|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on Upcoming Annual Treaty Event, 24-26 September
Many child victims of violence, exploitation and abuse remain out of sight, are not reflected in statistics, are surrounded by stigma, and are very often neglected by their communities, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and Armed Conflict said at a Headquarters press conference today.
In the lead up to next week’s 2013 Treaty Event, which will highlight the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Marta Santos Pais said that the event, which takes place on 24, 25, 26 and 30 September and concludes on 1 October, is an opportunity for States to express their support and give children the confidence to speak out without fear of reprisals or harassment.
“It is important to remind ourselves that this is not just a formality, or a reminder for lawyers to talk about,” she said. “Rather, it is an opportunity to reaffirm our commitments to be accountable for the rights of the child.”
There are three optional protocols to the treaty. Optional Protocol I, on the involvement of children in armed conflict; Optional Protocol II, on the sale of children; and Optional Protocol III, on a communications procedure.
She recalled that while ratification was vital, it was just the start of a very long and continuous process of national implementation. While translating those commitments into action was what mattered, for too many children, the realization of their rights was only a distant reality.
“We’ve heard many traumatic illustrations of this,” she said of the millions of boys and girls who were lured into prostitution or trafficked for sexual exploitation, or the thousands who were sold for marriage, forced to work on plantations or in mining, or sold for illegal adoptions.
Among efforts to encourage the participation of children in safeguarding their own rights, she introduced a child-friendly edition of the Optional Protocol on a communications procedure, which was designed with the help of children and young people to be “simple, accessible, colourful and happy”, and to empower children to be able to bring complaints before their Governments or before the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, speaking of a recent experience in the field, said she had met a Syrian man in an Iraqi refugee camp recently, who fled Syria with his family after his teenage son had been approached to take up arms. For teenagers around the world who were recruited to fight, the violence they had seen, endured and inflicted was something they would spend “a big part of their adult lives recovering from”, she added.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, children became soldiers after they were abducted or persuaded that it was their duty to join the fight, she said. After leaving the conflict, many children told stories of being further abused and mistreated, and explained how scared and hungry they had been, and how badly they had missed the protection of their families.
That, said Ms. Zerrougui, was the case everywhere where children were forced to take part in conflict. The Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict was designed to protect those children by garnering commitments from States that they would not allow individuals under the age of 18 to take up arms. The Protocol criminalizes recruitment of minors, and requires the demobilization of any under-age combatant, as well as the provision of physical and psychological rehabilitation for former child combatants.
“We are very close to universalization,” she said. “The children of the world deserve this protection, and let us work together to make sure we give it to them. I count on you to make it the story of this General Assembly.”
Office of Legal Affairs Treaty Section Chief Santiago Villalpando said that the Convention on the Rights of the Child was the most widely and rapidly ratified human rights treaty. Encouraging the development of international law had been a major objective of the United Nations since its inception, and next week’s event would highlight some 50 multilateral treaties in areas like human rights, Stateless persons, trade and the fight against terrorism, among others.
The list of highlighted treaties also included the Arms Trade Treaty, which aimed to attain the highest possible standards and improve regulations on the international trade of conventional arms, he said. That treaty had so far obtained 85 signatures and four ratifications. States would be encouraged to sign and ratify that treaty, and were invited to attend a special ceremony on 25 September.
Responding to a question from a journalist regarding children’s access to information about their human rights, Ms. Santos Pais said that in her travels she had observed that many young people, even in poor countries, had access to mobile phones and the Internet, and were able to educate themselves about their rights.
Asked about State compliance with the treaty, she said that more than 80 countries had an action plan to prevent violence against children, however, many had not moved far or fast enough. No State wished to be regarded as a “bad example” when it came to the rights of the child, she said, and over the past two decades, Governments had built coalitions wishing to show positive results, such as efforts to eliminate child pornography on the Internet or other technology.
Regarding a question about Syria’s participation in that Convention, Ms. Zerrougui said that Syria had indeed signed and ratified both the treaty and its optional protocols, and had also passed a law criminalizing the military recruitment of children. That was an opportunity for Syria to show that it considered recruited children as victims, and not perpetrators. She said that children were recruited by armed groups, and not by the Syrian Government.
She stressed the importance of reaching an agreement that ensured that the children were not punished or detained because of their association with the armed groups. “This is what we would like to achieve, and we are working with the belligerents of this conflict that is very, very much affecting children.”
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