Climate Change, Displacement Threaten Children’s Well-Being, Officials Say, as Young Activists Stress They Must Be Part of Solution
The world has not kept its promises to its children, many of whom are at risk of “being left behind”, the General Assembly heard today as it marked the thirtieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child — also known as the most widely adopted international treaty in history.
Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria), General Assembly President, in his opening remarks to the session that also commemorated the International Day of the Child, said that many children simply do not have access to the most basic social services, such as health care, education and protection from violence. Over the past year, an estimated 1 billion children experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect. Currently, some 265 million children do not attend school and millions of girls are forced into early marriage.
“This is a scandal,” he said, adding that children, in addition to being literate, must also be digitally savvy in order to access opportunities in today’s ever-evolving world. Member States must ensure that action towards the Sustainable Development Goals upholds the rights of all children. They must double efforts to implement the Convention and streamline its targets into national policy. Those who have not yet done so must ratify the treaty without delay, he stressed.
Amina Mohammed, United Nations Deputy Secretary‑General, spotlighted with concern that children continue to be forced from their homes by conflict or natural hazards. These children often end up living in slums or isolated villages without health clinics, adequate food or clean drinking water. They risk being recruited as child soldiers, and face sexual abuse, trafficking, imprisonment and forced labour.
The good news is that children today — engaged and passionate — are demanding action on gender inequality, human rights and economic systems that prioritize short-term gains, she said. The United Nations will continue to work with Governments, businesses and the international community to develop new programmes that keep children safe, healthy and in school.
Henrietta Fore, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that children today are facing new challenges, such as climate change, online bullying and displacement. Hence, the historic gains of the last 30 years must be matched with a new commitment to support children in the enormously complex world. “The best pathway to a better, more sustainable future for all is to invest in children today,” she stressed.
Also delivering remarks were Virginia Gamba, the Secretary‑General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, and Najat Maalla M’jid, the Special Representative on Violence against Children, who called for the full implementation of the standards in the Convention through the adoption of national laws and policies. The estimated financial cost of violence against children is as high as $7 trillion per year, Ms. M’jid spotlighted, calling for adequate financing and investment in children.
Maud De Boer-Buquicchio, the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, said that “there are still people who sell and buy children, who exploit them and dispose of them as commodities.”
Also delivering remarks today was Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, who noted, via video link from Geneva, how digital tools enable the exploitation of children, including the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. Fortunately, many children are standing up to demand the right to participate in shaping solutions to these challenges.
David Beckham and Millie Bobby Brown, both UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors, also took part in today’s commemoration, spotlighting the activism of children around the world. Children are calling out for change from Indonesia to Swaziland. And UNICEF is at the forefront helping make the changes that children want to see, Mr. Beckham said.
Ms. Brown shared her experience with bullying in school and online, expressing concern that too many children do not have the resources to deal with such harassment. Bullying is never harmless and can lead to mental health problems and even suicide, she said, adding that social media does not have to be a place of bullying and harassment, but rather a place of love and support.
Following the opening remarks segment — which were also delivered by Luis Ernesto Pedernera Reyna, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and Andrew Morley, President and CEO of World Vision International — the Assembly held an interactive segment and a panel discussion on “Leaving no child behind: For every child, every right”.
Many of today’s child advocates — themselves children and young adults — stressed that children are not a problem. Children have rights and should be part of the solution to the world’s most pressing problems. Amira Bah Ahmadou, of Cameroon, spotlighted that many children are still not registered at birth. Without birth certificates, they simply cannot register for health care coverage and are forced to leave school after a certain number of years. Another child activist, Jane Velkovski, said that he isn’t bothered by being in a wheelchair. What concerns him most are the barriers he faces, such as lack of ramps or poor transportation. Adults must do everything in their power to remove these obstacles. Volodymyr Charushyn of Ukraine said that despite being unable to hear, he still wants to be successful and useful to others, and wants to counter the notion that if a person cannot hear, his or her opportunities are limited.
In the afternoon, the Assembly began its general debate, hearing from the following representatives: Iceland (on behalf of the Nordic countries), Cameroon, Gabon, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Liberia, Spain, Tunisia (on behalf of the African Group), Viet Nam (on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Grenada (on behalf of the Caribbean Community), Monaco, Ukraine, Pakistan, Maldives, Rwanda, Qatar, Indonesia, Liechtenstein, Poland, Switzerland, Bangladesh, Canada, Algeria, Afghanistan, New Zealand, Hungary, Australia, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Myanmar, Timor-Leste, Croatia, Uruguay, Lebanon, China, United Arab Emirates, Nepal and Italy, as well as a representative from the European Union delegation.
The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 21 November, to conclude its general debate on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
TIJJANI MUHAMMAD-BANDE (Nigeria), President of General Assembly, said that millions of children today continue to face obstacles in realizing their rights to the most basic social services, including adequate health care, education and protection from violence. An estimated 265 million children do not attend school. “This is a scandal,” he said, also pointing to the need to invest in education and remove all barriers to its access. “This cannot wait,” he emphasized. In a rapidly developing world, it is essential to ensure that information and communications technology (ICT) is integrated into curricula so that young people are not just literate but digitally literate. The digital gap is stark: Some 1 billion girls and women lack the skills to succeed in an increasingly digital world. “It is crucial that girls are encouraged to stay in school and attain necessary capacity for mental and human capacity development,” he added.
Early and forced marriage is catastrophic for women and girls, he said. Of the children who do not attend school, one in four live in crises-affected countries, including those affected by the climate emergency. Violence against children is never justified. “Over the past year, an estimated 1 billion children experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence or neglect,” he said. Stressing the need to ensure that all actions towards the Sustainable Development Goals are made while upholding the rights of all children, he urged Member States to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child without delay.
AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary‑General of the United Nations, speaking on behalf of the Secretary‑General, said that while strides have been made since the adoption of the Convention, much work remains. “We have not kept our promises to all the world’s children, and many are at risk of being left behind,” she said. These are children who have been forced from their homes by conflict or natural hazards like flood or drought. The children left behind are living in slums and isolated villages without health clinics, going to bed hungry and without clean water to drink. They may be recruited as child soldiers or labelled as terrorists. They may be sexually abused, imprisoned, or forced to work as slaves. The years to come pose very serious challenges to the Convention.
“Children must be at the heart of all our efforts,” she stressed. The United Nations will continue to work with Governments, businesses and the international community to develop new programmes that keep children safe, healthy and in school. “We will gather the world around the urgent need to address climate change,” she said. Children — engaged and passionate — are rightly demanding action on the gender inequality, human rights and economic systems that prioritize short-term gains over the health of the planet and its people. Thirty years after the Convention’s adoption, “it is time to listen to the voices of our children and hear their pleas,” she added.
HENRIETTA FORE, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that since the signing of the Convention, the world has made undeniable progress. However, millions of children, especially the poorest, are still not getting the vaccinations or food they need. Millions are living through conflict, seeing their communities destroyed. Children today are facing new challenges, such as climate change, safety in an online world and rising migration. Children’s rights are at a crossroads. The historic gains of the last 30 years must be matched with a new commitment to support children in the enormously complex, ever-changing world. “Please join UNICEF as we work with our global partners to build on the progress of the last three decades,” she said, calling on them to match words with action, and deliver more primary health care in communities and new programmes that help young people acquire job skills. “The best pathway to a better, more sustainable future for all is to invest in children today,” she said.
VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that childhood is a protected time in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity. The Convention is at the heart of the international legal framework for the protection of children affected by armed conflict and a guiding source of operative principles and standards for the mandate that the Special Representative represents. She added that, while an appropriate tool for the protection of children affected by armed conflict, the Convention is only a starting point. Its standards have been upgraded at an international level through the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, and at the regional level through the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. What is needed is the full implementation of these standards through the adoption of national laws and policies, as well as enforcement initiatives addressing violations of children’s rights in conflict.
NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General on Violence against Children, noted that progress achieved since the Convention was adopted has been too slow. “There are also disturbing trends and increasing challenges that threaten the gains we have made,” she observed, pointing to climate change, long-term conflicts, humanitarian disasters and violent extremism, among others. Damaged childhoods translate into damaged families and communities, she said, noting that the estimated financial cost of violence against children is as high as $7 trillion per year. Highlighting the need to mobilize global leadership for children, she called for galvanized action to prevent and respond to all forms of violence in all settings. There must be a focus on children as a distinct group as defined by the Convention, as well as more effective cooperation among stakeholders. This calls for adequate financing and investment in children, prioritizing those in situations of greatest vulnerability and marginalization. This also calls for wide participation throughout the development, implementation and follow-up and review processes of policy responses at the national level. She noted that the effective implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is also crucial in realizing the rights elaborated in the Convention.
LUIS ERNESTO PEDERNERA REYNA, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, said that for the Convention to be universal, one State must ratify it. “I call on the United States to sign on to the Convention,” he urged. Despite enormous improvements in the lives of children, poverty, inequality, exclusion, violence, discrimination, corruption and climate change still pose critical challenges. States must make progress in their strategies to respond to the issues affecting children. Children of the world are asking leaders to act and defend child and human rights. Working for the rights of the child implies having boys, girls and adolescents on the human rights agenda. It is important to hear from children from all regions and communities, particularly the Pacific, where they are often marginalized during international conversations.
MAUD DE BOER-BUQUICCHIO, Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography and other child sexual abuse material, said that the Convention made States recognize that children are “not a homogenous group of dependent people, but individual holders of rights”. It also recalls that, while the family has a primary responsibility in the protection and education of children, the State is the guarantor of the implementation of all children’s rights. Despite near universal ratification of the Convention — and its Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography having 176 State parties — she pointed out that “today there are still people who sell and buy children, who exploit them and dispose of them as commodities, in blatant denial of the child’s human dignity.” Factors such as digitalization, migration flows, and increasing recourse to assisted reproductive technologies have also had far-reaching implications for children, she said, calling for a holistic approach to tackle the issue by fighting impunity and addressing root causes such as poverty.
ANDREW MORLEY, President and CEO of World Vision International, said that while adoption of the Convention was a watershed moment and elicited a response from nations, much work remains to be done. Recalling his meeting with an eight-year-old girl in East Africa who endured female genital mutilation, rape and marriage to an elderly man, he wondered how Governments and Member States could allow such atrocities to continue. The global pledge “For every child, every right” is paramount, he said, calling for the implementation of laws and robust monitoring so it is clear where the international community should pool resources.
Following opening remarks, the Assembly held an interactive segment during which Member States heard from Michelle Bachelet, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors David Beckham and Millie Bobby Brown. The segment was divided into three sections: climate, humanitarian and migration, and education. It included several videos; musical performances, including by Skip Marley, Amrit Kaur Lohia and the PS22 Chorus; remarks from UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore; poetry reading from Nobel Laureate poet, playwright and essayist Wole Soyinka; and remarks by UNICEF China Goodwill Ambassador Roy Wang. Each segment included voices of child advocates on respective topics: Dante Vergara, on climate change; Nanse Mohand Ghanan, on conflict and migration; and Panyphorn Vongmala, on education.
Ms. BACHELET, speaking via video link from Geneva, said that the Convention and its Optional Protocols constitute a vital, living body of law. However, for many, childhood is still a time of deprivation, misery, exploitation and violence. The vast shifts driven by digital technology have promoted important freedoms for children, but the Internet has been a vehicle for bullying and intimidating online, often by adults and even people in power. Digital tools also enable the exploitation of children, including harmful images of children, and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes. In addition, climate change is generating immense harm to communities worldwide. Fortunately, with an admirable grasp of principles of justice and human rights, many children are standing to demand the right to participate in shaping solutions. Discussions in Geneva have called for much stronger action to protect children from harm, and to empower them to take their rightful seat at the table, as human rights defenders and agents of change. She said she hoped to symbolize a firm bridge between the work of United Nations organizations all over the world.
Mr. BECKHAM said that today is a reminder of the world’s duty to protect children’s future, dreams and ambitions. He said he was lucky to grow up in England with a family, teachers and coaches who believed in his goal to play football. In his work with UNICEF, he has seen children with much harder backgrounds but who also have ambitions and dreams for a better future. Children are calling out for change, from Indonesia to Swaziland to Cambodia to Djibouti. UNICEF is helping make the changes that children need to see in the world. Like all parents, he said, he has tried to teach his kids about the world and encourage their passions. However, adults must learn from children as surely as they teach children.
Ms. BROWN said that in world capitals and places like the United Nations, adults talk about children’s rights. However, young people today want to do the talking. She was bullied at school and harassed online, but with a strong family, she has been able to overcome obstacles. Many children do not have these resources, however. Bullying is never harmless, and it can lead to mental health problems and even suicide. Social media does not have to be a place of bullying and harassment, she said. It can be a place of love and support. Action on climate change is needed. The children of the world are demanding action, and she hoped that the world would listen.
In the segment on climate change, Ms. BROWN told the Assembly that while children are the least responsible for global warming, they will suffer the worst effects of it. This year has seen an entire generation fight for climate change, she added.
The Assembly then heard from Dante Vergara, a child advocate on climate change, who said that Chile — his home country — had had difficult moments, but now adults have agreed on rules that will benefit everyone. He said he was able to see with his own eyes how climate change has affected the environment. Climate change is a severe problem, and boys and girls have something important to say about it, since they will be the ones to most experience its effects. Climate change has no borders and humanity is at a tipping point, he added.
Ms. FORE, in her introductory remarks on the humanitarian and migration segment, said that children growing up in conflict zones face special challenges. Those who become migrants are vulnerable. UNICEF is working to scale up education on the move and working with host communities on immigration and social cohesion to help children better integrate into their new communities.
Ms. MOHAND GHANAN said she was born in the middle of the war in Syria. Her family was fortunate to come to the United States, with the help of the United Nations. She has tried to start a new life and live like any other child. But she has never forgotten about all the kids living hungry on the streets and she is determined to help them by any means necessary.
Mr. WANG, in the education segment, said that since the Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed 30 years ago, the world has seen enormous achievements in fulfilling children’s right to an education. But around the world, too many children are facing barriers to realizing their right to a quality education. For more than half of children living in low- and middle-income countries, education is a distant dream. The world is facing a learning crisis, and it will take a learning revolution to combat it.
Ms. VONGMALA said that access to the Internet at home and in rural areas is essential to finding good jobs in the twenty-first century. Resources from domestic and international sources must be harnessed to make this happen. She requested that people attending the meeting take action to ensure that all children receive a quality education at good schools, with uniforms and textbooks.
During a panel discussion on “Leaving no child behind: For every child, every right”, the Assembly continued to hear from child advocates and took questions from participants. Moderated by Jade Dixon, the panel included the following child advocates: Amila Alikadic, Amira Bah Ahmadou, Hans Aboua, Jane Velkovski, and Volodymyr Charushyn. Charlie Chan and PS22 Chorus gave a musical performance afterwards.
Ms. BROWN said in her introductory remarks that the Convention has helped millions of children. There is much more work to be done, however. The world is at a crossroads for children’s rights. Children are taking their message to the streets, forcing adults and leaders to secure their future. She encouraged the audience to listen to what children are saying.
Ms. DIXON introduced the panel by welcoming the speakers, calling them “fiery advocates.” To solve today’s problems, talking to each other is essential. Some adults pass their problems onto children, while some children have thought of problems that adults have never considered, she said. Adults and children must work together, in different languages and across different generations.
Ms. ALIKADIC said that many young people are leaving her country, Bosnia and Herzegovina, because of violence and poverty. Education is not where it is supposed to be, with children expected to learn outdated facts. In the age of Google, they do not understand why. As many as 30 per cent of kids in her country receive corporal punishment. Children are not a problem — they have rights, and they should be a part of the solution to the world’s problems. She said that the world should join the children in building a future for everyone.
Ms. AHMADOU said that in Cameroon, many children are already enjoying their rights by going to school and having places to play and enjoy hobbies. For the past 20 years, the country has had a parliament for children to better understand their rights and speak to the Government about relevant issues. Since the ratification of the Convention, more children have civil status, even if many are still not registered at birth. Without birth certificates, many children cannot be registered for health care coverage and are forced to leave school after a certain number of years. By 2055, all children under the age of five should be registered at birth, she said.
Mr. ABOUA said that he works to raise awareness of hand-washing and HIV/AIDS to improve public health. If children are not in good health, they cannot study and grow in life. He encouraged decision makers to respect the Convention and wishes for an end to infant deaths. All hospitals should have incubators and all children should have their voices heard by decision makers. Children must be at the table, and decision makers can organize meetings like the one today to listen to help ensure the future.
Mr. VELKOVSKI said that he gets around in a wheelchair but was taught that he can do everything other kids can, just in a different way. He said he goes to school and has many friends. His biggest passion is football, which gives him strength and makes him happy. Football has connected him to celebrities and made him fight for equality in sports. It’s important to be equal and respectful. He isn’t bothered by being in a wheelchair but is annoyed by barriers, such as lack of ramps or poor transportation. Adults must do everything for children’s rights and remove all barriers.
Mr. CHARUSHYN said that he wants to be successful and useful to others despite being unable to hear. He wants to understand people and be understood. Many people believe that if a person cannot hear, his or her opportunities are limited. He wants to counter this idea.
In the ensuing discussion, the panel of child advocates heard from government, private sector and civil society officials, who presented them with several questions including on how children can be brought to “the table” for real and meaningful participation.
MATS GRANRYD, Director General of GSMA, said that the mobile industry connects millions of people locally. Innovation and communication are the heart of the industry and the industry is working to empower children around the world. From protection to participation, the industry has the best interest of the child in mind.
Responding to a question from Mr. GRANRYD on how technology and innovation impact young lives, Mr. CHARUSHYN said that technology makes the impossible possible. Digital and mobile technology can make the unheard heard.
ÁSMUNDUR EINAR DAÐASON, Minister of Social Affairs and Children of Iceland, said the world’s leaders haven’t been listening to young people until now. Iceland’s Government is now reforming its structures to include children in all decision-making, such as a parliament for children, where policymakers must listen to young people.
MEG GARDINER, Secretary‑General of the ChildFund Alliance, said that young people are now involved as agents of change. Despite all the challenges of today, enormous progress is being made. She asked the panel why young people should be involved in media and what they would say to those young people who want to be involved.
Responding to that question, Mr. ABOUA said that all people who want to be journalists and reporters should speak out. It is not easy to fight and make a big effort, wake up early and go to radio stations to speak.
JORDI CARDONER CASAUS, First Vice Chairman of FC Barcelona and the Barça Foundation, said that the Foundation he represents is active in 58 countries, fighting for the rights of more than 1.5 million children. The Foundation believes that sports can teach children how to battle adversity and overcome obstacles in their lives. He asked the panellists what they have learned from sports.
Responding to that question, Mr. VELKOVSKI said that he has learned to lead — he is captain of his team. He has learned about teamwork and passion from football.
The representative of Bulgaria said the organizers wanted to see meaningful participation of children. Ending violence against children and ensuring their safety is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. He asked what young people can do to support the ending of violence and asked what policymakers should be asking adults to do.
Responding to that, Ms. AHMADOU said that working together to fight for rights is crucial. Decision makers should involve young people in their decisions.
Mr. DAÐASON (Iceland), speaking on behalf of the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden), said that there has been significant progress since the adoption of the Convention. More children are attending school and getting an education than ever before, providing the best safeguard against exclusion and lack of prospects. Highlighting the crucial role of UNICEF and the United Nations in promoting the Convention, he said the instrument is the first of its kind to address the protection of children from violence. Nordic countries have implemented the Barnahus model, or “children’s house”, where they can receive all needed services in one place. Children need to be listened to and involved in decisions that affect them. With this in mind, children from the Nordic countries will gather in Copenhagen in January to discuss the rights of the child, focusing on their participation and involvement.
In his national capacity, he said the Convention established an important internationally recognized framework for children’s rights and must be a real tool, a compass, for all societies. On the instrument’s thirtieth anniversary, the Government of Iceland decided, concurrent with a comprehensive review of services for children and their families, to establish an extensive partnership with UNICEF aimed at implementing the Convention and involving local authorities.
PAULINE IRENE NGUENE, Minister for Social Affairs of Cameroon, outlined national efforts, from reforms to protect the rights of children at the institutional level to legislation outlawing female genital mutilation, breast flattening and the failure to pay child support. Cameroon also built new hospitals, extended vaccination coverage, developed programmes to promote breastfeeding and adopted a national plan against female genital mutilation and a campaign to raise awareness against forced marriages. In the educational sector, efforts include extending the school day, recruiting thousands of new teachers and broadening access for children with disabilities. Pointing out that Boko Haram often targets youth, she said authorities have established reintegration initiatives to serve the needs of those children. In addition, ongoing efforts aim at increasing national birth registration rates to 90 per cent from the current 67 per cent level.
PRISCA NLEND KOHO, Minister for the Promotion and Integration of Women in Development of Gabon, called for the Convention’s full implementation, adding that her country ratified the document in 1994. Consequently, Gabon proceeded to harmonize its legislation to bring the Convention and its protocols into effect, taking on a broad range of measures for education, health and social coverage to operationalize legal and institutional protections for children. As a result, Gabon achieved a 98 per cent education rate, 96 per cent literacy rate and gender equality in its compulsory school system. In the health sector, Gabon has implemented broad infant vaccination coverage programmes, more than 90 per cent of all births are recorded and illnesses like polio have been eradicated. Socially, the ban on forced and child marriages has been effectively enforced. At the institutional level, her Government created subcommittees for the rights of the child in Parliament, welcoming the constant support of United Nations agencies including UNICEF, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In light of a series of new challenges to the rights of children, including climate change, she said technological progress represents a source of hope for such emerging issues.
BOUNSAVAD BOUPHA (Lao People’s Democratic Republic) highlighted a range of national policies, measures and laws to promote and protect the rights of the child, including through a commitment to the global pledge. However, adequate resources are crucial for the effective implementation of these measures, he said, calling on the international community to lend its support and assistance.
Ms. VONGMALA, youth delegate from Lao People’s Democratic Republic, shared the vision of the children of her country, saying: “We expect quality education.” Noting the limited access to e-learning and technology and a lack of quality health care and nutrition, she called for support in providing young people with digital devices and Internet access, in addition to expanding free maternal and child health care services.
LYDIA MAI SHERMAN (Liberia) said that despite achievements, many children today are still experiencing forced labour, poor diets, extreme poverty, HIV/AIDS, exploitation or a lack of access to health care and education. For its part, Liberia ratified the Convention 26 years ago and has made significant strides to further its implementation through legislation, policies and programmes on such issues as the right to survival, access to quality education, justice, health and social protection. Additional legislation prevents child labour and protects children’s rights through the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, and in 2012, Liberia enacted a law to implement the Convention within its national legal framework.
ANA LIMA (Spain), citing examples of national initiatives, said plans are in place to establish a State Council for child participation in policy matters. Other efforts include creating policies and a high commission for poverty eradication alongside a programme promoting children’s right to food and recreation. Furthermore, Spain increased social subsidies for children and will adopt legislation that outlaws any type of violence against them.
MONCEF BAATI (Tunisia), speaking on behalf of the African Group, outlined the continent’s tremendous progress over the past 30 years, including the adoption of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, African Youth Charter and related policies and programmes. Child mortality and malnutrition rates have fallen, and overall children’s health has improved. While education access across the continent has also increased, Africa still lags behind in terms of overall education statistics. Political will remains imperative to sustain momentum gained so far and to allow continued and concrete investments in children, he said, calling for the necessary steps to ensure their protection from economic exploitation and violence. Citing other achievements, he pointed to the 2014 launch of a continent-wide campaign to end child marriage, which, by 2018, prevented 25 million child marriages globally. In addition, the African Union adopted a decision to eliminate female genital mutilation. However, African States continue to face challenges related to political instability, economic and financial crises, climate change and inadequate funding, stymying efforts to provide the infrastructure and learning environments necessary for children’s needs — especially for children with disabilities. In armed conflict, African children remain vulnerable as refugees or displaced persons, and also witness acts of violence, he said, appealing to the international community to coordinate efforts through allocating the appropriate funds to ensure children receive the needed protection, health care and access to education.
DANG DINH QUY (Viet Nam), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the lives of children in developing countries have greatly improved. In 2018, the under-five mortality rate had decreased by more than 59 per cent since 1990, and the school attendance rate has increased. However, millions of children continue to be threatened by poverty, hunger, disease and a lack of education. Violence against children continues to be a major issue, including in the forms of bullying and cyberbullying. To address these threats, all stakeholders must reinforce joint commitments and mainstream efforts to promote the rights of the child in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. Member States must strengthen their national capacity to better protect the rights of children, he said, calling on the international community to increase support to developing countries in this regard. For its part, the Association has issued four official documents under an initiative on the promotion and protection of the rights of women and children, and hosts the ASEAN Children’s Forum, where children are able to learn and voice their opinions on issues from climate change to gender equality.
KEISHA ANIYA MCGUIRE (Grenada), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the protection of children’s rights and interests is the best way to ensure that no child gets left behind. Children, for their full and harmonious development, should grow up in a family environment in an atmosphere of happiness, love and understanding. The Convention, together with the Declaration on a World Fit for Children and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, has set forth a clear path that can chart their future, she said. In acknowledgement of this, CARICOM Member States have developed and begun to implement the Regional Framework for Action for Children. The thirtieth anniversary of the Convention provides a unique opportunity to put the rights of children high on the agenda, and to assess the status of measures taken with a view to further strengthening them. The international community is in a privileged position to take stock of the progress made in supporting the rights of children and the fulfilment of the obligations enshrined within the Convention.
SILVIO GONZATO, European Union delegation, noting that the Convention is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in existence, said today’s meeting, on World Children’s Day, represents a time to reflect on and renew global and national commitments. For its part, the European Union cooperated with the Group of Latin American and Caribbean Countries to table two related draft resolutions, one at the Human Rights Council and another, relating to children without parental care, in the Third Committee (Social, Cultural and Humanitarian). Protecting children’s rights is a core commitment for the bloc and in line with the key principles of the 2030 Agenda. As armed conflicts and natural disasters impact children the hardest, the European Union is engaged in prevention and response efforts, including ending their recruitment by armed groups, with nearly €64 million of the bloc’s humanitarian aid budget allocated to child protection in 2019. Outlining challenges ahead, including migration, digital technologies and discrimination against girls, he highlighted a need to create more space for young people’s participation and leadership in matters that contribute to the realization of their rights.
MAYLEEN BRAQUETTI, youth delegate from Monaco, said that as a nine-year-old, she realizes that in many countries, children are not registered at birth and cannot see a doctor, go to school or feel safe. In Monaco, she can easily see a doctor and does not have to worry about her health care and education, and can even attend a coding class in primary school. “In general, I don’t have much to worry about and I can focus all my attention on being a child,” she said. As such, she expressed her wish that this can be true for all children of the world, because it is a child’s right to be free from worry.
SONYA RASHKOVAN, youth delegate from Ukraine, said that while digital technologies and the Internet can help to solve some of the world’s problems, they also introduce other risks, including in the context of children’s rights and privacy. While many adults think young people spend “all their time” on social media, teenagers also spend time online researching, listening to music, messaging, playing online games, posting photographs and reading news. “We leave a digital footprint literally everywhere,” she said, observing that this makes children vulnerable to the exploitation of their personal information by commercial and State agencies’ unregulated data-harvesting practices. Less aware than adults that their online activity is permanently recorded, children often become targets for technology corporations and politicians. Citing the Cambridge Analytica data exploitation scandal, she said that when young people reach voting age, social media organizations will have data from their entire lives and democracy can be hacked. Children’s behaviour should not be monitored without their knowledge and their deliberate informed consent, she emphasized, adding: “I want to own my data, have a right to use it and have a right to erase it.”
ARIANA AKRAM, youth delegate from Pakistan, said considerable progress over the last 30 years includes more children going to school, more widely available safe and effective vaccines, improved sanitation standards and a 60 per cent drop in infant mortality across the globe. But significant challenges remain, she said, with 1 billion children still living in poverty and education not yet being universal against a backdrop of climate change. On the Convention’s anniversary, the world must look ahead to the next 30 years. The international community must also listen to young voices on the issues of greatest concern and begin working on twenty-first century solutions to twenty-first century problems.
THILMEEZA HUSSAIN (Maldives), citing national-level efforts, said the Government has ratified a child rights protection act, shielding them from neglect, harm and physical or emotional abuse, and established child protection services, which also acts as an advisory body on related matters. Further, Maldives has raised the age of criminal responsibility to 15 and aims at establishing a comprehensive youth justice system that promotes community-based solutions while recognizing the different needs of girls and boys. Highlighting the importance of inclusive education, she said universal net enrolment has almost been achieved. However, challenges remain, including achieving economies of scale and budgetary restraints. With climate change having important implications for children, if the issue is not addressed, their future will be lost and their rights compromised.
VALENTINE RUGWABIZA (Rwanda) said children and young people under 24 represented 53.7 per cent of the victims of the genocide in her country in the 1990s. The Government that stopped the genocide has turned the situation around completely for children in Rwanda. Citing a range of achievements, she said birth registration is guaranteed for all citizens, orphaned children are placed in supportive family environments, 99 per cent of children are immunized and 84 per cent of households are covered by a national health insurance policy. In addition, Rwanda has one of the highest primary school enrolment rates in Africa, and children are encouraged to become active participants in policy formulation. Still, Rwanda seeks progress in the areas of improving access to quality health care and education, harmonizing legal protection in labour laws and improving the protection of children from violence, neglect and abuse.
ALYA AHMED SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar) cited national gains, including a focus on improving school levels through the Prime Education Institute and creating an institute to provide education to 1 million girls in 2020 and 2021. Qatar also provides funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) for Palestinian children’s schooling; has committed $88 million for disarmament, demobilization and reintegration efforts in Darfur, which includes social reinsertion and economic support programmes for former child combatants; and provided $60 million to rehabilitate drinking water and sewage in Yemen to prevent cholera and improve water access, reaching 4 million children. In collaboration with UNICEF, Qatar has supported a project to improve and upgrade sanitation in schools and medical centres in Iraq.
MOHAMMAD KURNIADI KOBA (Indonesia) noted progress made on promoting children’s rights around the world, including establishing a national children’s forum in 350 cities. For its part, Indonesia announced a national strategy to combat violence against children, established schools that provide children with access to information and technology and strives to end child marriage. However, critical issues remain, including bullying, child trafficking and grave violations against children in armed conflict. The promotion of the rights of the child must start from the family, he said, adding that Indonesia develops family-friendly policies by increasing access to health care, quality education and economic empowerment for families.
GEORG SPARBER (Liechtenstein) said that the Convention is a milestone, one of the most visionary moments in the history of treaty-making. It is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. Since 1990, the death rate of children under five has been reduced by half, as has the proportion of undernourished children. However, the Convention is still not universal, and it lacks implementation in too many areas. Millions of children continue to suffer violations of their rights every day — and often girls are more severely affected than boys. Liechtenstein has been among the few States to ratify the Third Optional Protocol, which provides the mechanism that empowers children to be agents of change. He urged all States to follow suit and see for themselves how this can empower both children and their societies.
JOANNA WRONECKA (Poland) said the Convention has been transformational, including a 50 per cent reduction in under-age-five deaths and in the number of undernourished children since 1990, and an additional 2.6 billion people gaining access to clean drinking water. Despite progress, the rights of millions of children are being violated every day, as they are often the most affected by poverty, homelessness, neglect and unequal access to education. Those in vulnerable situations, such as children with disabilities, find themselves too often left behind. Highlighting a need to prevent and eradicate violations against children in conflict situations, she said their protection is a priority for Poland, including during its current membership in the Security Council.
JÜRG LAUBER (Switzerland) said that despite progress, children continue to live in poverty and are victims of violence, discrimination and abuse. Encouraging States to take concrete steps to prevent violence against children, he said Switzerland adopted a package of measures focusing specifically on foster children or children with incarcerated parents. Switzerland is committed to ensure quality education for children in areas affected by armed conflict and to support the reintegration of child combatants to their communities. `Pointing out that children are actors and agents of change, he encouraged the international community to consider their demands and innovative ideas while offering a platform where they can participate in discussions related to them.
MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said the Convention guides national plans, including comprehensive programmes addressing infant mortality, child abuse, child trafficking, and establishing social safety services. For its part, Bangladesh focuses on youth skills development, including training in information and communications technologies, and has achieved immense success in increasing child immunization rates. Noting that 17 million children have been displaced around the world, he said they are more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The Rohingya crisis illustrates this phenomenon, he said, adding that Bangladesh is working with Myanmar and the international community to address their humanitarian needs. However, if the crisis persists, there is a looming risk of crimes like trafficking, forced marriage, drug peddling, illegal organ trafficking and forced slavery, he said, calling for international support to address these problems.
WILLIAM AMOS (Canada) said many children in the country continue to face challenges, especially in indigenous and northern communities. Fewer than 8 per cent of children in Canada are of indigenous extraction, but they account for half of those in foster care, making them one of the Government’s most urgent priorities in developing child-centred, indigenous-led and prevention-focused solutions. At the same time, girls worldwide continue to face systemic barriers, perpetuating poverty and inequality and limiting their potential, one of the main reasons Canada advocates for the International Day of the Girl. Ottawa also supports the UNFPA‑UNICEF Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, he said, adding that: “To be effective, our efforts need to reach the most marginalized and disadvantaged.”
SOFIANE MIMOUNI (Algeria), associating himself with the African Group, said the Convention’s commemoration provides an opportunity to highlight the promotion of children’s rights to develop, learn and prosper. Algeria has placed children at the heart of its policies at legislative and regulatory levels, as reflected in its national voluntary report on the 2030 Agenda presented to the Economic and Social Council in July. Citing achievements in education and health care, he said a national vaccination programme led to a decrease in infant mortality rates from 4 per cent to 2.8 per cent in 2018. In terms of challenges posed by new technologies, climate change and migratory flows, he said they put children in danger, and as such an inclusive global approach is required.
ADELA RAZ (Afghanistan) said protecting children is a national security priority, noting that the Government has allowed institutional and legal resources to draft, approve and endorse legislation and national action plans to safeguard them and protect their rights. On education, Afghanistan has developed a strategic plan to expand access and increase school enrolment, also adopting the Safe Schools Declaration to shield children from conflict. Today, more than 9 million children — including 3.5 million girls — are attending school despite threats from the Taliban and other militant groups. Moreover, a national child labour strategy provides the legal basis to end exploitation, complemented by training programmes and public awareness campaigns. Afghan children in conflict zones are vulnerable because of the indiscriminate use of human shields by terrorist groups, she pointed out, adding: “This is the story of children in Afghanistan.”
CRAIG JOHN HAWKE (New Zealand), recalling the Convention’s profound influence on public policies and practices, said that while most young people in his country are doing well, many others face adversity, deprivation and stress. To tackle these challenges, New Zealand launched in August a child and youth well-being strategy, created after inviting 6,000 children and young people to share ideas and experiences, among them recent migrants; those living in poverty, in state care, or with disabilities; and those who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Their voices helped shape the strategy and will serve to implement its goals and for the realization of the rights under the Convention. As the Convention turns 30, the work is not yet done, he said, adding: “We can and must do more for the generations that follow us.”
KATALIN BOGYAY (Hungary), aligning herself with the European Union, said the Convention’s anniversary marks the fortieth year of her country’s democratic transition. Among the first nations to join the global pledge, Hungary has transformed its child protection and welfare system over the last 30 years, using special measures and new tools to strengthen mechanisms to prevent and end violence, maltreatment, abuse and neglect, with special regard to high-risk families. In 2019, Hungary introduced the Barnahus model for child-friendly specialized services for neglected and abused children alongside comprehensive prevention, care and reintegration programmes for sexual abuse survivors. Since 2010, Hungary’s child adoption rate has been growing, with 70 per cent of children under protection living in a family-based environment.
MITCHELL FIFIELD (Australia) said that while most Australian children enjoy high levels of participation in education, access to high-quality health services and safety in their homes and communities, some are facing disproportionate challenges. Vulnerable groups include indigenous children, those living with disabilities, those in remote areas and those identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. Hearing children’s voices is essential to inform the work of Governments, he said, noting that the new Commonwealth Minister for Youth is supported by a task force within the Department of Health that is considering a range of mechanisms for improving children’s participation in governmental decision-making. Moreover, the independent National Children’s Commissioner has held consultations with more than 28,000 children since her appointment in 2013, to hear from them about the issues affecting their lives now and in the future.
KSHENUKA SENEWIRATNE (Sri Lanka) drew attention to remaining challenges that must be addressed, including the prolonged effects of poverty and inequality, adverse climate change consequences, protracted conflicts and humanitarian crises. There is also a need to redouble efforts to fully implement the Convention and to evaluate accomplishments and challenges in fulfilling children’s rights. For its part, Sri Lanka condemns all violence against children and has ratified the Convention’s Optional Protocols on their involvement in armed conflict and on trafficking, prostitution and pornography. In addition, the Government has launched related legal reforms and enacted policies, with the participation of civil society and community-based organizations.
OMAR KADIRI (Morocco) recalled that the Convention was the first legally binding instrument dedicated to children and has transformed millions of lives. Morocco has adhered to the overwhelming majority of such instruments, he noted, observing that it is currently holding the sixteenth session of its National Congress on Child Rights in Marrakech. Citing the November launch of the kingdom’s campaign “African Cities without Street Children”, he also applauded UNICEF’s efforts. However, many challenges faced by children persist and others are emerging, he said, calling for actions to bring the Convention’s vision to life and emphasizing that children must be partners in this effort.
HMWAY HMWAY KHYNE (Myanmar) said her country has achieved considerable progress in child rights since becoming a State party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. The Government has devoted attention in critical areas of health, education, protection and legislation, among others, to promote the rights of children, she said, noting that the national budget allocation to social sectors increased from 12.2 per cent in 2016-2017 to 13.8 per cent in 2018-2019. She further pointed to the National Child Law, which Myanmar enacted in 1993, noting that it was revised and adopted by the Union Parliament on July 2019 to align the national policies and regulatory frameworks with the Convention. Moreover, the Inter-Ministerial Committee for the Prevention of the Six Grave Violations during Armed Conflict was established on 7 January 2019 to prevent violations against children in armed conflict. Most recently, during the Assembly’s high-level week in September, Myanmar ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
MARIA HELENA PIRES (Timor-Leste) said that giving a voice to children and young people is fundamental, noting the various initiatives her country’s Government has undertaken to promote and protect the rights of children. Timor-Leste provides birth registration processes at hospitals and clinics. It has also adopted measures to enable children who were born of rape in the years of military occupation to acquire birth certificates, as they had previously been prevented from doing so because the father’s identity could not be registered. Despite such initiatives, there are still many challenges, including tackling malnutrition and ensuring access to education and appropriate hygiene and sanitation facilities, especially for menstruating girls. She also pointed to the work being carried out to address the learning needs of children with disabilities.
IVAN ŠIMONOVIĆ (Croatia) noted that this year also marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which calls for the abolition of the death penalty. It is important to draw attention to the article in the Convention on the Rights of the Child that prohibits imposing capital punishment on persons under 18 years of age at the time of the alleged offence. This norm has broad acceptance, he added, also expressing concern that in at least seven States, child offenders can lawfully be sentenced to death by lethal injection, hanging, shooting or stoning. “Children, no matter what they have done, deserve better,” he emphasized. Also speaking was Ven Černjul, a youth representative from Croatia, who said that children are disproportionately affected by the consequences of climate change. He also noted that many children suffer from the consequences of having a parent sentenced to death. These children are accurately described as “secondary victims”.
CARLOS AMORÍN (Uruguay) highlighted a range of national actions, including the adoption of a set of laws centred on protecting children’s rights, a notion that remains a pillar of society nationwide. While there has been progress towards realizing the principles set out in the Convention, to build upon these gains requires addressing critical issues such as poverty reduction and ethnic and territorial inequality. Highlighting some of the measures adopted to promote the rights of children, he said a national plan aims at caring for children living on the street. More broadly, he called attention to the importance of including children’s voices and perspectives in the process of decision-making and policy implementation.
AMAL MUDALLALI (Lebanon) said that, despite all the progress made since the Convention’s adoption, millions of children are living in precarious conditions, suffering from armed conflict and subjected to violence and bullying. It is a country’s highest duty to protect its most vulnerable citizens, and it is a country’s greatest shame when it fails to do so. Lebanon reaffirms its steadfast commitment to fulfil all the promises it made 30 years ago to create a safe and better life for children, in line with the principles of the Convention. These include promises for a free education, free health care and a future worthy of their dreams. She thanked UNICEF‑Lebanon for its efforts, which are essential in driving child protection policies on all levels, from education to gender-based violence to child marriage to child labour. Youth and children are the hope of the future, she said.
ZHANG JUN (China) said that tens of millions of children continue to live in the shadows of poverty, war and disease. As such, he called for the upholding of the peaceful settlement of disputes, noting that armed conflict has led to the death or disability of 12,000 children in 2018. China has long been an advocate in this regard, he said, also calling for other countries to protect the rights of children facing armed conflict. Pointing out that China has integrated children’s rights into national social and economic development through legislation, he observed that development is the master key to social problems and called for expediting implementation of the 2030 Agenda. In 2018, infant mortality in China dropped to 6 per every 1,000 births, he reported, adding that his country’s Government cracks down on crimes against children and continuously expands child welfare institutions. Since 2015, it has also helped 125,000 orphans with disabilities through surgical rehabilitation.
LANA ZAKI NUSSEIBEH (United Arab Emirates) addressed the children in attendance, noting that many other children around the world do not get doctor’s check-ups or vaccines. In 2018, 258 million children between the ages of 6 and 17 did not attend school, and 12 million children — mostly girls — will likely never set foot inside a school. To address such problems, the Convention was signed 30 years ago, she recalled, adding: “It said that you all should be safe, and grow up surrounded by love, and happiness, and understanding.” In 2016, the United Arab Emirates passed Wadeema’s Law protecting children, she noted, calling for similar rights for children in other countries as well. Moreover, her country will spend $100 million for better schools and education for 870 million children across 89 countries, she reported.
AMRIT BAHADUR RAI (Nepal) noted that, despite national progress made in children’s health care, nutrition, education and protection from violence and abuse, challenges remain that are further complicated by climate change, migration, terrorism, cybercrimes and more. Nepal enacted the updated Children’s Act in 2018, which recognizes children as individual rights-holders and guarantees their protection and well-being, he said, adding that the national child policy provides special protection and safeguards children in line with the provisions of the Convention. Effective implementation of the initiatives contained in the Convention has yielded encouraging results, he observed, reporting that Nepal has been able to reduce child mortality and maternal mortality to 39 per 1,000 live births and 239 per 100,000 live births, respectively.
MARIA ANGELA ZAPPIA (Italy) said full implementation of the Convention lies at the foundation of Italian international cooperation activities. Children’s care and development are core priorities, mainstreamed through interventions in health, education and social inclusion. She noted Italy is investing in programmes focused on the broader spectrum of child development, to improve living conditions, protect against any form of abuse and ensure access to early childhood care and education. Italy works with key United Nations development system partners, including UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), dedicated to children-driven programmes. The country also hosts and funds the UNICEF Office of Research‑Innocenti in Florence in the Ospedale degli Innocenti, a 600-year-old building that she said is “arguably considered the oldest continuously operating children’s care institution in the world”.