25 May 2010
Press Conference

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on Launch of Media Campaigns against Child Rights Violations


Some 20 years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, universal adherence to its two Optional Protocols would lead to the eradication of misuse of children as soldiers and sex workers, “if we do it together”, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said at Headquarters today.

Ms. Coomaraswamy spoke at a Headquarters press conference this afternoon to announce the launch of several media campaigns to combat violations of children’s rights, and as the world marked the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the Optional Protocols, the first dealing with the children in armed conflict and the second with the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

She said separate two-year campaigns were being launched to promote universal ratification of the two Optional Protocols.  The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict would set a framework to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers, and hold the recruiters accountable.  It would also outline response principles to be applied in situations where child soldiers were being used.

Appearing alongside Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, and Hilde Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), she said some 132 countries had ratified the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict, and of those that had not done so, many were island States with small armies.  “Universality implies a moral consensus, and a moral consensus is then the basis of customary law and standards.  So we feel it’s very important that there is universal consensus,” she said, noting that the first step towards implementation and prosecution was to introduce national laws.

Responding to a question, Ms. Coomaraswamy said two commanders of the Myanmar army were facing prosecution for allegedly using child soldiers, but negotiations on an action plan to eradicate child soldiering had stalled in Myanmar last December, having begun in 2009.  The template for the action plan would have provided unimpeded access by the United Nations to army camps for verification.

Ms. Pais spoke of the need to express strong concern about the 115 million children involved in hazardous occupations, including sex work and pornography, saying that the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography contained provisions that would protect children from such situations, which were all child-rights violations.  Positive changes in child protection over the last 10 years, such as new laws, stronger protection systems, and greater visibility for exploited children, were encouraging but still not enough, she said, adding that the two-year campaign was meant to turn child protection from an ethical commitment into a legal imperative based on a shared normative foundation.

Describing what made the second Optional Protocol unique, she said it included a call to address the root causes of the sale of children, which was rare under international law.  It also recognized the importance of addressing family and community situations surrounding children at greatest risk, and aimed to support changes in behaviour, so that families and communities did not commit such crimes.  The campaigns were also aimed at promoting changes in how people viewed children victimized by sexual exploitation, she added.

Ms. Johnson said UNICEF worked with both Special Representatives in its efforts to eradicate brutal abuses like child soldiering and sex work.  At the moment, 36 countries had still not signed or ratified the first Optional Protocol and 29 countries had not signed or ratified the second, she said, noting that one of UNICEF’s goals was to encourage States to set national standards and ensure that the two Optional Protocols were reflected in domestic law.  Her agency’s approach to lapses in child protection was to seek community-oriented solutions, she added.

Asked about the impact on UNICEF’s work of the drawdown of the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), she said the agency was likely to face difficulties without the Mission transporting and protecting its personnel.  The problem of child soldiers and sexual violence against children was not improving, Ms. Coomaraswamy emphasized, pointing out that as armed groups were integrated into the regular army, former rebel commanders continued to recruit children, bringing the child soldiers into the framework of the national army.

Responding to questions about the treatment of child suicide bombers, she said their use by the Taliban in Afghanistan and by militants in Iraq was noted by the Secretary-General in an annex to his report on the situation of children in armed conflict.  Asked about Omar Khadr, detained at Guantanamo by the United States military at age 15, Ms. Coomaraswamy said she was aware of negotiations for his repatriation to Canada involving the United States and Canadian Governments.  The United Nations urged his return to Canada and called for arrangements to ensure he was not tried as a war criminal, she added.

Commenting on a spike in girl-trafficking during major sporting events, and with the FIFA World Cup set to take place in South Africa in June, Ms. Pais said she hoped a “holistic approach” was taken to ensure that type of criminality did not occur.

Ms. Johnson added that businesses in the tourism industry, such as airlines and hotels, were applying voluntary standards aimed at curbing trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Asked about the arrest of Baptist missionaries in Haiti over the alleged kidnapping of children following the 12 January earthquake, Ms. Johnson denied any involvement by UNICEF.

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For information media • not an official record