while a new housing law for women gave those who were divorced, or widows, housing loans or lower rents. She stressed that Kuwait would continue to support all United Nations operations pertaining to women’s issues, and urged the international community continue to strengthen efforts for women.
In the afternoon, the Committee moved to its consideration of the promotion and protection of the rights of children.
Statement by Executive Director of UNICEF
Presenting the Secretary-General’s reports on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the girl child and follow-up to the General Assembly’s special session on children, ANTHONY LAKE, Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the reports were on critical issues affecting the lives of millions of children. The status of the Convention focused on children with disabilities, and was drafted together with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report on the girl child focused especially on the serious impact of early and forced marriage. And the follow up to the special session focused on commitments to build a world fit for all children.
The reports covered different subjects on a common theme, he said. That is, the undeniable fact that “too many children are being left behind, deprived of their right to thrive and grow simply because they were born female, or have a disability or live in one of the world’s poorest and most isolated places.”
Inviting delegates to consider the lives of the children covered in the reports, he said the needs and potential of children with disabilities were ignored far too often. Of the 72 million children out of school today, as many as a third had a disability. They were not only vulnerable to discrimination, many were subject to outright segregation from society. Millions were unnecessarily living in institutions, while millions more were hidden away at home. They suffered neglect, abuse and violence but protection systems and monitoring mechanisms rarely addressed the special challenges they faced.
At the same time, he said girls were often barred from the classroom and bound by social norms that violated their rights, endangered their health and trampled their dreams. While educated girls were more likely to earn a fair wage as adults, protect themselves against HIV, and have healthier children — that they then sent to school — more than half the of the children out of school today were girls. Uneducated girls were far more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation and also more likely to be forced into marriage before the onset of adulthood. If trends held, 100 million girls would be married as children over the next decade, making them far more vulnerable to the profound health risks of early pregnancy and childbirth.
Or, consider the life of any child growing up in a poor community in a remote place, where the nearest clinic is a two-day walk or simply unaffordable, where the risk of dying before the age of five was far too high and the chance of growing into a productive adult far too low, he said.
He stressed that the future should hold a great deal more for these children and their societies, but that would only be possible if Governments, international organizations, civil societies and communities put the hardest to reach children at the centre of national plans, policies and programmes. Most development experts had long believed that it was simply too expensive to focus on those forgotten children, but that was no longer true. Advances in vaccines, technologies and micro-nutrients had improved the ability to reach them and it was not only the right thing, but the smart thing to do because it was more effective — and more cost-effective.
Pointing to a UNICEF study released last year, he said in low-income, high-mortality countries, every additional dollar invested in reaching the most vulnerable children could avert up to 60 per cent more child deaths than the current approach. Moreover, investing in the social sector was vital to the long-term growth and future strength of societies.
Saying “we must do more,” he underscored the need to better identify children with disabilities, mapping the areas of greatest need and looking beyond national averages that concealed pockets of deprivation and widening disparities. Similarly, protecting girls took more than programmes and services, but required shifts in traditional practices and changes in behaviour. More investment was needed in community-based ways to overcome cultural barriers and norms that excluded and even endangered girls.
“We must succeed,” he argued. “For at stake are the lives and futures of the children described in these reports and so many more — and we must take steps now to protect them.” For children with disabilities, it meant achieving full ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. For girls, “it most urgently means banning the practice of forced marriage and child marriage once and for all.” And for the most vulnerable — and those most in danger of violence, abuse and exploitation — it meant achieving universal ratification of the Optional Protocols on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Question and Answer Session
The representative of the Republic of Korea, stressing that discrimination against children with disabilities constituted a “hidden emergency,” requested further details on the discrimination facing girls with disabilities.
Mexico’s delegate noted the various challenges facing children around the world, including cyber-bullying, forced work, trafficking and poverty, among many others, and stressed the need for further mainstreaming of the issues surrounding the neglect and discrimination of children.
Peru’s representative stressed that the approach taken by UNICEF was not only politically necessary and correct, it was a matter of moral urgency, and asked for more details on the work of UNICEF, particularly in terms of its “equity approach.”
The representative of the United States said female children were more vulnerable to the effects of poverty. The girl child was also at risk of violence and abuse, and she asked what practical steps could be taken, including through community based initiatives, to protect girls.
Costa Rica’s representatives asked about the role of the State in care-giving for girls and boys. Also, how did violent crime impact early childhood?
Zimbabwe’s delegate asked what UNICEF was doing to enhance data capture covering all regions in any particular country and how Member States could help improve such efforts given limited resources.
Responding, Mr. LAKE stressed that issues of girls and children with disabilities — and most especially girls with disabilities — must be considered at two levels. First with one’s heart, and, second, with one’s head. When a girl’s rights were abused, it was not only a loss to her and her family, but also her society. When a girl with a disability was excluded from the classroom, the society gained one more uneducated citizen.
He said the problem of cyber-bullying was a growing issue and more attention must be paid to it. One day, the issue of gender and the many questions regarding the challenges facing girls would be mainstreamed into general discussions of health and education. That would, he stressed, be a good day because the questions of girls accessing education and health services would be answered.
He said UNICEF did not have a monopoly on equity, noting that the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), under the leadership of Helen Clark, was emphasizing that principle in its reports.
He agreed that the challenges facing girls and children with disabilities, as well as the poorest children, were intimately related to each other. What happened in education impacted what happened in health and vice versa. What this meant was that integrated approaches were needed to address the challenges facing children. He said he could go on and on about practical steps being taken in this regard in local communities. Cash transfers were being used to surmount the obstacles posed by school fees. In cases in which a girl did not want to go school because she faced bullying, girls and boys were counselled on ending bullying. In other cases, schools were being equipped with separate sanitation facilities.
Underlining the problems posed by violent crime, he said that in some areas of Latin America, more children had been killed by violence than had been saved by progress reducing the under-5 child mortality rate.
He agreed that better data was needed. If a programme was not effectively monitored, it could not be effectively managed. Currently, it took up to a year and a half or even two years to do surveys on the final effects on children’s lives. To address that delay, UNICEF was undertaking a study on how to overcome bottlenecks.
Statement by Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict
RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said a number of important successes had been achieved over the last year. Among the highlights, she said the United Nations had supported reintegration of over 11,000 children associated with armed forces and armed groups, and noted the passing of Security Council resolution 1998 in July 2011, which made attacks on schools and hospitals a trigger for listing parties in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict.
However the past year had also witnessed developments of concern, she said, noting an alarming trend of children used as instruments of violence, including as unwitting suicide bombers. She was equally concerned by deaths or injury to children by aerial bombardment and new technologies of war, and urged protective measures to ensure zero child casualties in warfare. But, she said, ending violations against children during conflict had to come from a thorough understanding of the circumstances that gave rise to them, as well as the structural causes of conflict, such as poverty, discrimination and environmental degradation.
“Often with the encouragement of parents and the incitement of armed actors, children became combatants in the hope that they will be well fed, housed and protected. In order to prevent recruitment, we must therefore address issues of poverty through targeted development programmes, the provision of education and youth employment schemes, and livelihood training — all that while holding commanders who commit these crimes accountable for their actions,” she said. Other factors to take into account included perceptions of discrimination, social injustice or economic disparity, and also the fact that children could come to accept war as the norm, with military commanders as their heroes and role models.
This year the Special Rapporteur sought to highlight the issue of children and justice in armed conflict or post conflict situations, particularly when they were treated as perpetrators, rather than victims. States were increasingly arresting and detaining children associated with armed groups, sometimes keeping them in conditions which did not meet minimum standards set in various legal instruments, risking ill-treatment and torture. While prosecuting them for acts committed while associated with an armed group, national courts and military tribunals did not generally apply juvenile standards.
“Given the forced nature of their association with armed groups, and considering their age, children should be treated primarily as victims, not as perpetrators. Emphasis should be placed on prosecuting adult recruiters and commanders based on the concept of command responsibility,” she said. Alternatives that took the best interest of the child into consideration and promoted reintegration into the child’s community, such as restorative justice measures, truth-telling, traditional healing ceremonies and reintegration programmes, would give children, who through no fault of their own had to become combatants, a new chance for a better life.
Question and Answer Session
The representative of the United States asked what were the most effective mechanisms to re-integrate children back into society after being involved in armed forces or armed groups.
Switzerland’s delegate asked how the Organization could encourage more complementary work between States and national and international non-governmental organizations to deal with the effects of armed conflict on children.
The European Union’s representative asked the Special Representative to elaborate how her office concretely collaborated with United Nations bodies and mechanisms.
Benin’s delegate asked for further clarifications on coordination between the Special Rapporteur’s mandate and other Organization entities; he also asked what she intended to do to counter the trend of child soldiers being treated as criminals.
The representative of Austria asked what were the challenges in diverting former child soldiers away from judicial systems, and could the Organization act to surmount those challenges.
Responding, Ms COOMARASWAMY said the Paris Principles, by child protection partners, outlined very clearly how to reintegrate a child into society after it had been involved in armed conflict. The Principles highlighted the need to take the child back to his or her family, and then work with family and community to re-integrate; treating the child in an isolated manner often lead to re-recruitment into armed groups. Those were methods UNICEF and other agencies had applied in their reintegration efforts, but more resources were needed to work with families and communities. More imaginative reintegration programmes that provided better employment and schooling also needed to be created; donors provided six months funding for each child being re-integrated, but that was just not enough.
On the subject of coordination with other United Nations bodies, she said she thought it worked quite well. All Organization agencies working with children and conflict were part of the task force headed by her, and helped to prepare the report to the Security Council. Task forces working in conflict areas collected data and reported it back to headquarters, forming the basis of reports of the Secretary-General. The Special Rapporteur also worked closely with the Committee on Rights of the Child, providing inputs for the Universal Periodic Review, had dialogue with the General Assembly and Human Rights Council, and also met with a non-governmental organization advisory council to discuss issues of mutual concern.
Addressing questions on justice and children, she said it was an area of grave concern — in new, different types of theatres of war, large numbers of children were being detained and prosecuted. The Special Court in Sierra Leone had already ruled that all children under 18 should not be prosecuted, but rather sent to truth and reconciliation commissions for rehabilitation. She was working on a paper on those issues, and urged States to join in a worldwide campaign to end the prosecution of children who had been forced to participate in armed conflict.
Benin asked a follow up question: since the Special Rapporteur had spoken of coordination collecting data, he asked how States contributed to collecting and processing data.
In response, Ms. COOMARASWAMY said data came primarily from country task forces. Her mandate had also started parallel steering committees with ministries in countries involved, in order to share that information at a country level before it came back to headquarters.
Statement by Special Representative on Violence against Children
Presenting her second report to the General Assembly, MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, underlined the common normative human rights foundation and strong determination to safeguard the rights of the child shared by her strategic United Nations partners. The goal of universal ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child by 2012 had become an important dimension of the Organization’s policy agenda. Currently, 150 States were party to the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. With such support, “we are making a difference,” she said.
The second year of her mandate had been crucial in consolidating support for implementing the recommendations of the United Nations Study on Violence against Children. Critical aspects of that process were the consolidation of partnerships, field missions to all regions, expert consultations on child-sensitive mechanisms, law reform and violence in schools, and the promotion of thematic reports to assist Member States in adopting better policies for children.
She said significant efforts had been made to raise awareness about the serious impact of violence on the enjoyment of children’s rights. Steps had been also been taken to mainstream child-rights concerns in the public debates and policy agendas of States. Among other milestones, she highlighted the debate in the Human Rights Council on the rights of children living and working in the streets and the General Comment on the right of the child to freedom from violence adopted in the Committee on the Rights of the Child. She was confident the General Assembly would soon adopt the third Optional Protocol on a communication procedure. Meanwhile a roundtable with regional organizations held yesterday left no doubt regarding the potential of regional collaboration.
Turning to her mandate and noting that “although you are all converted, we are still very much only a few,” she underlined her role as a global independent advocate, a bridge builder and a catalyst of action who promoted close collaboration with members to mainstream child protection. Progress had accelerated in reviewing legislation, establishing coordinating bodies and ministerial bodies. Data and research had been consolidated to understand the magnitude of the impact of violence on children and to prevent that violence in the first place.
Law reform constituted one critical area of change, she said, stressing that the number of countries with legislation prohibiting violence against children in all settings had doubled. In a number of countries, including the Philippines and Brazil, national parliaments were accelerating efforts for full prohibition, while in many others, important laws prohibited bullying, sexual abuse and exploitation, trafficking, and harmful traditional practices.
“Despite these encouraging developments, only 5 per cent of the children of the world are protected by legal protections in the law itself,” she said, calling for good initiatives to be scaled up. In that regard, she noted an Expert Consultation on law reform held last July, which had two particularly relevant conclusions. First, law reform was an indispensable building block of robust national child protection system and must be approached as an ongoing process. Second, to protect children from violence, legislation needed to be comprehensive and wide-ranging and convey a clear and unequivocal message of the imperative of safeguarding children from violence. “The clear message and the detailed legislative provisions must be brought together,” she stressed.
Sound information was also needed to make legislation more effective, she said, highlighting in particular a multi-sector task force set up in the United Republic of Tanzania which sought to learn from young people themselves how they experienced violence. It provided a frank picture of the incidence of physical, emotional and sexual violence and the Tanzanian Government released the findings alongside a policy agenda aimed at addressing them.
She said such initiatives showed that when there was strong political will and decisive resolve, “we can make a difference, we can accelerate progress and we can give children the message they are waiting for: they are not alone.” Too often children did not have mechanisms to seek advice and support, and that pattern must change.
Pointing to a global survey she was currently conducting on violence against children, she said it would give a sense of where the world community stood. She planned to incorporate the views and perspectives of young people. “Without them, we will never capture the hidden face of violence that prevails in our societies,” she said, promising that the survey’s outcomes would be presented in a year to map progress and shape a vision for the future beyond 2012.
Question and Answer Session
Australia’s representative said the best way to protect children was to prevent abuse and neglect in the first place. She noted the Special Rapporteur’s focus on law reform and asked how States could more effectively deal with allegations of violence in family law matters, such as when parents had separated.
Jordan’s delegate, noting the Special Rapporteur’s description of her job as “the global defender of children against violence,” asked what resources were available to her.
The representative of the United States asked what kind of response the website that was mentioned in the Special Rapporteur’s report had garnered, especially from children. She requested further details about the high-level meetings mentioned in her report.
Brazil’s representative said it was encouraging that the issue of law reform was gaining momentum, including with respect to corporal punishment. Expressing her country’s strong support for the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations for counselling mechanisms for children, she noted that Brazil had instigated a national help line in 2003. She also underlined the need for schools to be free of violence.
The representative of the European Union asked the Special Rapporteur about coordination with other mandates and how she assessed that cooperation. She also asked how progress on regional cooperation could be supported; how the special Rapporteur’s mandate could be supported by Member States; and what could be done to protect and eliminate violence against children with disabilities.
Sweden’s delegate said her country was following the Special Rapporteur’s dialogue with the Human Rights Council closely and she encouraged delegations to follow developments in Ms. SANTOS PAIS’s newsletter. She wondered what the prospects were for accelerating law reform and what Member States could do in that regard. She asked how the international community was engaging children in the global work to curb violence, and if there groups of children with whom such engagement seemed particularly important.
Norway’s representative asked what the main obstacles were to ending impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence against children. Also, how did the Special Rapporteur collaborate and cooperate with other special mandate holders?
The representative of Costa Rica asked about the role of human rights education in preventing violence against children.
Algeria’s delegate asked what the Special Rapporteur had uncovered about the root causes of this violence. Were there any data broken down by gender on the places where violence took place — for example in schools or within the family? What were her recommendations for eliminating violence against children resulting from information technologies?
The representative of Austria asked about the expected outcomes of the Expert Consultation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Also, could she provide further details on the full day discussion on juvenile justice to be held during the nineteenth session of the Human Rights Council?
Ms. SANTOS PIAS said her work with regional organizations was critical to fulfilling her mandate, since it was difficult to interact directly with so many Member States. It was also instrumental in terms of sharing practices and renewing the commitment to preventing violence against children. She noted that there were already strong regional mechanisms to prevent violence against children, pointing in particular to the work of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) in that regard. A number of important subregional meetings were also being held, she said.
On family law, she underscored the risk to children caught in the middle of a dispute, stressing that those children often suffered from both physical domestic violence and emotional abuse. She said it was important to work with the family as a whole. While it was often felt that withdrawing the child provided protection, sometimes it was the child who should stay and the one committing the violence who should go.
She said that, when her mandate was established in 2007, the General Assembly decided to fund the mandate from voluntary contributions. That meant that resources were “incredibly limited”. Nevertheless, the energy of her team was not limited by its lack of resources. “We cannot expect to make a change in the world if we do not join hands with UNICEF,” she said, highlighting the respect afforded the agency’s presence throughout the world. The same was true with respect to UN-Women and her fellow special rapporteurs, but, still, dramatic reinforcement of resources was needed.
“Without a legal foundation, there was no way to transmit to society what was right and wrong regarding violence against children,” she continued, suggesting that further collaboration was needed to accelerate progress. To that end, she noted the dialogue in Brazil’s parliament and among its parliamentarians, as well as discussions in Uruguay and Sweden. Such sharing meant that policy makers didn’t have to guess about the way forward, she said, adding that she was preparing a thematic report on good practices to be presented in early 2012.
Turning to the question on ending impunity, she said sexual violence was incredibly pervasive. For example, it took place in schools, as well as on the way to school. Boys were also victims. The first step to ending impunity was ratifying the Optional Protocol, which provided guidance to States in terms of their national legislation and cross-border cooperation. It was also critical to make cases of successful prosecution better known so that children no longer felt they had to keep silent. All countries should also establish child-sensitive counselling, reporting and monitoring mechanisms.
It was also important to recognize that while data was lacking and much more should be learned, what was known was sufficient, she said. For example, over 50 per cent of children in Tanzania suffered some kind of violence at schools. Countries must strengthen their training for data capture. An expert consultation on that issue would be held next year, she said.
Thanking the European Union for its questions, she said her mandate gave her important guidance, including on cooperation with the rest of the United Nations system. Among other things, she chaired an inter-agency working group on violence against children in which all child-related agencies participated. But, while that coordination was important, work on the ground was the most essential.
She said it important to understand the causes of violence in each setting and further details were needed in that regard. It was critical to recognize that violence did not discriminate. While an understanding of the different settings for violence was important, it was not sufficient. In addition, there was very little data on violence against children with disabilities, but it was already clear that they were at heightened risk, including of sexual violence. Among other things, families must be supported and provided with services.
Concluding, she said she would be organizing, together with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the High Commissioner, an expert consultation ahead of the Human Rights Council debate on juvenile justice in 2012.
Statement by Chair of Child Rights Committee
JEAN ZERMATTEN, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said there was still a considerable backlog of reports pending review. That was partly due to the two Optional Protocols, which required States parties to submit separate initial reports and later integrate future reports in their regular reports. With additional resources, the Committee had been able to meet in double chambers to cap the backlog last year of approximately 80 reports. But now that the double chambers had ended, the backlog had resumed its upward trend and today stood at 103 reports, including 43 initial reports under the two Optional Protocols, he said.
To address the backlog and encourage timely reporting that ensured appropriate monitoring of the Convention and its Optional Protocols, he asked the General Assembly to approve appropriate financial support so the Committee could work in two chambers, beginning with its pre-sessional working group meetings due to take place in 2012, and at one session to be held in 2013.
On the issue of ratification and reporting, he said three States kept the Convention on the Rights of the Child from achieving universal access — Somalia, the United States and South Sudan — and he called on them to ratify, as soon as possible. But, the Committee also warmly welcomed the Human Rights Council’s adoption of a third Optional Protocol to the Convention on 17 June 2011, which would give the Committee the competence to receive and examine individual complaints from children, as well as the possibility of organizing country visits in case of systematic and recurrent violations of children’s rights. He expressed hope that the Protocol, after being adopted by the General Assembly, would rapidly receive the 20 ratifications needed to enter into force.
He went on to give an update of the Committee’s work over the past year. It had adopted General Comment number 13 on the right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence, which gave guidance to States on eliminating violence through comprehensive child rights-based caregiving and protection measures. The Committee also held a day of general discussion on the rights of children of incarcerated parents, participated and made proposals in several consultations, and worked to ensure its methods were efficient and effective. “But it is also clear that not all measures that are leading to increased efficiency will necessarily reduce costs. On the contrary, to make our work most usable and visible at the national level where implementation by State parties is to take place, we may have to invest more: more analysis, research, time as well as possibly the use of new technologies,” he said.
Statement by Special Rapporteur on Sale of Children
Taking the floor, NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, the Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, presented her report to the Committee. She focused on the report’s thematic section, which described key guidelines to combat those crimes at the national, regional and international levels, and which had been drafted in consultation with State representatives, national human rights institutions and other diverse actors, including children themselves. Due to the transnational nature of the crimes of child sale and sexual exploitation — which made them very difficult to combat — it was critical to move from sectoral actions to an integral approach that was “both reactive and proactive”, and that worked at the local, national and international levels. With everyone participating, she said, “we will be able to set up real systems” to protect children. Laws, monitoring and evaluation, and follow-up systems, as well as data collection and analysis, were also needed at all levels.
A clearly defined and conceptual framework was critical, she continued. Clear and reliable data — which, due to widespread fear and stigma, were not always currently available — was also needed, as was a centralized data system. “These crimes cut across borders,” she warned, noting that laws and regulations, therefore, needed to be harmonized across transnational boundaries. Punishments for the crimes of child sale, prostitution and pornography must be more severe. Meanwhile, child victims themselves should never be treated as perpetrators. In that vein, she stressed, victims needed to be sure that they would be protected, with clear protection procedures implemented throughout the prosecution process.
Regarding preventive measures, she said that risk factors of the phenomena being discussed demanded that the public be urgently made aware of the problem. Children, families and communities must all be involved, and children in particular needed to know how and where to get help. “Children are not just victims”, she stressed, and should be actively integrated. Youth organizations should also be supported, in order to protect themselves and their peers.
Social responsibility was the key to preventing the sale and sexual exploitation of children, she continued. Codes of conduct should be widely adopted by actors, including the private sector, and financial arrangements around the sale and exploitation of children must be dismantled. Other prerequisites included effective cooperation among States, civil society, non-governmental organizations and other actors; strong political will, adequate resource allocation and mobilization on the part of States; and the integration of all players at the national level to review current laws and their implementation. Risk factors must be examined, national policies created and follow-up steps taken.
Finally, she said, cooperation for mutual judicial assistance was needed at the regional and international levels. Synergies establishing common frameworks were critical to combating the transnational phenomena of child sale and exploitation. The universal ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols was “absolutely critical” to adequately protect against the “horrifying phenomena” described in her report, she stressed. Such protection should be a priority for each and every State, she concluded, calling also for the definition of a framework for coordinated action by 2013.
Question and Answer Session
Morocco’s delegate asked on what level the Special Rapporteur coordinated with other United Nations agencies, and was there an effort to make coordination institution-wide. She also asked whether her work involved informal and formal protection mechanisms; when the role of traditional religious authorities came into play; was there social reluctance to mandate children’s rights; had consensus been reached with Member States to establish indicators on those dangers to children; and what were the first steps being taken to draw a world map of incidents.
Brazil’s delegate asked what were the best ways to tackle the root causes of the problem.
The representative of the European Union noted that to date there had been very few cases of prosecution, particularly in the area of child sex tourism, and asked what were the main impediments to such actions, and whether there were issues of good practice emerging in that area. Also, what were the best practices for awareness raising to curb cultural resistance to reporting those abuses and what could be done by States to make justice systems more child-friendly.
The delegate of the United States asked whether the Optional Protocol would be used to formulate domestic legal provisions in regard to defining child prostitution and pornography.
Norway’s delegate asked how the she linked with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to establish a review mechanism on transnational crime, and what could be done to ensure sex abusers did not move on to the next victim once the previous one had been rescued.
Responding, Ms. NAJAT said there needed to be a cross-cutting focus between United Nations agencies to make rational use of resources and more effective services. There was use of both formal and informal protection systems, but the question was not how they could be made efficient, but rather about integrating them into the wider system. A lot of focus on child protection had been seen as a “Western” focus, but that needed to be handed over to local mechanisms. Meanwhile, she said, mapping of incidents needed to be done on a national level. But on the subject of indicators, she did not think there were indicators to impose on everybody. Indicators had to show what was being done.
On the question from Brazil’s delegate, she said coherent and efficient policies were needed for effective and sustainable measures against the problem.
Responding to the question by the European Union’s representative, she said there was much hard work to be done to strengthen transnational networks. When it came to sex tourism and children, the problem of ex-territoriality enforcement was very important; if there was no information on predators and pornographic sites, it was very hard to fight that kind of traffic. Destinations had shifted — sex tourists change destinations when enforcement was toughened. Children feeling guilty were often reluctant to inform of crimes. So, they needed better information, in order to understand they were victims. As for child-friendly justice, it involved not just raising awareness of judges, but also mobilizing entire judicial systems.
On the question of coordination, she said that the problem could not be settled without a shared legal framework; some countries did not even have legislation against pornography, and had to change laws to include the protection of children and harsh penalties.
On cooperation with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, they had to exchange information to prevent overlaps in work, but they also worked with other agencies and non-governmental organizations.
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