Too Many Children Being Left Behind Due to Poverty, Malnutrition, ‘Unpardonable Discrimination’, UN Children’s Fund Head Tells Third Committee

17 October 2012
GA/SHC/4042

Too Many Children Being Left Behind Due to Poverty, Malnutrition, ‘Unpardonable Discrimination’, UN Children’s Fund Head Tells Third Committee

17 October 2012
General Assembly
GA/SHC/4042
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-seventh General Assembly

Third Committee

12th & 13th Meetings (AM & PM)

Too Many Children Being Left Behind Due to Poverty, Malnutrition, ‘Unpardonable

 

Discrimination’, UN Children’s Fund Head Tells Third Committee

 

Also Hears from United Nations Envoys on Violence against Children,

Children in Armed Conflict; Chair of Monitoring Body for Child Rights Convention

Around the world, too many children were being left behind, due to poverty, malnutrition and “unpardonable” discrimination, the head of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, urging States to reform their laws, improve health and education outcomes, and show the strong political commitment required to fully implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“All children, no matter where they live, deserve the opportunity to live full, healthy lives,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake, one of four senior United Nations officials who launched the Committee’s two-day discussion of efforts to promote and protect children’s rights.  In the 10 years since the General Assembly special session on children, the world had shown what could be achieved:  more children were surviving to age 5 than ever before, and the number of child deaths from hunger had fallen from 12 million in 1999 to 6.9 million in 2011, with all regions making gains.

But, lasting progress depended on equity, he said, stressing that least developed countries and marginalized populations bore the heaviest burdens of child deaths.  Across indigenous populations, there were low literacy rates, poor school performance and high drop-out rates.  All too easily, children fell prey to adults bent on violence and exploitation, such as sexual abuse, forced labour and recruitment into armed groups.  “This is more than an unconscionable human failure,” he said.  “It is a terrible waste of their human potential.”

Those children were not beyond reach, he said, calling for an end to all forms of discrimination against indigenous people through legislative reforms, ratification of the Convention and strong political will.  Indeed, there was much work to do.  But, if commitment ever flagged, inspiration could be drawn from the resolve of children surviving – even thriving - in unimaginable circumstances.  “Their resolve must be our resolve,” he said.

In her briefing, Leila Zerrougui, Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, said efforts to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers - a “vast and complex” topic – could be bolstered by enforcing applicable laws.  But, that was easier said than done in countries where the rule of law was a work in progress.  In such cases, the United Nations must support State efforts to prevent violations.  She also urged States to reduce the impact of explosive weapons on children, by ensuring that military operations upheld the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.

Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, weighed in on the importance of field missions to her mandate as an advocate and catalyst for change.  Her meetings with children had helped her recognize the hidden forms of abuse, injury and neglect, to understand risk factors and reflect on opportunities for change.  Without their involvement, “we may develop an ideal policy and yet, miss serious risks that could revictimize young people,” she said.  If efforts were not scaled up, there was a chance the children’s agenda would be diluted in the face of competing priorities.

Rounding out the presentations, Jean Zermatten, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said the Third Protocol to the Convention – which would allow the Committee to examine complaints by children and organize country visits – had been signed by 35 States and ratified by 2, Gabon and Thailand.  Ten ratifications were needed for it to enter into force.  Also, the 18-member expert body faced continued delays – possibly of up to three years - in considering State party reports.  Those delays could be cut down if delegates were able to work in two conference rooms, allowing them to consider eight additional reports.

Earlier today, delegates from 25 countries and a number of observer organizations took the floor to wrap up their debate on the advancement of women.  Many speakers drew a link between women’s participation in society and economic development.  Others pointed to domestic gains they had made by implementing national action plans to enhance women’s status, as well as revising existing legislation to criminalize violence against women.

On that point, a representative of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said the consequences of armed conflict for women could cause “incalculable” physical, emotional and psychological damage.  She called on States to ensure respect and full implementation of universally agreed rules enshrined in humanitarian law prohibiting rape and other forms of sexual violence. 

Also speaking today during the debate on the advancement of women were representatives of Nepal, Argentina, Bolivia, Gabon, Tajikistan, Viet Nam, Saudi Arabia, Monaco, Namibia, Cameroon, Azerbaijan, Haiti, Montenegro, Congo, Oman, Georgia, Serbia, Cape Verde, Eritrea, Malta, Bahrain, Togo, Niger, Swaziland and Timor-Lest.

Observers from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Sovereign Military Order of Malta and International Labour Office also spoke.

Representatives of Israel and Saudi Arabia spoke in exercise of right of reply.

Speaking in the discussion on the promotion and protection of children were the representatives of Malaysia (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and Chile (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States).

The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 18 October, to continue its discussion of the promotion and protection of children’s rights.  It was also expected to take action on a number of draft resolutions submitted by the Economic and Social Council.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its discussion on the advancement of women and begin its discussion on the rights of the child.

For that discussion, the Committee had before it the Report of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (document A/67/41), summarizing the work of the Committee from 25 May 2010 to 3 February 2012.  The Report says that as of 3 February 2012 there were 193 States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, making it the most widely ratified human rights instrument, with near-universal ratification.  The Convention is also the human rights instrument with the highest number of reservations, although several were withdrawn during the period under consideration of the Report.

The Committee considered at six sessions a total of 76 reports under the Convention and the first two Original Protocols.  It also issued general comment No. 13 on the right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence, which draws attention to the recommendations of the 2006 report of the independent expert for the United Nations study on violence against children (A/61/299) and calls on States parties to implement those recommendations without delay.

The Committee also started its work on drafting general comments on the Convention on the principle of the best interests of the child, the right to health, business and children’s rights, the right to rest and leisure and, with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, on harmful practices.  The Committee also participated in various consultations on strengthening the treaty body system.

Also before the Committee was the Secretary-General’s report on the Status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (document A/67/225), which says that as of 1 July 2012, 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 147 States, while the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had been ratified by 158 States.

The bulk of the report focuses on safeguarding the rights of indigenous children, highlighting issues such as respect for cultural identity, protection from discrimination, education, health and participation.  Outlining the way forward on the issue, the report says indigenous children can be put on the global agenda through the periodic review process, as well as consultations on the Millennium Development Goals framework beyond 2012 and the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.  It also calls for measures to promote a spirit of tolerance through multicultural education, guarantees that indigenous children and their families receive information on health issues, special actions to combat the disproportionately high level of malnutrition and stunting among indigenous children, while ensuring justice systems pursue practices that aim to rehabilitate rather than punish them.

The Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (document A/67/256), which covers the period from August 2011 to August 2012, provides an overview of progress in the children and armed conflict agenda, followed by an account of new developments.  It details progress made over the past year, including efforts to combat impunity and to end the recruitment and use of children, awareness-raising, partnership building and information collection.  It also highlights emerging issues of concern and opportunities for ensuring the protection of conflict-affected children, focusing on prevention of recruitment and use by armed forces and groups, further cooperation with regional organizations, and the challenge posed by explosive weapons.

Its final two sections describe areas of development taken to the mainstream children and armed conflict agenda within the United Nations system and present a set of recommendations on the protection of children affected by conflict for the General Assembly’s attention.  Among its recommendations, the report encourages international and national courts to use and build on the jurisprudence arising from the International Criminal Court judgment in the Lubanga case and be guided by the measures that the Court has put in place related to child protection and child participation in judicial proceedings.  The report also urges all armed actors to review the use of aerial attacks, including drones, and night raids so as to prevent civilian casualties.

Also before the Committee was the Annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (document A/67/230), which provides an overview of results in the area of protection of children from violence, identifying efforts required to sustain and scale up achievements.  Since the 2009 start of the Special Representative’s mandate to accelerate implementation of recommendations by the United Nations Study on Violence against Children (document A/61/299), highlights include 21 additional ratifications of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, regional cooperation frameworks, and strengthened strategic partnerships within and beyond the United Nations system.

The report says it will be important to counter risks associated with the use of new information and communications technologies and address emerging concerns about children’s exposure to armed violence and organized crime.  Future initiatives also need to be gender-sensitive, informed by children’s perspectives and experience, and tailored to children’s evolving stages of development, it says.  Investment in positive parenting and early childhood care and development programmes remains essential.  It is also imperative to empower young people with life skills and quality education to prevent their stigmatization and manipulation in violent incidents and criminal activities, the report says.

The Secretary-General’s note on child participation as a key element in preventing and combating the sale and sexual exploitation of children (document A/67/291) transmits the report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, Najat Maalla M’jid.  She analyses the role of child participation in preventing and combating the sale and sexual exploitation of children, and provides guidance on the lessons learned in working with children as partners.

In her recommendations, she stresses that child participation is critical to the development of any national strategy - based on child rights - designed to prevent the sale and sexual exploitation of children, and ensure their protection, recovery and reintegration.  Child participation must be considered a core and cross-cutting component of comprehensive and rights-based child protection systems.  She urges a “paradigm shift” away from perceiving children as passive recipients towards acknowledging and supporting them as active rights holders and citizens who are entitled to be heard and to have their views taken seriously.  She also recommends measures to be carried out at the national, regional and international levels.

Finally, the Committee had before it the Secretary-General’s report on follow-up to the special session of the General Assembly on children (document A/67/229), which details efforts toward implementing commitments contained in the special session’s outcome document, “A world fit for children” (S-27/2).  The report provides an overview of specific progress and outlines remaining challenges, as well as actions needed to achieve further progress, calling for Governments to scale-up responses and address barriers to achieving results for disadvantaged children and marginalized communities.

Global recession, broad inequalities and the challenge of urbanization and climate change are making implementation of “A world fit for children” more challenging, and Governments need to re-energize their strategies to respond in the best interest of children, the report says.  It notes that fulfilment of commitments made in the Doha Declaration on Financing for Development, the Istanbul Programme of Action for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2011-2020, the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation and the outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development entitled, “The future we want” (resolution 66/288, annex), is key to the implementation.

Statements – Women

SEWA LAMSAL ADHIKARI (Nepal), aligning with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said Nepal had taken a rights-based approach to women’s empowerment through several policies and laws aimed at empowering women and prohibiting violence against them.  The 2007 interim constitution, for the first time, envisaged equal rights for women without discrimination.  A national gender equality and social inclusion policy contained measures to stem discrimination.  Nepal also had made gender violence punishable by law, with the domestic violence regulation (2009) forming the basis for combating such abuse.  A high-level monitoring mechanism was also in place for that purpose.  The national women’s empowerment strategy contained programmes to be carried out by ministries in a coordinated manner.

Moreover, she said Nepal’s independent judiciary had played an important role in safeguarding women’s rights through judicial pronouncements.  “ Nepal is committed to the full and effective implementation of various instruments for gender equality and women’s empowerment”, she said, citing the Beijing Platform for Action in that regard.  At the regional level, Nepal had ratified the 2002 South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.  Her Government also had promulgated the 2007 anti-human trafficking act.  With that, she urged that more international financial and technical assistance be given to least developed countries, especially those emerging from conflict, to combat violence against women migrant workers and to protect their rights.

MATEO ESTREME ( Argentina) said his country recognized the importance of gender equality and promoted public policies that aimed to eradicate all discrimination against women.  It was also firmly convinced that gender equality and elimination of discrimination resulted in conditions in which there was protection and respect for human rights.

Highlighting the equal and active participation of women in public service and political life in his country, he said it had for many years promoted affirmative action that not only allowed them access to the presidency and other executive offices, but also one of the highest percentages in parliament.  The creation of a seat in the Chamber of Deputies for controlling and monitoring laws for their gender impact was among the other numerous steps Argentina had taken for the advancement of women.

RAFAEL ARCHONDO ( Bolivia) was deeply committed to gender equality and women’s advancement.  Despite significant progress, the women’s situation in his country remained “difficult”.  Indigenous women were mainly responsible for household work, and that work was “barely visible”.  He urged reshaping the “misguided notion” that only visible work was remunerated.  It was essential to have social recognition of women’s contribution to economic development.  Bolivia’s constitution outlined that women’s rights were inalienable and indivisible.  It referred to gender equality that was based on inclusion, harmony, transparency, equal opportunity, and the redistribution of social goods and products, through 25 distinct articles.

Regarding land, he said Bolivia had implemented community “re-guidance” law to strengthen women’s role in land tenure, a significant step forward, as the law ensured more women held land tenure.  Some 54,000 women had benefitted from it.  Also, a 2006 law on agrarian reform prioritized women’s participation in land redistribution programmes, irrespective of their status.  More broadly, a “seed programme” sought to ensure economic autonomy for 5,000 rural women and aimed to ensure equal opportunities for social security and pension benefits.  The national programme to combat violence had been implemented and Bolivia was in the process of designing a national action plan, premised on the fact that women had the right to live free from violence.  The Government was also working to reduce trafficking between Bolivia and Argentina and, further, also studying draft bills on trafficking and the smuggling of persons.

LILLY STELLA NGYEMA NDONG ( Gabon) said promoting and protecting the rights of women was at the very heart of the legal provisions for fundamental human rights and freedoms.  Despite significant progress in the area, she was forced to note that political, economic and social empowerment of women remained mixed.  Her country fully endorsed the results of the major Conventions related to the rights and empowerment of women, and Gabon’s Strategic Plan included actions and programmes that strengthened efforts in that field.  Two of Gabon’s most important institutions, the Constitutional Court and the Senate, were directed by women, while many women were also Members of the Gabonese Parliament.

To promote the participation of women in the economic and social life of Gabon, the Government had established a major prize that awarded each year to women who distinguished themselves in their activities.  In the social field, Gabon had put in place a medical insurance mechanism that provided free neo-natal and maternal care for all pregnant women who were infected with HIV.  The Government had also put in place measures to combat the exploitation of widows.  All of that was down in the aim of increasing the role of women in the development of Gabon, but the country had paid a high price in the global economic crisis and she called for strengthened international assistance for the promotion of women.

KHUSRAV NOZIRI ( Tajikistan) said the advancement of women’s rights had attracted special attention in his country.  Focus had been placed on gender equality and women’s representation in Government bodies and reducing both maternal and child mortality.  He pointed to the implementation of the national action plan to enhance women’s status and other equal rights measures in that regard.  Further, the national strategy to empower women (2011-2020) had been approved.  A draft law to ensure social and legal protection from domestic violence was being considered.

He said that to prepare girls for independent life and implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the marriage age had been raised from 17 to 18 years.  Access to science and technology educational opportunities was among the policies aimed at improving the well-being of girls.  On that note, he said a Tajik girl had won a medal in the London Olympics.  But, the feminization of poverty and high maternal and child mortality rates were major concerns.  Divorce was on the rise and there were still many cases of early marriage.  The Government was seeking solutions.  Significant resources and awareness campaigns were needed to protect women’s rights.  Specific measures and mechanisms were needed to ensure implementation of State obligations.  A number of economic, political and cultural barriers also must be overcome.  He requested international assistance for programmes to ensure equal opportunities for women and girls in all spheres of life, first and foremost in education.

NGUYEN CAM LINH ( Viet Nam) said gender equality was smart economics.  Women’s participation in the labour force and earnings were associated with reduced poverty and faster economic growth, benefiting children and society as a whole.  Gender mainstreaming also continued to be one of the most effective measures for attaining gender equality; once implemented, it would help ensure that women’s needs and priorities were better met, social benefits were distributed fairly and women’s empowerment was no longer just a watchword.  National laws and policies that targeted the root causes of gender gaps were essential, but to ensure sustainable progress, the international community had to provide timely and necessary financial resources, technical assistance and share best practices.

Viet Nam was committed to the advancement of women and gender equality, and concerted implementation of laws, policies and strategies had narrowed the gap between men and women in the country.  Percentages of men and women participating in economic activities were now almost equal, at 83 per cent for women and 85 per cent for men.  Over 50 per cent of poor households headed by women received loans and, according to the World Bank, Viet Nam had reduced the gender gap more than any other country in South East Asia over the last 20 years.  “The voice of women in deciding major issues in their family and the old-fashioned tradition of favouring sons over daughters have been improved,” she said.

MANAL RADWAN ( Saudi Arabia) said violence against women and girls occurred throughout the world amid political, economic and environmental changes that impacted poverty and resulted in poor healthcare, especially for women and girls.  Her Government had focused attention on the adverse humanitarian situation of women living under Israeli occupation, who faced hostage taking, home demolition and deprivation of their fundamental rights to education and healthcare.  How could such an important issue not be given priority?  Saudi Arabia had raised that issue in the General Assembly, Security Council and the Human Rights Council.  Syrian women also were enduring murder, torture and rape and she urged the Committee to pay due attention.

UN-Women data showed that a majority of the global population living in extreme poverty were women, she said, noting that the Secretary-General had called Saudi Arabia’s $500 million contribution to the World Food Programme (WFP) “historic and unprecedented”.  Locally, Saudi Arabia was aware that providing women with a decent life depended on education, healthcare and job opportunities.  Saudi women had made gains through Government efforts to protect women’s role in serving their community.  The Government considered education the basis for empowering women and, as such, had expanded education at all levels.  In 2010, the literacy rate among 15-24 year old females was 98 per cent.  Girls’ enrolment in primary, secondary and tertiary education had reached 99 per cent.  Programmes also encouraged their enrolment in private universities.  In the economic sphere, women played a pioneering role in managing companies and banks.  The Government had issued a number of laws and measures to help women and remove all barriers to their taking part in economic activities. 

ISABELLE PICCO ( Monaco) said investing in women contributed to eliminating poverty and sustained economic growth, and the realization of long-term development.  In effect, a society that guaranteed gender equality was more prosperous, just and stable.  Women and children and girls must be at the heart of development efforts.  Monaco had implemented specific measures to protect women, including protection from female genital mutilation, honour crimes, and violence against spouses and domestic workers.

Monaco had also implemented and developed actions to raise awareness campaigns to inform victims of their rights.  The Government was also committed to working with least developed countries, collaborating with United Nations entities and diverse organizations to finance activities related to construction of hospital infrastructure, and medical research and training.  Progress promoting women had been insufficient, so far, and Monaco intended to step up efforts to protect women from violence through political cooperation.  Finally, it was important to stress action in the international community integrating women and girls in core development strategies, she said.

WILFRIED I. EMVULA ( Namibia) said women’s participation in mainstream development granted them human rights as equal partners in the development process.  Namibia’s commitment to gender equality was enshrined in the constitution, which provided that all persons were equal before the law and that none shall be discriminated against, including on the basis of sex.  Further, Namibia had enacted various laws and policies to redress social and economic injustice brought about by discriminative cultural practices and historical imbalances.  Significant resources also had been allocated to national legal reforms to ensure that gender was integrated into all laws, policies and programmes.

To combat violence against women, he said Namibia had enacted the Prevention of Organized Crime Act, and the Combating of Domestic Violence Act, among others.  It also had established the national gender-based violence system, which provided data to combat such abuse.  Women and child protection units had also been established throughout the country.  In the economic sphere, the Government had introduced an income generating activities grant programme to promote small- and medium-sized enterprises run by rural women.  But, gender disparities persisted.  The Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare, with support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), had carried out a gender-responsive budgeting exercise in four sectors:  agriculture; water and forestry; education and health; and social services and finance.

CÉCILE MBALLA EYENGA ( Cameroon) said many of the reports painted a dire picture of the status of women as victims of violence, discrimination and poverty.  For those reasons, the world community had to continue to work to eliminate all forms of violence against women.  Cameroon had worked to strengthen the legal framework to combat various forms of violence, working on protection and awareness-raising.  A recent national law on combating trafficking of persons would help improve and modernize the framework, and a change in the country’s criminal code would criminalize sexual harassment.  But, she also noted concerns over the dangers of internet marriage, a new form of trafficking of women.  A five-year plan to combat female genital mutilation had also been drawn up, as Cameroon intensified efforts to combat all forms of violence against women.

Working to eliminate all forms of violence against women also required a close consideration of causes of the phenomenon; precarious economic conditions, exacerbated by financial crisis, made women more vulnerable and kept them in a cycle of dependence.  Women needed support in all forms of development, and Cameroon welcomed the outcome document from Rio+20, which recognized the primary role played by women and essential nature of gender equality and empowerment for sustainable development.  The national policy of Cameroon attached importance to two primary areas -- education and combating poverty -- to advance women.  Through education, women would be able to ensure their rights, and the government was sparing no efforts to keep girls in school.  Creating a better environment for women in a developing country such as Cameroon, however, had a cost and support from international development partners was essential.

After regaining its independence, HABIB MIKAYILLI ( Azerbaijan) said his country had ratified major international human rights instruments, including the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and its policy was based on the Convention and the concluding observation made by the monitoring committee.  Its success in promoting women’s rights was also during the country’s Universal Periodic Review report in February 2009.  The Gender Equality Act of 2006 had played an important role in ensuring women’s rights and last year the country had adopted a law to prevent domestic violence.  Women’s participation in decision-making bodies had been expanding annually and women now made up 16 per cent of the National Assembly.

Fully committed to fighting human trafficking, Azerbaijan’s new National Action Plan aimed to strengthen legal and institutional mechanisms and smooth the efficiency of governmental bodies, he said.  The Plan, endorsed in 2009 to cover 2009-2013, emphasized the protection of trafficking victims, including their rehabilitation, reintegration and secure reparation.  An Inter-agency Task Force had been created to help institutions implement the National Action Plan, while a counter-trafficking unit had been set up within the Ministry of Internal Affairs.  A “hot line” service had been launched and shelter had been provided to give victims medical, psychological, legal and other assistance.

NICOLE ROMULUS ( Haiti) said “gender equality is not something we can afford to postpone”.  Women’s advancement was not an option; it was essential.  Integrating them into decision-making was important for Haiti.  Women comprised 52 per cent of the Haitian population.  Yet, their inadequate participation in decision-making could not be denied.  There were 5 women of 99 elected parliamentarians, and 1 female senator in a total of 30 senators.  Those women were truly committed to political life.  The number of women holding high-ranking posts had increased, but the percentage of women in peacekeeping was low.

She went on to say that social taboos discouraged women from filing violence complaints, making the presence of female police all the more important.  Moreover, violence against women was a concern, and while it was true there was a culture of silence, significant efforts had been made to punish such abuse against women and girls.  As for rural women, 26 per cent of them led single-parent families, making them responsible for the household, the children and the elderly.  On 15 October, Haiti’s First Lady noted the crucial role of rural women in poverty reduction, food security and environmental sustainability efforts, as well as in other aspects crucial for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.  In closing, she said Haiti had made significant progress promoting women’s access to justice, education and health.

Aligning itself with the European Union delegation’s statement, MILORAD ŠĆEPANOVIĆ ( Montenegro) said his country had moved towards adopting the Plan of Activities to Achieve Gender Equality for 2012-2016 in order to boost women’s political participation and their place in state and local institutions by 30 per cent.  Women already held more than 30 per cent of the diplomatic and consular slots of Montenegro.  To expand women’s economic empowerment, UN-Women was carrying out a project, “Advancing Women’s Economic and Social Rights”, in the country.  It aimed to eliminate gender-based discrimination in the labour market and would integrate gender perspectives into policies, the delivery of services and budgets.  The Government also had been working with civil society groups to encourage women to create their own businesses and help curb violence against women.

During the last two years, Montenegro had adopted several pieces of legislation to curb domestic violence, he said.  The Law on Protection from Domestic Violence came into force in August 2010, while the Strategy for the Fight Against Domestic Violence, adopted in July 2011, defined goals and activities to improve the overall protection of women.  The Protocol on the Rules of Procedure of Institutions in Cases of Domestic Violence was adopted on 25 November 2011.  Yet, much more needed to be done and eliminating gender discrimination was a prerequisite for the active and non-biased inclusion of all social actors into the country’s political and economic life.

AURESTIE NSATOUNKAZI MPOMBO ( Congo) rural women and female migrants, in particular, faced ongoing challenges and gender equality must be addressed for rural women to achieve sustainable development.  A number of national instruments promoted women’s access to health, land tenure and employment aimed to include women in cultural processes.  By decree 99-289 (1999), Congo established a research and training centre for women.  Further, a Department for Women’s Advancement had been created and a draft gender equality law was on its way to being adopted by Parliament.  The Department for Women’s Advancement had carried out various measures.  For example, it had distributed DVDs to raise awareness, including two called “The Challenges of Empowering Women” and “Not My Girl”.

In terms of eliminating violence against women, she said the national gender policy had been translated into two main national languages to better disseminate information.  Other efforts included the drawing up of a draft law for women victims of sexual violence, and commemorating the International Day against Female Genital Mutilation on 6 February.  Congo was committed implementing more robust policies for gender equality and women’s empowerment, especially so as to break down deeply embedded cultural and social morays.  In February 2012, Congo presented its sixth report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Concluding, she urged international support for UN-Women to carry out its multiple responsibilities.

TALAL AL-YAQOOBI ( Oman) said women had played a greater role in his country since 1970, when the Sultan instituted his new regime.  They participated in legislative work and in all areas of social life on an equal footing.  The Sultanate had also sought to promote the role of women in all areas through the ratification of the Convention on Eliminating All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

An increase in the literacy rate of girls in Oman had also resulted in an increase in the age of marriage, while the rate of child mortality had diminished in recent years.  School enrolment for the girl child had increased while the law on labour guaranteed women protection from being fired as a result of pregnancy and provided for maternity leave.  His country had also established a national day of women on 17 October, in which it organized activities, seminars, exhibitions and gave prizes to women who had played a pioneering role in development.  The protection of women was equal to the protection of the State, and Oman would spare no effort in that regard.

NELI SHIOLASHVILI ( Georgia) said her country had made gains in implementing its gender mainstreaming policy.  Parliament had approved the national action plan to implement Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000), 1820 (2008) and 1888 (2009), among others, which aimed to increase women’s participation in security sector decision-making.  In addition to the law on the Elimination of Domestic Violence, Protection of and Support to Victims, Georgia had criminalized domestic violence by including it as a new crime under its criminal code.  Also, Georgia had submitted its fourth and fifth combined periodic report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, and initiated domestic procedures with a view to signing and ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

She went on to say that Georgia was committed to the implementation of its commitments to empower women and addressing vulnerabilities that stemmed from entrenched stereotypes, social and economic conventions and outcomes of armed conflict that disproportionately affected women.  Her Government’s ability to monitor and uphold women’s rights was “severely curtailed” on 20 per cent of its territory, which was under foreign military occupation.  She reminded the occupying power of its humanitarian and human rights legal obligations.  Despite that, Georgia would continue its proactive approach to human rights.  Women were often the sole breadwinners for the families of displaced persons, and families of those who commuted daily in volatile security conditions.  She called on international organizations to do their utmost to ensure adequate monitoring of human rights in such areas.

MARINA IVANOVIĆ (Serbia), aligning with the European Union, said gender equality mechanisms had been established at all levels of Government and the Directorate for Gender Equality had created the Forum for Dialogue with civil society groups to shape dialogue and exchange information.  In 2009, Serbia adopted the Law on Gender Equality and the National Strategy for the Advancement of Women and Promotion of Gender Equality.  Moving to tackle violence against women in a comprehensive way, Serbia adopted the National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Domestic and Partnership Violence Against Women.  Its four strategic areas were:  prevention; improvement of the legislative framework for combating domestic violence; introduction of multi-sectoral collaboration; and development and strengthening of protection for victims.

Fully committed to implementing Council resolution 1325, Serbia had adopted a National Action Plan to implement all Council resolutions related to women, peace and security, she said.  Serbia also was actively engaged in the Women Police Officers Network in South-east Europe.  It also was working at the national and international levels to use information and communication technologies to empower women and girls.  For example, at the Plenipotentiary Conference 2010 of the International Telecommunications Union held in Mexico, Serbia proposed, and the Conference adopted, the newly revised Resolution 70, which set the basis for the creation of a global network of women ICT decision makers, under the ITU’s auspices.

ANTONIO PEDRO MONTEIRO LIMA ( Cape Verde) said “there is no development without women’s active participation.”  Since its independence, Cape Verde had endeavoured to promote gender equality and women’s advancement through legislation and a number of programmes and policies.  Having acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1980, Cape Verde also was a strong supporter of UN-Women, as a member of its Executive Board.  Moreover, Cape Verde was fully committed to the Beijing Declaration and its Platform for Action, as well as the outcome of the General Assembly’s twenty-third special session.  The constitution stated that all public authorities must create conditions conducive to promoting women in political affairs, affirming that the State should create conditions that allowed women to reconcile such responsibilities with their family duties.

Further, the 1997 Family Code outlined that men and women had the same rights vis-à-vis family responsibilities, he said, while the Labour Code had special provisions to protect women’s rights during pregnancy and the early stage of maternity.  A maternal protection programme helped to reduce maternal mortality.  As for political participation, he said that 8 of 16 ministries were headed by women.  In parliament, almost one-third of the representatives were women.  As regards gender based violence, he said Government bodies and other stakeholders were working to eliminate it, notably through the 1994 creation of a gender equity institution, as well as a network of legal and psycho-social institutions to provide assistance.  A recent law also established measures to prevent and punish gender-based crimes.

SEMERE AZAZI ( Eritrea) said it was clear that no country could achieve sustainable development without recognizing the role and rights of women.  It was not enough to outlaw discriminatory laws and practices; it required concerted efforts directed at addressing and correcting the root causes that gave rise to gender imbalances.  Eritrea had not only repealed discriminatory laws, but also instituted new rules to guarantee women’s economic, political, cultural and social rights.  Despite “ominous societal and structural constraints”, women in Eritrea had been able to achieve significant progress in several areas of concern identified in the Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action, as well as in other fora.

Eritrea was one of three countries in Sub-Saharan Africa on track to achieve Millennium Development Goal 5, and was pleased to report it was actively campaigning to eliminate obstetric fistula by widening free health services to all.  Prevalence of female circumcision had also declined among women aged 15 to 19 from 78.8 per cent in 2002 to 68.8 per cent in 2010, and was an even more drastic decline among girls under the age of five, where reported cases of circumcision were only 12.9 per cent.  “The envisaged decline was expected to be strengthened by the existing national law that prohibited the practice of female circumcision in Eritrea, which has been implemented since 2007,” he said.

CHRISTOPHER GRIMA ( Malta) said gender mainstreaming was a national policy, which safeguarded equal treatment for both genders in all policies and measures.  The National Commission for the Promotion of Equality provided assistance to entities in the implementation of gender mainstreaming, and worked to strengthen understanding in that area within the public administration.  It had raised awareness about equal rights and opportunities and worked “diligently” to mould Maltese culture in favour of more rights and opportunities for everyone.  The latest policy, issued in April, encouraged every ministry to implement gender mainstreaming in the development of laws, policies and programmes.  It also called for the “reassertion” of gender equality policies in performance reviews within the public administration.

While reaffirming strong support to the full implementation of the 1994 Cairo Programme of Action, as well as the Beijing Platform for Action and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, he said any discussion and references to rights and services in connection with reproductive health could not take place outside the framework of the right to life.  Malta did not consider as “acceptable” national legislation recommendations implying that practices resulting in abortion could be used in Malta, and considered the termination of pregnancy through induced abortion illegal.

Ms. ALJASIM ( Bahrain) said women were a partner in building the State.  Indeed, women were taking a particular role in reforms being carried out by her Government.  Men and women should have equal rights.  The wife of the King was part of a council seeking to promote women’s rights, whether or not women were married.  Women who married foreigners and the rights of divorced or widowed women were issues also being examined.  She hoped a law concerning those issues would be adopted.

She said Bahrain aimed to ensure that people had a prosperous life, in line with articles 4 and 5 of the constitution.  Equality for women was needed in all areas of life, and must also consider Sharia.  Efforts were needed to ensure women had access to banking services, and training so they could run their own businesses.  Bahrain was working to reduce women’s unemployment and, through a women’s empowerment programme, had provided almost a million dinar in loans that were given in accordance with Islamic law.  The rights of the family were also a focus.  In closing, she said Bahrain had acceded to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

FINTAKPA LAMEGA DÉKALÈGA ( Togo) said advancement of women was one of his countries priorities.  Since 2005, it had been engaged in social policies aimed at improving its population and particular focus had been placed on girls in difficult situations, who now had mandatory and free primary education.  Togo had also embarked on a public awareness campaign, so more people knew that women, like men, had the right to inherit land.  The Government had also put in place a fund for widows and orphans in 2010, and organized this year a conference on judicial mechanisms to protect widows.

The absence of family planning in developing countries was indeed a concern, as it caused many avoidable deaths; Togo now had mandatory health insurance for all public servants and their children.  For the rest of the population, Togo had been working on a social programme to reduce maternal mortality.  To strengthen the abilities of women to contribute to development, Togo would pay for 100 per cent of caesarean sections; currently it paid for 90 per cent through development partners.

DJIBO BARIKOYE ( Niger) said his government had made promotion of women one of its priorities for social and economic development, and had adopted a law on quotas setting a minimum representation for women at 25 per cent in parliament and other government institutions.  Fifty-four non governmental organizations in the country were involved in advancing women’s rights, and a framework for protection of protagonists had also been established.

Numerous reforms had been launched in Niger to eliminate discrimination and promote equality in the fields of heath, education and justice.  But, a great deal needed to be done as a result of the persistent impact of traditions, socio-cultural burdens and the economic situation of the country.  Niger had the will to go further, but without adequate resources it was unlikely to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, particularly the targets of Goal 3 to promote gender equality and empower women, by 2015.

ZWELETHU MNISI ( Swaziland) said his country had acceded to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, as well as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.  In September, it ratified the Convention on the Rights of persons with Disabilities, as it was important to integrate the rights of those persons in national, regional and international development efforts.  At the regional level, Swaziland was party to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Declaration on Gender and Development, and its addendum on the Prevention and the Eradication of Violence against Women and Children.

He went on to say that the national gender policy (2010) aimed to redress inequities by providing a vision for improving living conditions and outlining strategies to implement and monitor related constitutional provisions.  It would guide the planning and implementation of national, regional, community and sectoral development programmes.  Several projects also targeted rural women, including a mushroom plant and cosmetics project.  Despite such gains, Swaziland faced the challenges of unemployment, poverty and hunger, which disproportionately affected women and girls.  Violence against women and girls was pervasive and he pressed the Committee to provide guidance on actions to eliminate it.  Human trafficking, a contemporary form of slavery, was being addressed by a Secretariat on the Prevention of People Trafficking and People Smuggling, placed under the auspices of the Prime Minister.

MERINA URSULA XAREAL (Timor-Leste) said her country’s Constitution enshrined the principle of equality between men and women, and noted the role women played in restoration of independence ten years ago.  It was important to stress the transformative impact women had in politics and peace efforts.  “Timor-Leste understands the important role women have in sustaining peace, first hand.  It is for this reason that a quota system was made part of the Election Laws, to ensure women’s political participation,” she said.  Following elections earlier this year, the number of women in parliament had risen from 29 per cent to 38 per cent.  Voter participation had also almost reached parity.

Timor-Leste adopted its National Action Plan on Gender Based Violence earlier this year to address the pervasive problem of domestic violence, she said.  Tackling the issue required increasing preventive measures, along with better services to victims.  The Government had engaged young men and boys, as well as promoted its law against domestic violence.  She welcomed progress integrating a gender perspective in the work of the United Nations system.  The post-2015 development framework should strongly feature a goal relating to gender equality and the empowerment of women, she said.

AMY MUEDIN, International Organization for Migration (IOM), said women made up nearly half of the world’s 214 million international migrants and were more vulnerable to exploitation and gender-based violence than men.  The IOM believed that migration could be an empowering experience for women and the Secretary-General’s reports had offered an opportunity to assess the progress and plan ahead.  As stated in the Secretary-General’s reports, States were obligated under international human rights laws to protect against human rights abuses within their territory and/or jurisdictions.  Human rights were crucial to help manage migration flows in a way that served the national interests of host and home countries and the women themselves.  Women were disproportionately impacted by the human trafficking risks that accompanied mobility.  Yet, prosecution rates were low while the number of trafficking victims had increased.  “Trafficking in persons remains the world’s third-most profitable criminal activity,” she said.

States had to protect victims of trafficking from prosecution for irregular migration and IOM welcomed the Secretary-General’s recommendation that States strengthen the training of all stakeholders, including immigration officers, border officials, the police and labour inspectors.  International cooperation among States had to be increased to identify victims of human trafficking.  She emphasized the crucial role of the private sector, such as private recruitment agencies, employers and migrant worker associations, in shaping standards to prevent abuse throughout the migration cycle.

ANN DEER, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said the consequences of armed conflict for women could be devastating, making them vulnerable to sexual violence, which did “incalculable” physical, emotional and psychological damage.  Rape and forced prostitution, among other abuses, were prohibited by humanitarian law in armed conflict, often amounting to war crimes.  The perpetrators must be held accountable.  Victims of sexual violence must have unimpeded access to medical care, including mental health services.  ICRC’s “Health Care in Danger” project aimed to improve delivery and promote safe access to health care in armed conflict situations.  In sum, she called on States to ensure respect and full implementation of universally agreed rules enshrined in humanitarian law prohibiting rape and other forms of sexual violence.  State commitment was also crucial to ensure that those violating such law were held accountable.

ANNE CHRISTENSEN of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said more must be done to ensure that the momentum on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals continued, especially on Goals 4 and 5 related to maternal and child health.  Governments had to also address inequities in access to health care.  Community actors were best placed to ensure health care reached the most vulnerable women and children and, as a result, increased community resilience must come from within the communities themselves.

Reliable and accurate information, coupled with promotion of knowledge, was also crucial to encouraging health-seeking behaviour; hence it was also important for men and boys to be aware of the risks faced by women and children, she said.  Another aspect of the protection of women that warranted greater attention was the need for greater action on devastation caused by violence in emergencies.  “In natural disasters and other crises, gender-based violence and discrimination against women and girls intensify, as stress levels soar and the normal fabric of society falls apart,” she said.

MIGUEL BERMEO, Inter-Parliamentary Union, (IPU) said women’s participation in parliaments had nearly doubled since the Beijing Conference in 1995 and women now made up one in five (20.2 per cent) of all parliamentarians in the world.  Yet, that annual increase of 0.5 per cent meant that the minimum target of 30 per cent would take several more decades of hard work.  While more than 30 countries had more than 30 per cent women in their legislative bodies’ lower or single houses, most had to use special or affirmative measures.  At the other side of the spectrum, many parliaments, mostly in the Arab and Pacific Island States, still did not have a single woman member, or only a few women, within their ranks.

Placing more women in decision-making positions had helped improve women’s situations as women lawmakers had worked to strengthen laws, policies and programmes and had allocated resources for those programmes.  Yet, a recent IPU survey on gender-sensitive parliaments produced discouraging results, he said.  “Political institutions were built by men, for men and it is only in recent years that women are entering these institutions,” he said.  Gender-sensitive parliaments – ones that responded to the needs and interests of men and women in its structures, operations and methods of work – were needed.

SARAH DUNAWAY, Permanent Observer Mission of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, whole-heartedly agreed on the need to ensure the social, cultural and economic participation and empowerment of rural women.  Outlining the Order’s efforts to serve rural populations, she said that after the 2010 floods in Pakistan, the Order rebuilt 15 basic health units, whose employees were primary women who, each month, discussed health issues affecting their communities.  She also underlined the need to develop legal frameworks to secure gender equality and protect women’s human rights.  It was imperative to ensure a holistic response to violence against women that incorporated women’s rights in both public and private spheres of society.  In India, the Order was providing women from the Dalits –the lowest ranks of the caste-based society – tools to access vital social services.  It was also enabling village women’s collective groups to demand temporary local authorities to provide temporary work.

KEVIN CASSIDY, of the International Labour Office (ILO), said his Organization had taken a number of practical steps to ensure advancement of women was not just a verbal commitment, but a reality achieved through active engagement and delivery.  In 2011, its Tripartite Body adopted the Convention on Domestic Workers; with nearly 83 per cent of the estimated 53 million domestic workers worldwide being women or girls, that new standard provided protection for those hidden from view, and who were, hence, more vulnerable to abuse and violence.

Also, the International Labour Conference in June this year adopted a new international labour standard, which reaffirmed that social security was a human right.  Research showed that social protection floor provisions could lead to greater empowerment for women, who were disproportionately represented in low-income groups.  The ILO also worked closely with key stakeholders at local, national and international levels to ensure there was broader awareness of the important role of women in contributing to economic development, and the need for them to hold decision-making roles equal in status to their male counterparts.

Right of Reply

Speaking in exercise of the right of reply, Israel’s delegate said the Saudi Arabia delegate had launched baseless accusations against her country.  That she had the nerve to speak about women’s rights from a country that denied even the most basic human rights, was ludicrous.  Saudi women were not allowed to vote or drive.  Rape victims might find themselves charged by police if found with a man they did not know.  She cited a study that ranked Saudi Arabia 130th out of 134 countries on gender equality.  It had scored “0” on women’s political empowerment.  Saudi Arabia even had a law that prevented lesbians from attending schools and universities, while homosexuals were stoned and even sentenced to death.

Saudi Arabia’s delegate drew attention to United Nations reports on the “precarious” situation of Palestinian women, saying that attention should focus on those women.

Statement by Executive Director of UNICEF

ANTHONY LAKE, Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), presented the Secretary-General’s report on the Status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (document A/67/225) – which focused on indigenous children – and his report on the follow-up to the special session of the General Assembly on Children (document A/67/229), saying:  “All children, no matter where they live, deserve the opportunity to live full, healthy lives.”  Too many children were being left behind because of poverty, malnutrition or lack of education.  Discrimination against indigenous children and children with disabilities persisted.

“The hardest to reach are the hardest to help,” he said.

To be sure, progress was being made, he said, noting that in the 10 years since the General Assembly special session, the world had shown what could be achieved:  more children were surviving to age 5 than ever before.  The number of child deaths from hunger had fallenfrom 12 million in 1999 to 6.9 million in 2011, with all regions showing progress.  But, even with those gains, 19,000 children under age 5 also died each day of preventable causes and 170 million suffered from stunting caused by malnutrition in the first 100 days of life.  Shrinking budgets, and crises in food, finance and fuel had made it more difficult to deliver results.

“These barriers are not insurmountable,” he said.  In the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, the United Nations was working with the private sector and others in designing targeted interventions for communities in need, he said, noting that 30 countries were now on board and the Group of Eight (G-8) was behind its efforts to reduce stunting by 20 per cent by 2025, saving 70 million children from that fate.  In June, Ethiopia, India, the United States and the United Nations had brought together Governments, civil society and others for the “Child Survival Call to Action” summit, where they set benchmarks to save children’s lives.  Some 156 Governments were now on board, as well as 220 leaders of faith-based groups.

Lasting progress, however, depended on equity, he said, stressing that least developed countries and marginalized populations bore the heaviest burdens of child deaths.  “Unpardonable” discrimination trapped indigenous children in a cycle marked by a lack of education and even birth registration.  Far too often, indigenous girls faced even more barriers.  Across indigenous populations, there were low literacy rates, poor school performance and high drop-out rates. Some children might not be in school at all, due to a lack of teachers or long distances to schools.

“These children all too easily fall prey to adults bent on violence and exploitation,” he said, citing sexual abuse, forced labour and recruitment into armed groups as just some of the problems.  There were also high rates of alcoholism and suicide.  “This is more than an unconscionable human failure,” he said.  “It is a terrible waste of their human potential.”

Those children were not beyond reach, he said.   Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru were integrating indigenous medicine into health systems, while the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) was working with Nicaragua to incorporate programmes into curricula to teach indigenous students.  This year’s report called for special measures to help indigenous children obtain access to education and health services, regardless of location.  “These are not just children out in the farthest reaches,” he said, noting that some lived in cities.  The report also called for an end to all forms of discrimination against indigenous people through legislative reforms.  Strong political will was needed.  He urged all nations to sign and ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and to implement all its provisions.  “We have a lot of work to do,” he said.  If commitment ever flagged, the Committee could draw inspiration from the resolve of children surviving – even thriving - in unimaginable circumstances.  “Their resolve must be our resolve,” he said.

Question and Answer Session

When the floor was open to questions, the representative of Cuba said the rights of the child were of special importance for her country and reassured her support for UNICEF’s tasks.

Peru’s representative said his country anticipated parallel initiatives being implemented in his region for violence against boys and girls, and said it was still committed to collaboration with the Special Representative on Violence Against Children.

Responding, Mr. LAKE thanked the Cuba representative for the kind words, and said he would leave it to the Special Representative to respond to the Peru representative’s remarks.

Statement by the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict

LEILA ZERROUGUI, Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said before turning to her report, she would highlight two “landmark developments” which had set new parameters in the protection of children:  the verdicts by the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Special Court for Sierra Leone on the cases of Thomas Lubanga and Charles Taylor.  “These two cases send a powerful deterrent message to military commanders and political leaders responsible for the recruitment and use of children.  But, perhaps more significantly, these cases set important jurisprudence which national courts could build on,” she said.

Turning to her report, she said the first major area highlighted was prevention of recruitment and use of children – “a vast and complex topic”. Many factors led to their association with armed forces and groups, including poverty and social exclusion.  Governments could sustainably prevent the child soldiers through the rule of law, but outlawing the recruitment and use of children should be reinforced by awareness-raising on applicable laws, and enforcement of those laws.  But, that was easier said than done in countries where the rule of law was often a work in progress.  In such cases, the United Nations must play an important role in support of the State’s efforts to prevent violations.

Turning to the impact that explosive weapons had on children, she said they went beyond immediate casualties.  “The threat of their use is an important cause of displacement, and is a significant cause of anxiety and trauma amongst civilians, including children,” she said.  Their frequent targeting of civilian installations also meant, in many cases, children were impeded from receiving medical treatment or going to school, while tactics that resulted in civilian casualties fuelled further animosity and grievances.  She urged Member States to take measures to reduce the impact of explosive weapons on children, and ensure military operations upheld the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.  Member States could consider reviewing military protocols and also consider reviewing the use of new technologies, such as drones, which acted as vehicles for explosive weapons.

Collaboration with regional organizations would be a key priority for her Office, she said.  She had already held preliminary discussions with the African Union, and would like to centre the collaboration on the capacity for peacekeepers concerning child protection.  The Office was also working with United Nations actors.  “I know that my predecessor placed great importance on collaboration with key UN and non-UN partners.  It will be no different under my tenure,” she said.

In addition to working with regional organizations, her Office would focus on three broad areas:  first, reenergizing cross-regional support for children and armed conflict by reaching out to Member States who had concerns over implementation of the mandate; second, focusing on implementing tasks given by legislative bodies, especially on monitoring and reporting, dialogue and action plan implementation; and third, emphasizing accountability by exploring ways of establishing national mechanisms to address violations against children and new approaches to tackle the challenge of persistent perpetrators.

Question and Answer Session

When the floor was opened to questions and comments, Germany’s delegate said that, as Chair of the Working Group of the Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict, he appreciated the Special Representative’s work and welcomed recent signings of action plans by South Sudan, Myanmar and Democratic Republic of the Congo, to better protect children from recruitment, among other abuses.  The recent ICC judgements showed that perpetrators would be accountable.  But, there were still too many violators of children’s rights.  What steps could be taken to improve the prosecution of perpetrators, including in transitional justice systems?  How could local and national justice systems be enhanced?

Norway’s delegate pointed out the special committee on peacekeeping recommended that child protection provisions be included in peacekeeping mandates.  She asked for an update on the suggestion, contained in a 2007 report.

The European Union delegate fully supported the work of the Special Representative.  He said recent ICC judgements on Thomas Lubanga and others were considered milestones.  He asked what could be done to make perpetrators accountable, and further, to develop mainstreaming of children and armed conflict in the United Nations system.

Canada’s delegate saidhis country was part of the Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict.  There was no question the international community had a unique, robust framework to protect children in armed conflict.  The Group of Friends encouraged the Special Representative to continue engaging with the United Nations membership to protect children.  Efforts to improve child protection were a United Nations success story.  Action plans had been most important in facilitating the release of thousands of children in Sri Lanka, Nepal and Uganda.  He asked about plans to strengthen the children’s protection network of regional organizations.

Japan’s delegate said action plans had been signed thanks to the efforts of former Special Representatives, work that was extremely important.   Japan would continue to support the work of the Special Representative.

Slovenia’s representative underlined the crucial role of the rule of law in the Special Representative’s work.  He expressed deep concern over the devastating effects of explosive weapons and wondered how that issue would be addressed in the future.

Iran’s delegate drew attention to the impacts on children of terrorists and armed groups.  The reports of previous Special Representatives had not mentioned the impacts of foreign occupation on children and she hoped that issue would be mentioned in the next report of the Special Representative.

Switzerland’s delegate pointed to abductions and a lack of access to livelihood resources, urging increased pressure on those who carried out violence, notably non-State armed actors.  He urged collaboration between the Security Council and the international tribunals, saying that ICC judgements had shown that verdicts were moving in the right direction.  He asked how international tribunals could work more closely together.

Austria’s delegate welcomed the progress achieved by the signing of several new action plans, bringing the total number to 19.  He had read with concern about the devastating consequences of explosive weapons, urging that their use be avoided in heavily populated areas.  He asked what the United Nations could do to support data collection on that matter.

Argentina’s delegate said the Security Council must adopt decisions, including on the need to respond to actors who, despite repeated appeals, committed violations against children.  That brought into question the Council’s authority.  The Secretary-General’s last report, and that drafted by the Special Representative, offered interesting approaches to that question.  They should be discussed with a view to pressuring parties in a conflict to start a dialogue, and change their conduct radically.

The representative of the United States said her Government was deeply committed to protecting children from abuse and armed conflict.  She asked the Special Representative for her views on the best practices for preventing child recruitment and handling perpetrators of child abuses.  She also asked how to incentivise Governments to prioritize child protection.  Finally, she asked how the Special Representative planned to integrate a gender perspective in carrying out her mandate.

Responding, Ms. ZERROUGUI said it was absolutely imperative to empower national institutions to deal with persistent perpetrators.  The global community had to work to sensitize and raise awareness about the crimes being committed, ensure laws were there and, most importantly, implement the laws.  However, every situation was specific to a context which needed to be kept in mind.  The worst thing was when children were forced to be victims of war as well as part of it.  Perpetrators needed to know there would be a price for it.  Often, in dealing with perpetrators, it was not lack of will by Governments, but lack of capacity.

Answering the question on how to integrate responses to post conflict reconciliation, she said children who were the victims would also be part of the solution.  Reintegration was absolutely necessary, she said.  In conflict affected areas, you had to ensure children were not stigmatized and seen as perpetrators, when they were victims.  That issue could be mainstreamed in work and taken into consideration of wider priorities.  It was absolutely necessary that expertise was kept where it was needed, she said, calling on Member States to make it essential for the issue to be integrated in the highest levels of policymaking.

Implementing the gender perspective was also absolutely essential, she said.  Girls and boys did not always the have the same feelings or face the same consequences.  She had already discussed with United Nations colleagues issues on dealing with sexual violence in conflict and would work with UN-Women to ensure the gender perspective was a policy, as well as an activity of her Office in the field.

On the question of registration, she said it was important work.  The world community had to sensitize, but in the meantime it needed to provide an alternative solution to identify children who were involved with armed groups.  It was important to sensitize people and ensure that children were segregated.

On the question of collaborating between international and national courts, she said it was most important for international courts to put some jurisprudence in the field.  Sometimes national responses could not be reached, she said.

In regard to the question on the use of explosive arms, she said everyone had to work together to address the issue.  Governments and States had to be sensitized to the gravity about the use of those arms.  It was also important to gather data.

Statement by the Special Representative on Violence against Children

Presenting her annual report, MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, recalled that three years ago the results of a United Nations study on violence against children offered the opportunity to put into practice an essential principle:  no violence against children was justifiable and all violence could be prevented.  The study remained an important academic reference and had become an influential policy tool.  Violence against children had gained visibility in the public debate and in the policy agenda, and change was occurring across regions.

In her role as an advocate, she was committed to nurturing – and learning from – that process of change, acting as a catalyst and bridge builder, promoting a cross-fertilization of experiences, identifying challenges and stimulating action to accelerate progress.  Significant initiatives had been taken in the last three years to step up national efforts to protect children from violence.  She cited the implementation of core child rights treaties and promotion of new international standards in that regard, saying that the United Nations campaign for the universal ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, supported by her Office, had a catalytic role in that process.

Since the launch of the campaign, 23 new States had adhered to the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and more than two thirds of those not yet parties had formally committed to its ratification.  She urged States to make universal ratification a reality.  Together with others, her Office also supported the development of new international standards, including the Third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on a communications procedure, as well as ILO Convention No. 189.

But, advancing implementation was a key challenge, she said.  Her Office had organized seven expert consultations, the last of which in Peru, on early childhood development.  All of them had fostered understanding of the risk factors for violence, reflections on the persisting challenges, and ways to help Governments support the rights of the child.

She went on to say that the institutionalization of partnerships with regional organizations and institutions had been a cornerstone of her work.  “Violence against children knows no geographic, cultural or social boundaries,” she said, and regional collaboration had been instrumental to reenergizing political support for protecting children.  It had led to the adoption of political commitments and road maps in seven regions, among other things.  The process had been enhanced by three regional consultations in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Sri Lanka.  In November 2013, a regional follow-up meeting would be held in Turkey.  Regional partnerships also had been instrumental in informing national agendas on violence against children, and monitoring progress on the ground.

Finally, she said field missions were a third essential dimension of her mandate.  They had allowed her to meet children and benefit from their important views and recommendations.  “These encounters have decisively helped to recognize hidden forms of abuse, injury and neglect,” she said, to understand risk factors and reflect on opportunities for change.  Indeed, young people were crucial partners.  Without their involvement, “we may end up developing an ideal policy, and yet, miss serious risks that could re-victimize young people,” she said.  In the last three years, more than 70 missions had been conducted, which had helped in advocacy efforts, policy dialogue and in identifying emerging concerns.  The number of countries with a policy agenda to address violence against children had grown from 47 to more than 80.

The last three years had marked a very promising start, she said.  “But this process needs nurturing,” she said.  “We are at a cross roads.”  If efforts were not scaled up, there was a danger the agenda would be diluted in the face of competing priorities.  She remained strongly committed to strengthening partnerships in support of that process, to secure predictable funding and reenergize pursuit of a strategic agenda.  The global survey on violence against children, reflected in her report, was a critical reference in that regard, as it confirmed the urgency of scaling up initiatives to achieve the goals of her mandate.  It also acknowledged emerging areas of concern to be addressed.

She said the global survey also highlighted the cumulative exposure of children to various manifestations of violence.  National strategies, therefore, must be tailored to children’s evolving development stages.  It also was a reminder that violence did not take place in a vacuum.  Poverty, environmental degradation and poor rule of law aggravated the risk of child neglect and abuse.  Conversely, investment in the prevention of violence and children’s protection fostered social progress and consolidated good governance.  Children’s protection from violence must be a priority in the post-2015 development agenda, she concluded.

Question and Answer Session

The representative of Jordan, on behalf of the Group of Friends, expressed gratitude to the Special Representative for her efforts, and said they would support the renewal of her mandate.  She asked what would be the priority areas that would require her special attention upon renewal of her mandate, and how did she view the sustainability of her mandate if it continued to be funded by voluntary contributions.

Japan’s representative asked, since there was no international methodology on collection of data to analyse risks of violence to children, what kind of concrete actions could overcome those challenges?  Secondly, how could Member States enhance efforts against violence, despite the lack of financial resources?

The representative of El Salvador said hundreds of children in his country had been affected by social violence, and appealed for greater support from the international community to deal with the problem and invited the Special Representative to visit his country in 2013.

The European Union’s representative asked what were the biggest obstacles and challenges to protecting children within justice systems and what could be done to raise awareness for this issue?  Also, what had the Special Representative and her Office done to ensure participation of children and to make young people aware of their rights.

Austria’s representative asked for recommendations for alternatives to custodial measures and what guidance there was to prevent violence in custodial settings.

Slovenia’s representative asked what main objectives should countries take into account to protect children from violence in the post-2015 development agenda.

Responding, Ms. PAIS thanked El Salvador’s delegate for the invitation to visit, as well as its commitment to address armed violence and organized crime.  Very often, young people became hostage to situations for which they were not responsible.

More broadly, she urged reinvesting in families and provision of basic services.  Collaboration among different sectors of society was critical to ensuring that the system of children’s reintegration into society was sensitive to their needs.  Often, social staff were not well trained and violence against children was perceived as normal in the community, so no one questioned it.  There were many countries that condoned violence in their legislation.  Some condoned flogging, stoning or capital punishment and violence, in turn, was perceived as effective for young people.

She went on to emphasize the need to invest in restorative justice solutions.  Citing one best practice, she said the Maori in New Zealand had an interesting system of restorative justice, based on compassion, and also recognition of a young person’s responsibility.

To Japan’s question on data collection, she said there were many places where the magnitude of the phenomena could be measured.  In most cases, many gaps persisted, among them, the inability to aggregate data from health, welfare and justice systems.  As a result, even strong child protection systems failed.

Her Office also had not found the best way to capture children’s perspectives, she said.  There was still tension between recognizing a child’s potential to understand a problem, and believing a child would suffer during a questioning session.  That was why expert consultations, hosted by Sweden, had been organized.  Some of those recommendations were in her report.  UNICEF’s study on child disciplinary practices also covered many areas.

At the same time, she said children and young people were critical partners of her mandate.  Perhaps most interesting, they wanted to share their recommendations and they must be supported in those efforts.  That was why a section of her office’s website had been designed specifically for young people, and young people had been brought into expert consultations.  Stakeholders must engage with them, being sensitive to their development and expectations.  “They cannot be frustrated at the end of the process,” she said, adding that she had been impressed by their ability to present recommendations to Governments, the United Nations and others.

As to funding for her mandate, she said her mandate, according to the relevant resolution, was funded solely through voluntary contributions, a situation which hampered her work, in that it was often difficult to determine what funds would be available.  It also hampered the independence of her mandate.  Voluntary contributions had been very important, but amid a financial crisis, it was hard to anticipate whether contributions would be maintained.

Statement by the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child

JEAN ZERMATTEN, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said the third protocol in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which would allow the Committee to examine complaints by children and organize country visits, had at this point been signed by 35 States and ratified by 2, Gabon and Thailand.  He thanked those two countries for their support, and said 10 ratifications were necessary for the Protocol to enter into force.  On the Convention itself, only three States – Somalia, the United States and South Sudan – remained for universal ratification.

His Committee had witnessed significant progress in implementation of the rights of the child, with a progressive change of attitudes towards children in a number of States.  Nevertheless, it continued to face several successive revisions of reports of States on persistent violence, and sometimes regressions of their rights.  Millions of children, daily, confronted violence at home, at school, at work, in institutions, or when they were in conflict with the law.

The social acceptance of violence against children had to be combated as much as possible, and his Committee wished to propose guidelines for States to adopt to protect the child against all forms of violence.  Among the growing concerns of his Committee were the effects of the economic crisis and its effect on children.  Indeed, children were the first and the most affected by economic downturns, but no economy and no country could recover by reducing expenditures related to children.  An increase in budgetary items was needed for children’s rights, and certain budgetary lines needed to be protected in the case of economic crisis.

Another concern of his Committee was the impact that climate change had and would have on millions of children across the world, he continued.  Lack of access to dinking water, spread of disease and growing deforestation were problems that children were continuing to confront, and those phenomena increased migration by children and made them more vulnerable to exploitation.

On potential areas of regression, the first concern was threats to justice for minors.  Not all of the international rules dealing with justice for minors were respected in all countries, many of whom should reject detention in favour of educational programmes.  Many responses did not recognize that children who were authors of crimes were also children in danger.

His Committee had continued to face considerable difficulties in the delay of reports; part of the delay was due to the two optional protocols, which required States to submit two separate reports.  In 2010, thanks to additional resources provided by the General Assembly, it had been able to work in two rooms at once and had cut down delays; but, now, it faced additional delays, which would mean as much as three years between reception and consideration of a report.  In order to make up for the delay and consider the report on a correct schedule, he asked that the using of two rooms be a permanent change.  Such a decision would give the Committee an opportunity to consider eight additional reports.  At the same time, he was aware that it was only an interim measure.

He was also pleased to say that the Committee adopted, just a few days ago, guidelines on the impartiality of treaty bodies.  However, while it would make them significantly more effective, it would not significantly reduce their costs.

Question and Answer Session

Malaysia’s delegate, on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), was pleased that UNICEF and the Special Representatives had given greater importance to the need to coordinate children’s promotion and protection.  That collaboration must be fostered between the United Nations and States in a responsible manner.  A comprehensive view, in which United Nations actors were best placed to tackle the dimensions of child protection, was needed.  In many cases, there was a lack of capacity to enforce international children’s rights and standards. He welcomed the technical cooperation extended to ASEAN by the United Nations.  He stressed the importance of each child protection mechanism adhering to its mandate.  He also encouraged the United Nations to cooperate with ASEAN.

Pakistan’s delegate reiterated the importance of coordination in avoiding duplication and cooperating with the agency best placed to address various tasks.  He rejected the “naming and shaming” approach in the child rights domain.  He urged all United Nations agencies and stakeholders to work with States and voiced hope that that message would be taken positively.  The collective commitment was to provide the best possible protection to children.   Pakistan stood ready to promote the child rights agenda.

Norway’s delegate requested information on the follow-up to recommendations of a certain report.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child provided human rights standards.  She asked for Mr. Zermatten’s views on the will of the development community to use its recommendations in programme design.

Liechtenstein’s delegate supported the Committee’s request to meet in parallel chambers.  Given that it had experience in that format, he asked for details of the consequences of that on the quantity and quality of Committee’s work.  On treaty body strengthening, among measures in the report of the High Commissioner, which ones could be implemented by the Committee?

Switzerland’s delegate said her Government financed seminars on the rights of children in the private sector.  She asked how States could work with the Committee to create an environment in which enterprises would respect children’s rights.  Origin States should cooperate with receiving States that had signed the child’s rights Convention.  Some States were reluctant to take steps, in that regard.  She asked for the Committee’s recommendations to ensure origin States cooperated.

The representative of Chile said his country had presented its periodic report last September.   Chile’s engagement on children’s rights was seen in the signing of the Optional Protocol on communications.  Given the delay in considering reports, Chile supported the Committee’s request to work in two rooms, which had proven helpful in the past.  He asked what the Committee could do to facilitate preparation and presentation of country reports.  How could it disseminate its work in countries?

Cuba’s delegate underscored the Committee’s need to maintain dialogue with States.  She asked for details on the difficulties it faced in discharging its mandate, especially in considering the reports of States parties.

The European Union’s delegate welcomed the positive trend towards global implementation of the Convention.  The report stated that, in fulfilling its functions, the Committee would be guided by children’s best interests.  He asked how the Committee could implement that in practice, when the Third Optional Protocol entered into force.  Would there be special measures to deal with individual complaints?

Responding to comments by the representatives of Malaysia and Pakistan, Mr. LAKE said the principle of working with governments was essential to everything they did, and the principle of complementarity was important not just for efficiency, but also for keeping children at the centre of everything they did.  He assured delegates that they intended to be transparent and collaborative.  On the intervention from Norway, he said protection of children with disabilities was also very important, and it would be the subject of next year’s UNICEF state of the children report.

Responding to the rest of the questions, Mr. ZERMATTEN said the questions were proof of cooperation and collaboration with respect to the rights of the child.

On the question about difficulty implementing international instruments related to the child, he said training and education were of the essence.  All persons who worked with and for children must be trained as much as possible, he said.

On the question about improving the speed of procedures, he said his Committee had in the past worked in two rooms and that system worked rather well and it may be possible to make up part of the delay.

With regard to the question on the situation of children with special needs, who were particularly vulnerable, he said it cropped up continuously.

Responding to the question from Switzerland’s delegate, he said his Committee was on its way to drawing up general remarks on the rights of the child and the business sector.  Those actors should be approached together, but not in the same way, he said.  The Committee hoped to specifically examine the impact of the private sector on children’s rights.

Speaking on behalf of ASEAN, HUSSEIN HANIFF ( Malaysia) said that in 2010 ASEAN had developed a Strategic Framework and Plan of Action for Social Welfare, Family and Children for 2011-2015.  It contained practical measures and plans of action to build an association orientated toward people.  With about 195 million children under the age of 18, ASEAN was moving toward achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and had again made children’s welfare a priority.  Its Strategic Framework aimed to safeguard children’s rights and ensure their survival and full development by protecting them from abuse, neglect, violence, discrimination and exploitation.

Turning to children and armed conflict, he said the Strategic Framework enveloped provisions to review the situation of children and families affected by armed conflict, he said.  That would help create a foundation for strengthening laws, policies and services.  The framework also called for the convening of regional intersectoral workshops to study the impact and cost of violence against children.  The aim was to expand Member States’ understanding of violence against children.

ASEAN shared the Secretary-General’s concerns on children’s vulnerability to emerging types of crimes, including transnational organized crimes and cybercrimes, he said.  Four ASEAN countries – Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam – attended the Third Annual United Kingdom-Southeast Asian Regional Child Protection Workshop, in March 2012.  The two-day workshop, focusing on paedophiles operating in cyberspace, was run by specialist trainers from the United Kingdom’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre.  It provided a better understanding of child sexual exploitation issues.  To help children participate directly in their social development, the Association held the second ASEAN Children’s Forum in Singapore from 6 to 8 June 2012.  That gave children a vehicle for expressing their views and let government officials know how to help them.  36 children from all 10 ASEAN Member States and China attended the Forum.  Its theme was “LEAD”, or “Learn, Express, Act and Dream”.

Speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), OCTAVIO ERRAZURIZ ( Chile) said CELAC would continue to actively participate as a main co-sponsor in the talks towards the omnibus draft resolution on the rights of the child.  The resolution had been presented by Uruguay, on behalf of the Latin American and Caribbean Group and the European Union.  The Group hoped that this year’s topic - indigenous children - would help integrate the issue into the United Nations system’s agenda.  By dealing with those children’s rights within the framework of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Member States would have the opportunity to focus on a group that suffered aggravated forms of exclusion and discrimination.  He urged States to fully comply with international conventions and recommendations to adopt measures to eliminate discrimination against indigenous children.

CELAC appealed to Member States to adopt measures that would prevent the abduction of children who were victims of enforced disappearances.  Children with disabilities were another marginalized group that required attention to protect their rights and meet their basic needs, he said.  CELAC noted that the final goal of the document, “A world fit for children”, still had not been achieved nine years after the international community had adopted it at a special session on children.  CELAC reaffirmed its full commitment to protecting the rights of all children.

CELAC Member States were deeply concerned about the vulnerability of children in situations such as trafficking; migration and smuggling; sale for sexual exploitation; rape; and child pornography.  “Such conduct is outright reprehensible, but even more serious when it goes hand-in-hand with situations of poverty, social inequality, discrimination, migration, insecurity and organized crime,” he said.  CELAC reaffirmed its commitment to the goals of the Rio de Janeiro Declaration and Call for Action of 2008.  CELAC countries held an unwavering commitment to the United Nations system in order to enhance the cooperation of its various entities to help States promote, protect and respect the rights of children all over the world.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.