Regional cooperation, access to education and increased funding held the key to ending the nightmare lived by over 1 billion children across the world as a result of physical, emotional and sexual violence, United Nations experts told members of the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian & Cultural) today.
As the Committee began its consideration of the promotion and protection of children’s rights, Maria Santos Pais, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative on Violence against Children, said that a child died every five minutes as a result of violence, and that 152 million children were victims of labour exploitation, with nearly half of them engaged in hazardous work. Yet, official development assistance (ODA) to end violence against children was “wholly insufficient” at $0.65 per child per year.
She said the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was a unique opportunity to galvanize political will, adding that an increasing number of countries had adopted national agendas to prevent and address abuse against children.
Virginia Gamba, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, proposed greater engagement with regional and subregional organizations to better integrate child protection considerations into their policies. Those efforts must invest significantly in human resources to enhance legal protections for children affected by conflict.
The high price of educational loss was affecting displaced children, she said, calling on the Committee to ensure that appropriate funding was made available for education in conflict‑related emergency situations.
In a similar vein, Justin Forsyth, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), called on Member States to view reports on the detrimental effects of inequality on children as a call to action. Millions of children were out of school due to conflict, and girls were disproportionately affected, being 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys, he said.
He said progress had been made, citing improved health indicators and reports that reflected a halving in the number of children dying before the age of five, as well as a considerable reduction of stunting from malnutrition. Still, he said persistent challenges continued to hold the international community back from achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
With the floor open for debate, Egypt’s representative said on behalf of the African Group that regional efforts included a campaign to provide technical capacity‑development for stakeholders working against child marriage, and cross‑border advocacy efforts to strengthen a model law to end child marriage.
El Salvador’s delegate, on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said the region was working to address vulnerabilities emerging from poverty and inequality, as well as social, racial and gender inequalities.
General Assembly President Miroslav Lajčák (Slovakia) also addressed the Committee today, urging Member States to put aside entrenched positions and work towards a common goal.
The Third Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 10 October, to continue its discussion on the rights of children.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian & Cultural) met this afternoon to consider the promotion and protection of the rights of children. Before it were reports of the Secretary‑General on the girl child (document A/72/218) the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (document A/72/356); and the follow‑up to the outcome of the special session of the General Assembly on children (document A/72/208).
It also had before it reports of the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General on Violence against Children (document A/72/275); the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict (document A/72/276); and the joint report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material and the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children (document A/72/164).
Statement by General Assembly President
MIROSLAV LAJČÁK (Slovakia), President of the General Assembly, said a focus on people was a development priority, a fact reflected in the Third Committee’s (Social, Humanitarian & Cultural) agenda. Describing the Committee as fundamental to impacting the lives of people where they need it most, he encouraged Member States to reach beyond entrenched positons to find solutions to pressing issues. Stressing that the promotion of human rights would strengthen the foundation for peace, he said rights violations were at the root of conflict. Upholding them would help sustain peace, and as such, States must protect human rights without discrimination.
Underscoring that the Committee’s work on development was central to promoting well-being, he said serious social and humanitarian challenges around the world must be reflected in its agenda, while real solutions must be presented in relevant resolutions. He said women’s empowerment was central to development, urging the Committee to focus on people‑centric development strategies. He welcomed efforts to make the Committee more effective and recognized the burden placed on small delegations by a heavy agenda. The Committee’s deliberations, while not easy, were essential, he concluded.
Rights of Children
VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict, said her report focused on the protection of education in such situations and the “deeply worrying trend” of denying humanitarian access to children in need by parties to conflict. Outlining threats to the right to education in places including Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Kasai region, she called on all Member States to protect that right in conflict situations, including through measures to deter the military use of schools. Noting that the high price of lost access to education was also being borne by displaced children, she called on the Committee to ensure that appropriate funding was made available for education in conflict‑related emergency situations, especially in the context of the comprehensive refugee response framework.
Turning to the denial of humanitarian access, she described incidents in South Sudan, Myanmar, Afghanistan and Syria, adding that parties to the conflict in the latter continued to impose bureaucratic restrictions that severely impacted aid delivery. International law was clear on such provision to civilians, she said, urging the Committee to consider those elements in its resolutions and other work. Regarding her own mandate, she proposed working with regional and sub‑regional organizations to better integrate child protection considerations into their policies, operational planning and personnel training. She also hoped to invest significant human resources in work with those organizations to enhance legal protections for children affected by conflict, including through the adoption of geographically focused legal or political instruments, which could enhance effectiveness and “be a multiplier of our efforts”.
When the floor was opened for questions, the representative of Belgium asked the Special Representative how she envisaged consolidating commitments with armed groups who had expressed commitments to engaging with the United Nations, as well as for her view on the child‑protection capabilities of United Nations peacekeeping operations in view of budgetary constraints.
The representative of Switzerland called for respect for international humanitarian laws and rapid access to humanitarian assistance, and asked for the Special Representative’s view on the feasibility of adding that to the system for monitoring and data collection.
The representative of Argentina asked which initiatives the Special Representative intended to undertake in terms of cooperation and awareness‑raising on violations of children’s rights in conflict.
The representative of Liechtenstein said Member States were encouraged to reintegrate children, especially girls, asking the Special Representative to elaborate on best practices.
The representative of Mexico asked about what Member States could do to integrate children into society following armed conflict.
The representative of Russian Federation asked for the Special Representative’s views on which parts of her mandate had been most successful, and where there was room for improvement, as well as for details on what the Secretariat was doing to move on from the “Children Not Soldiers” project.
The representative of Norway noting the report’s focus on lessons learned, asked the Special Representative how experiences could be made relevant for field‑based practice, and how more States could be encouraged to join the “Safe Schools” declaration.
The representative of Lithuania expressed shared concern about the politicization of humanitarian aid provision, asking whether the inclusion of countries responsible for the denial of aid could play a deterrent role.
The representative of United Kingdom asked for details on plans for raising awareness of the Special Representative’s mandate.
The representative of Germany asked the Special Representative to comment on monitoring and compliance work.
The representative of Algeria asked for clarification on the best practices identified to protect schools from attacks during armed conflict.
The representative of Iraq asked what best practices were in place to assist children who were victims of extremist groups.
Ms. GAMBA, responding to various questions, said the immediate priority was the development of clear, regional‑centric strategies. To that end, she called on Member States to include language on demobilizing children in all relevant reports and resolutions as a means to promote rehabilitation and reintegration efforts. Child protection advisors had been identified as the principle actors engaging with armed groups to promote the demobilization and reintegration of children. Advisors, and their awareness raising efforts, were essential and more resources were needed to fully support their work. The more advisors present on the field, the more children who would receive assistance, she stressed.
Two particular issues of interest were the detention of children and movement of children across borders, she said. Threats posed by those issues were increasing, she said, identifying the dynamic of children in armed conflict as a “changing beast”. Regarding humanitarian assistance, she said her Office had documented denial of access, and pointed to the Security Council as the body capable to take action on that matter. She said she looked forward to working with Syria and Saudi Arabia to find solutions to conflict in the region and to mitigate violations against children.
Also participating in the discussion were representatives of Estonia, South Africa, France, United Arab Emirates, Spain, Azerbaijan, Colombia, United States, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Armenia, as well as representatives of the European Union and the State of Palestine.
JUSTIN FORSYTH, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund, presented three reports, the first of which was titled “Status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child” (document A/72/356). The second, titled “The Girl Child” (document A/72/218), focused on education, while the third was titled “Follow‑up to the outcome of the special session of the General Assembly on children” (document A/72/208).
Taken together, he said, the reports painted a picture of progress, but much remained to be done if the Sustainable Development Goals were to be achieved. Characterizing the progress made as “dramatic”, he cited in particular a halving in the number of children dying before their fifth birthday. There had also been a considerable reduction of stunting from malnutrition, as well as progress in the number of children going to school. Yet, for a number of different reasons, children were being left behind, he said, noting that a billion children experienced some form of violence. Despite the encouraging trajectory, within that story of progress were big challenges setting the international community back.
Among them was inequality and inequity, he said, adding that the reports he presented were not just a recitation of statistics, but were also a call for Member States to take action. Millions of children were out of school as a result of conflict, and girls were disproportionately affected, being 2.5 times more likely to be out of school than boys. The “No Lost Generation” initiative, among others, was important when it came to looking at investing in education for children in difficult situations, particularly girls. Conflict could take away friends and family, or dignity, but it could never take away knowledge, he said, quoting a young Syrian refugee.
There were no delegations requesting the floor for interaction.
MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General on Violence Against Children, said life was a nightmare for too many children. Every five minutes, a child died as a result of violence, and each year, one billion children experienced emotional, physical or sexual violence. While half of the people living in extreme poverty were children, budget allocations for child protection were largely inadequate, with official development assistance (ODA) to end violence against children wholly insufficient at less than $0.65 per child per year.
Moreover, 152 million children were victims of labour exploitation, she said, nearly half of them engaged in hazardous work. More than one‑quarter of trafficking victims were children and 8 per cent of homicide victims were below the age of 15. Such violence was often hidden, as “children feel frightened to speak up, and uncertain about the support they may receive,” she said, citing the sad plight of children accused of witchcraft, especially those with disabilities, with albinism, and orphans who were often labelled as witches. Abandoned by their families, they were sacrificed in violent rituals.
Her report also drew attention to refugee children, she said, who comprised more than half of the refugee population. Protecting their rights should be at the heart of the Global Compacts on Refugees and Migration. Her Office would soon launch a report on children migration and refugee situations that included the recommendations of young people. The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development was a unique opportunity to galvanize political will and reignite action to end violence against children. Over the last year, more countries had adopted national agendas to prevent and address such abuse. Data had been consolidated and legal foundations laid to prevent violence, protect child victims and fight impunity. Further, the number of countries with a comprehensive ban on violence against children had more than tripled.
In recent months, she said, Brazil had taken legislative steps to safeguard the rights of child victims and witnesses, while Malaysia had enhanced children’s protection for grooming and online abuses. The strategic partnerships developed with regional organizations and high‑level meetings hosted every year had been crucial in mobilizing support. She also highlighted the religious communities committed to using their moral authority to promote positive change, drawing attention to Buddhist leaders across Asia who in February had committed to ensuring children’s safety in temples.
The representative of Brazil asked about the main issues related to the protection of children from violence that lacked sufficient coverage in most national legislations, and what the critical normative gaps were that must be addressed in that field to achieve a world free from such abuse by 2030.
The representative of the European Union asked for examples of best practices in cooperating with the private sector, and on another topic, requested preliminary results of initiatives the Special Representative had taken against bullying.
The representative of Chile asked the Special Representative for her vision in terms of working more closely on eliminating all forms of violence against children, and also about how Member States could work more closely with parliaments and congresses.
The representative of Japan asked the Special Representative on how to foster a culture of empowerment and participation of children.
The representative of Switzerland said specific focus should be placed on children who had been deprived of their liberty, asking the Special Representative about new risks to be tackled ahead of 2030.
The representative of Lithuania asked the Special Representative to elaborate on where attention should be focused on the fight against bullying, and what concrete projects she envisaged.
The representative of Estonia said the Special Representative’s report had noted the importance of collaboration with faith‑based organizations, asking her for examples of how faith‑based organizations had made an impact.
The representative of Maldives asked about methods the Special Representative would suggest to encourage reporting of abuse by children.
The representative of Qatar asked about the challenges in terms of reporting, and how Member States could fill those gaps.
Also taking the floor were the representatives of Algeria, Colombia, Mexico, Slovenia, United States, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Norway, Dominican Republic, Spain, South Africa and Iraq.
Ms. SANTOS PAIS, responding to questions, underscored the need for a comprehensive normative foundation to prevent and address violence. She also pointed out areas that should be improved upon such as: better data collection, enhancing the capacity of national statistical officers to inform policy-making and capturing the perceptions and views of children in an ethically sound manner. Noting a question from Switzerland’s delegate on efforts at the municipal level to prevent violence against children, she said a network of mayors had been established to curb the issue. She also highlighted progress made in legislation to protect children in Brazil but urged countries not to reverse such gains by lowering the age of juvenile responsibility.
Responding to a question by Mexico’s delegate on whether the tensions caused by migration and refugee crises could be seen as a form of violence, she said it was true that children in those situations endured psychological violence and sexual abuse. She urged Member States to protect the rights of child refugees and migrants.
Responding to questions on good practices, she said Indonesia’s policy of giving every child a free card allowing them access to fundamental services such as healthcare should be lauded. Sweden, which provided families with grants for child rearing, was another country she highlighted in that context.
On the question of partnerships with the private sector, she pointed to progress made at the national level through programs that trained truck drivers to spot children who were being trafficked.
AMR ABDUL ATTA (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, said the international community must work to upgrade education facilities and provide safe and effective learning environments for all. While Africa had made progress, there were still numerous challenges hindering free, universal, compulsory education. Across sub‑Saharan Africa, more girls than boys were out of school. The African Union Assembly had adopted an African agenda for children, setting out aspirations to be achieved by 2040, including a child‑friendly national legislative policy. Each child should be protected against violence, neglect and abuse, and benefit from a child‑sensitive criminal justice system. African children’s views mattered, he said, noting that the aspirations would be phased in gradually until 2040.
The 2017 Day of the African Child had been devoted to regional efforts to promote sustainable development, he said. A campaign provided technical capacity‑development for stakeholders working against child marriage. Several African States were using advocacy and cross‑border learning to strengthen initiatives, he said, such as a model law to end child marriage. The issue of child‑headed households had emerged in the context of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, he said, noting that knowledge of how to prevent its spread was particularly low among certain vulnerable groups. He urged Member States to find long‑term solutions to address the causes of issues, underscoring the need for enhanced partnerships to accelerate the realization of commitments.
Ms. SORTO (El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), reaffirmed the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the highest standard in the promotion and protection of the rights of children and adolescents. While those rights were a priority for Latin American and Caribbean countries, challenges remained, and States were working to address vulnerabilities resulting from poverty and inequality, as well as social factors such as racial and ethnic discrimination and gender inequalities. Progress achieved was vulnerable to risks from the effects of global financial crises, natural disasters, violence, organized crime, migrant smuggling and human and drug trafficking, she said.
Noting that education was a human right, a social investment and a social good critical to achieving the 2030 Agenda, she stressed that no one — including children and adolescents — could be left behind. Welcoming work on safe, regular and orderly migration, she voiced concern over situations faced by children in the context of large migratory movements, especially unaccompanied children and adolescents. Underscoring the importance of international cooperation and the right to development, she also drew attention to the long‑lasting scars left by pervasive violence and bullying, and reiterated the need for strengthened efforts to implement programmes aimed at realizing rights in early childhood with equity.