Any Child, Regardless of Gender Identity Can Be Victim of Sexual Exploitation, Special Rapporteur Says, Calls for Rights-Based Stance on Protection
More than 8,400 children were killed or maimed in 2020, with Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Somalia featured as the deadliest conflict zones for children, United Nations experts told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today, as delegates pointed to war, disregard for international humanitarian law and the COVID-19 pandemic as persistent obstructions to the rights of minors.
Briefing the Committee, Virginia Gamba, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict — one of four experts updating delegates on violations of the rights of children and ways to strengthen child protection — said grave violations against children were “alarmingly high” in 2020. “Over 26,400 violations affecting more than 19,300 children were verified in 21 situations or 72 violations per day,” she stressed, citing dramatic increases in abductions and sexual violence. Attacks on hospitals and schools, as well as their use for military purposes, were also verified in high numbers, disproportionally affecting girls’ education.
On a similar note, Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative on Violence Against Children, said COVID-19 increased the risks of violence against children at home, in communities and online. The pandemic has undermined their mental health and that of their caregivers, she said, while disrupting the delivery of essential services.
Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on The Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, drew attention to the gender dimension of sexual exploitation, underscoring the need to strike a balance between the fact that boys are often overlooked, while girls are still much more at risk. “Any child, regardless of gender identity, can become a victim of sexual exploitation,” she observed. By focusing almost exclusively on girls as victims of sexual exploitation, support services have been tailored mainly for girls, resulting in the invisibility of boys and those who identify outside the gender binary as victims, she warned.
On those points, an observer for the European Union expressed concern during the interactive dialogue that the pandemic has provided new ways to perpetrate violence against children as they spend more time online. The United States representative suggested that laws using gender-inclusive and non-binary language can help all children to be seen, heard and respected, especially those that identify as LGBTQI+. Taking a different view, the representative of the Russian Federation expressed regret that the Special Rapporteur’s report was mostly concerned with children outside of the gender binary. He urged her to follow the Convention on the Rights of the Child in her future work, which does not refer to gender identity or sexual orientation.
Also briefing the Third Committee was the Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The Third Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. on Monday, 11 October, to continue its work.
MARITZA CHAN VALVERDE (Costa Rica), speaking also for several other countries, stressed the importance of civil society and human rights defenders. She called for a human-rights-based approach across pillars, and for the protection of civic space. Recalling that the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development covers all stakeholders — civil society, indigenous peoples, and the scientific and academic communities, among them — she called for greater inclusiveness. She expressed deep concern about a report presented to the Human Rights Council documenting alleged reprisals and intimidation against 240 civil society members, activists and journalists across 45 countries. The international community cannot allow voices to be silenced and civil society members be subject to serious violations simply because they have cooperated with the United Nations, notably minorities, women, indigenous peoples, youth and human rights defenders. “This silence must be broken,” she asserted, pushing the Third Committee to lead by example by improving conditions for meaningful civil society participation.
TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), speaking on behalf of several countries, said the pandemic is proof that no one is safe until everyone is safe. There has been a skyrocketing of unequal access to education and health services, especially for women and girls. Women and girls have borne a disproportionate impact, facing intersecting forms of discrimination, and unless properly addressed, the repercussions of which will lower the resilience of societies globally. He said these values are universal, rather than specific to one country or region, and that only by working collectively can a better world be created. His delegation is exploring actions “to push back against the push-backs” he said, “to ensure our common objectives for the achievement of gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls, human rights and sustainable development”.
JOAQUÍN ALBERTO PÉREZ AYESTARÁN (Venezuela), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement, the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, and the group against unilateral coercive measures, said inequity between countries of the global North and South is increasing. The illegal and immoral imposition of unilateral coercive measures worsens the suffering of 30 million Venezuelans, he said, noting that this criminal application of so-called sanctions has increased. Such coercion, imposed by the United States, impedes the timely access to medicines, food, fuel and other goods and services, including COVID-19 vaccines. The United States cannot give human rights lessons when it bears the responsibility for wars, massacres and genocides, as well as the predatory use of migrants. It cannot be the guardian of human rights when it violates them en masse, he said, calling the country the biggest violator of human rights in history and a threat to international peace and security.
AMAL MUDALLALI (Lebanon) said every corner of the world has felt the devastating effects of the pandemic: frontline workers, people with disabilities, older people, women and girls, human rights defenders and journalists among them. In a matter of months, progress on gender equality has been compromised. In Afghanistan, for example, 20 years of progress has collapsed. This backlash is not acceptable, she stressed, adding that women are the first responders in hospitals and clinics. They are researching vaccines and treatments, working at the frontline of every domain, including politics, peace, climate and security. Women journalists and media workers have been targeted with physical and online violence, she stressed, underlining that all media actors should be protected, able to work in a free and safe environment. COVID-19 has also taken a devastating toll on children’s education, she said, citing findings by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on the impact to education. The devaluation of Lebanon’s currency by more than 19 per cent since 2019 has hit teachers’ salaries hard. Coupled with the fact that parents are unable to cover education costs, the situation is serious, she said, stressing that “the right to education is sacred and we must ensure that an entire generation does not fall behind”.
OSAMA MAHMOUD ABDELKHALEK MAHMOUD (Egypt), associating with the African Union and the Group of 77 and China, said the pandemic offers a chance to confront mistakes. Listing his country’s priorities, he urged the international community to address rising polarization fostered by a few countries. In line with the Durban Declaration, adopted at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, he expressed concerns about racism and discrimination, reaffirming Egypt’s commitment to promoting tolerance and peaceful coexistence among cultures, rights that are interdependent and undividable. He welcomed efforts by the [COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access] COVAX Facility, inviting Member States to do more towards vaccine distribution in Africa. He reiterated Egypt’s commitment to human rights, emphasizing recent national initiatives.
GERELMAA DAVAASUREN (Mongolia), endorsing the statement by the Group of 77 and China, said her country is working to protect its most vulnerable people during the pandemic by vaccinating 65 per cent of the population. Referring to the Sustainable Development Goals, she called on the international community to ensure transparency against corruption. She underlined Mongolia’s efforts to protect women’s and children’s rights, reiterating its commitment to the Beijing Declaration, adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women. Mongolia has implemented national laws to comply with international standards in the areas of freedom, social justice and equality. She also mentioned continuous efforts to protect human rights defenders, extending an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on human rights.
NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France), associating with the European Union, deplored the worsening of human rights in several countries, calling for the protection of women’s rights in Afghanistan, as well as the protection of civilians in Yemen and Syria. He also called for an end to violence in Ethiopia and the Central African Republic, adding that the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be granted access. He went on to underline the worrying situation in Hong Kong and Tibet. Turning to the pandemic and climate change, he invited Member States to engage in a more inclusive collaboration on sustainable development. Gender equality and sexual reproductive rights require a strong response, he stressed, pointing to the Generation Equality Forum held in Mexico earlier this year as a true example of “multilateralism in action”.
NESRINE ELMANSOURI (Tunisia) said the current health crisis has created the deepest economic recession in decades, driving millions into extreme poverty and deepening inequalities between, and within, countries. The manufacturing of vaccines is a success for science and humanity, she said, underscoring that equal distribution of the vaccine is a prerequisite for achieving the highest attainable health standards. Stressing that terrorism should not be associated with any region, civilization or ethnic group, she reaffirmed Tunisia’s attachment to democracy as an irreversible path chosen by its people. Cracking down on corruption and ending impunity are the pillars of a strong democracy, she added.
ZHANG JUN (China) said people are the utmost priority, and support from the Chinese people gives his country its greatest strength in advancing its human rights path. Human rights are universal, yet the path towards them is diverse, he said, adding that countries will explore their own paths to human rights development, in line with their national features. Stressing that the imposition of human rights models is neither democratic nor feasible, he said some Western countries should do their own soul-searching and learn their way. He called for strengthened solidarity and cooperation. Unilateral sanctions and coercive measures, imposed in violation of international law, must be stopped, he said, stressing that people in all countries have the right to live a happy life.
IGOR PILIPENKO (Belarus) stressed the importance of a comprehensive approach to human rights and advocated for effective cooperation, human rights, constructive dialogue and the principle of non-intervention in internal affairs. “We have witnessed regular attempts to blur this critical principle of world order,” he stressed, recalling the example of Belarus, where some workers of the United Nations country office used money to support protests. Meanwhile, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), attempting to cover-up the scheme of financial abuses by United Nations functionaries, portrayed these individuals as “victims” of the regime. No country has an exemplary human rights record, he said, expressing support for strengthening the role of the Human Rights Council universal periodic review, and underlining that the rights of young people, the elderly, children, women and persons with disabilities are at the centre of his country’s attention.
BRIAN PATRICK FLYNN (Ireland), endorsing the statement delivered by the European Union, said the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be granted access to all countries facing human rights breaches, and expressed particular concern about regions where human rights defenders and journalists still encounter restrictions. He rejected all reprisals against civil society. The situation in Ethiopia is appalling, he said, citing the widespread sexual violence and expressing regret that human rights representatives were not allowed to enter the country. “All States have a fundamental role to protect children against sexual violence,” he affirmed. He went on to support the work of the International Criminal Court to ensure accountability. As a member of the Security Council, Ireland will continue to promote gender equality, and the protection of women and children against domestic violence. He raised concerns about the situation in Afghanistan, calling for the protection of women’s rights. Regarding protection for the rights of lesbian, gay, transgender, queer and intersex communities, he said the United Nations has a role to play and, more broadly, underscored Ireland’s commitment to combating racism and hate speech.
BAE JONGIN (Republic of Korea) said that “no one can be safe until everyone is safe,” pointing to the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on vulnerable people. The Republic of Korea is advocating for equal and affordable vaccine distribution by providing $210 million to the COVAX Facility. Women and children have suffered the most from the pandemic, he stressed, advocating support for global solidarity and multilateral collaboration. Raising concerns about the situation in Afghanistan, he went on to call for an immediate ceasefire and the protection of human rights in Myanmar, expressing hope that a representative from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) would be able to visit the country. He also underlined the Republic of Korea’s commitment to combating sexual violence. He concluded by inviting the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to work with the international community to promote human rights and facilitate the reunion of separated families.
ABAKAR MOUCTAR (Chad), associating with the Group of 77 and the Non-Aligned Movement, said the pandemic continues to impact families and strike at the ability of States to provide basic services to their people. It has also had a severe impact on human rights. Violence against women has increased and the education of girls has been dealt a hard blow, imperilling recent achievements. Vaccines must be provided to everyone to ensure the end of the pandemic around the world. He went on to underscore the importance Chad attaches to women’s empowerment, citing the legal framework for the protection of gender equality as an important achievement. Chad also adopted a criminal code adopted in 2017, raising the minimum age of marriage and criminalizing female genital mutilation.
AMADOU JAITEH (Gambia), associating with the Group of 77, the African Group and China on the issue of unilateral coercive measures, called on the international community — especially “the privileged and powerful” — to commit to fair vaccine sharing, with a view to ending the COVID-19 pandemic everywhere. Africa is grappling with the negative effects of conflict, insecurity and climate change, he said, noting that these challenges require greater international solidarity and United Nations leadership. Lessons learned from the pandemic must engender critical institutional reforms so the world is better prepared for the next one. Calling women “the fabric of homes, societies and communities,” he drew attention to women’s important role as partners in social development and nation-building.
SOUEDA EL GUERA (Mauritania), associating with the Group of 77 and China, and the Non-Aligned Movement, described her country’s progress in ending marginalization and ensuring access to basic services, education and health systems. Among other efforts, Mauritania enacted a new law that criminalizes trafficking of persons, and in cooperation with OHCHR, organized a round table on the application of the law criminalizing slavery. Women’s full participation in development is another priority, she said, pointing to Mauritania’s national strategy to ensure that women attain decision-making positions and are empowered economically. Mauritania also enacted a new law criminalizing rape, she added, underscoring the importance of protecting women from physical, verbal, and psychological violence.
KYAW MOE TUN (Myanmar) focused on the illegal coup in his country, emphasizing that the military responded to peaceful protests throughout the country by committing murder, and engaging in arbitrary detentions, beatings, torture and enforced disappearances. It also instituted laws and policies to supress the freedoms of expression and of peaceful assembly, overturning the rule of law. “It is a systemic attack on democracy,” he declared, underscoring that the military committed crimes against humanity and killed more than 1,100 civilians, including women and children. “The military is at war with its own people”. He called its actions “fundamentally deplorable,” acknowledging the rights of Rohingyas, condemning crimes committed against them by the military, and calling for their rights to be restored and respected.
DIEGO PARY RODRÍGUEZ (Bolivia), emphasizing that his country’s Constitution comprehensively protects human rights, invited all Member States to ratify international human rights treaties. The COVID-19 pandemic requires international solidarity, he said, calling for vaccine patents to be made available and praising Mexico’s, Argentina’s and Cuba’s efforts towards vaccine distribution. He also drew attention to the protection of multilingualism through the forthcoming Decade of Indigenous Languages (2022-2032). “Education is a key tool to address poverty and achieve a vibrant society,” he stressed, pointing to the obligation to provide universal access, particularly to girls and children with disabilities.
YOUSEF S. I. SALAH (Libya), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, the Arab Group and the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, asserted that much work remains to eradicate the COVID-19 pandemic. He observed its detrimental impact on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, calling on international recovery measures. The elimination of violence against children is also an international obligation. Libya’s resources are limited to deal with the matter of refugees. Migrants often create social and economic problems in the hosting countries. He urged the international community to address the roots of the problem by working with countries of origin, consolidating borders and addressing the illegal financing of terrorism.
HANAA BOUCHIKHI (Morocco) said human rights are legally grounded in her country’s Constitution. Noting that Morocco enshrines respect for schooling in its national charter for education, she said the Constitution also allows for full freedom of expression. More broadly, she said the Government opposes all forms of discrimination and supports the 2016 Marrakech Declaration on religious minorities. Its youth policy aims to protect children. The Constitution enshrines gender equality, as well as civil, economic and political, and environmental rights, she explained, noting that since 2006, women have been represented in religious chambers, the Government and peacekeeping missions. Morocco’s law to combat violence against women enlarges the definition of violence to include sexual, psychological and economic violence, she added.
KIMURA TETSUYA (Japan) said democratic progress has been forcibly disrupted in many parts of the world. Citing the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan as a huge concern, he said those wishing to leave that country should be allowed to do so and that human rights must be protected, particularly those relating to the advancement of women and girls. Concerned by the situation in Myanmar since the coup, he called on the military to stop its use of violence, release those it has detained and swiftly restore the political system. The issue of abductions by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, meanwhile, is a serious matter for the international community. As families of the victims in Japan continue to age, there is no time to lose to resolve the issue of abductions, he affirmed.
CRISTIAN ESPINOSA CAÑIZARES (Ecuador) said the pandemic has caused a health, economic and social emergency in his country. Noting that the Government carried out technical and humanitarian measures to tackle the crisis, he pointed to the success of its vaccination campaign: More than 20 million vaccines have been distributed and 60 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. He also drew attention to new programmes aimed at reducing poverty and eliminating child malnutrition, reiterating Ecuador’s commitment to the 2030 Agenda and understanding of the lessons presented by the pandemic.
ROVSHEN ANNABERDIYEV (Turkmenistan), associating with the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 and China, highlighted the role and rights of women in his country. He stressed the importance of providing legal guarantees for maintaining gender equality and ensuring equal opportunities. To create conditions for the equal exercise of rights, Turkmenistan will continue its strong efforts to empower women, he said, expressing appreciation for the long-standing partnership between his country and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women), which has brought new opportunities to advance women’s rights and expand implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
DAHIR SALAD HASSAN (Somalia), aligning himself with the African Group and the Group of 77 and China, said that the COVID-19 pandemic is not only a threat to vulnerable countries but also to their economic and social structure. Somalia has been doing its best to rebuild its social contract with the population. The country is on track to hold fair and transparent elections. He expressed his full support for the protection of human rights, in line with the Durban Declaration, and praised the significant progress made to reduce child mortality over the past decades. Somalia has been promoting the youth and their well-being through several programmes, but he noted his regret that more could not be done due to limited resources.
ANEL BAKYTBEKKYZY (Kazakhstan), reporting that her country has ratified all international treaties for human rights, highlighted the recent abolishment of the death penalty. Further, her Government has been working to improve the social life of its population, including enabling opportunities for women. To that end, the gender equality gap was reduced by 60 per cent and the share of women managers in public companies increased by 30 per cent. Kazakhstan has also offered to host one of the upcoming United Nations summits on the Sustainable Development Goals. She went on to stress that Afghanistan must comply with its international obligations on women’s rights and drug trafficking, adding that her country remains available to continue working with the United Nations on this matter. Further, she informed the international community that her country would provide vaccines through the COVAX Facility.
DUSHKO UZUNOVSKI (North Macedonia), associating with the European Union, said safeguarding human rights and fundamental freedoms is the cornerstone of any democratic society. Since its 1991 independence, North Macedonia has promoted multilateralism, with the aim of producing results for the benefit for all. On the pandemic, he said the Government adopted five packages of measures to mitigate the crisis, including financial initiatives targeted at the most vulnerable. It also continued with its reforms to the rule of law, human rights and democracy. These efforts are all part of North Macedonia’s domestic reforms relating to the European Union integration platform.
KARLITO NUNES (Timor-Leste), associating with the Group of 77 and China, and the Non-Aligned Movement, said the international community is still far from seeing equitable global access to COVID-19 vaccines. Endorsing vaccines as a global public good that should not be politicized, he said, despite all existing challenges, Timor-Leste has made great progress in gender equality and the empowerment of women. It has also demonstrated its commitment to implementing the Beijing Platform for Action, he said, expressing gratitude for the support of the United Nations, development partners and civil society in efforts to eliminate gender-based violence.
ZAKIA IGHIL (Algeria) stressed the importance of non-interference in countries’ internal affairs. The consequences of the pandemic would have been less damaging if economic, social and cultural rights, particularly the right to health, were given the same importance as civil and political rights. The promotion and protection of human rights is a shared objective that all countries seek to attain. However, discussions on human rights should be held in an impartial manner, far from politicization, instrumentalization and double standards. Drawing attention to the political and economic reforms in her country, she said fundamental freedoms are protected, including access of all children to education, without any discrimination. As well, Algeria started producing the COVID-19 vaccine locally, allowing for the vaccination process to speed up. The ambition is to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines to other African countries, she said, expressing concern about the large number of people in need of humanitarian assistance.
The representative of Costa Rica, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and the Group of Friends of Older Persons and the LGTBI Core Group, said recovery from the pandemic must focus on human dignity. Only together, standing in solidarity, can the world achieve higher standards of human rights, he noted, adding that multilateralism is the means to human rights. Reiterating that gender equality must become the new normal, he expressed support for all initiatives which aim towards achieving that goal. He further stressed the importance of climate justice and drew attention to the rights of Afro-descendent persons.
Ms. GELB, observer for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, called for more concrete actions to ensure equitable vaccine access to migrants. In several countries, refugees are not included in the vaccine rollout plans, she noted with regret. Further, local actors had to earn refugees’ trust to distribute treatments. She called for a peaceful and green environment that ensures the rights and protection of children. Turning to climate change, she underlined that her colleagues on the field face its intensifying impact every day. A coordinated approach to meet children’s needs must be a priority, she said, requesting anticipatory actions to address violence against children.
LAETITIA MARIE ISABELLE COURTOIS, observer for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) listed the Committee’s priorities, highlighting the detrimental impact of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated challenges in vulnerable countries. A better understanding of the effects of climate change on the most vulnerable people was needed. Climate change mitigation measures are not sufficient in vulnerable countries. States must respect international humanitarian laws to prevent displacement and avoid further degradation of people’s living conditions. She also said that interim solutions could be taken to normalize the situation of people who try to regain autonomy. ICRC has developed such solutions by defining long and short-term interventions. In this regard, it cooperates with a broad range of actors to contribute to the development of interim solutions.
PAUL BERESFORD-HILL, Permanent Observer for the Sovereign Order of Malta, said her/his organization is permanently present with medical, social, and humanitarian projects in 120 countries, providing constant support for forgotten or excluded members of society. Underscoring the need to support those struggling amid armed conflicts and natural disasters, s/he expressed concern that the pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerabilities to human trafficking and contemporary forms of slavery. Noting that there are more slaves today than ever before in history, s/he said human traffickers abuse technology to identify potential victims on social media, entrapping them in exploitation, advertising deceptive work, recruitment and migration opportunities, controlling victims of slave labour through GPS, and hiding traffickers and exploiters through online anonymity of criminals and their financial proceeds. They also facilitate illegal organ transplantation. On the other hand, s/he pointed to the positive uses of technology to combat trafficking by aiding investigations, enhancing prosecutions, monitoring supply chains, raising awareness, providing services to victims, and shedding light on the make-up and operation of trafficking networks. Expressing strong support for the human rights of migrants, s/he drew attention to the recent establishment of full diplomatic relations between Germany and the Sovereign Order of Malta, noting that her/his organization operates 140 reception and assimilation facilities in that country with space for more than 44,000 thousand refugees.
MATTHIEU COGNAC, Senior Multilateral Cooperation Specialist for the International Labour Organization (ILO) Office for the United Nations, said it is estimated that 75 million jobs will have been lost in 2021 and 23 million in 2022, corresponding to a loss of $3.7 trillion in labor income. That situation threatens to halt progress on social development. “It has halted development while putting in danger the lives of those we depend on the most”. Among them are more than 1.6 million seafarers who make their living from the oceans, working on vessels that carry more than 80 per cent of world trade, he said. The pandemic brought restrictions that have trapped hundreds of thousands on their ships, unable to disembark or travel home. As such, it is vital that all Member States immediately act on the United Nations resolution concerning international cooperation, and fully apply the ILO Maritime Labour Convention. Failure to do so would likely lead to further disruptions in global supply chains and undermine economic recovery. He also expressed alarm that 160 million children were found in child labor in 2021, the first increase in years, while nine million additional children are at risk of being pushed into child labour by the end of 2022 because of the pandemic.
Right of Reply
The representative of Ethiopia, speaking in exercise of his right to reply, said politicization is unproductive and measures must be taken regarding United Nations personnel. He underscored that Ethiopia has always demonstrated its commitment to the Charter and United Nations agencies. However, the Organization’s personnel have the responsibility to respect core humanitarian principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality, as well as the law of the country. Reiterating his country’s commitment to continue work with the Organization’s agencies, he called for the immediate replacement of United Nations personnel.
The representative of Syria, speaking in exercise of the right to reply, deplored the accusations made by the French delegation, saying that they exploited terror and extremism. She stressed that these countries should stop ignoring their own violations.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, speaking in exercise of the right to reply, called for the full compensation of the crimes committed by Japan during World War II. Their countries will never be able to enjoy peaceful relations until such crimes have been addressed, he stressed.
He then turned to the delegate of the Republic of Korea, saying that that delegate must stop criticizing human rights breaches in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. He emphasized that the citizens from his country enjoy human rights and that appropriate measures have been taken nationally to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
The representative of Morocco, taking the floor to respond to his counterpart from Algeria, said that country has once again delved into provocation and the issue of the Moroccan Sahara, which is a question of territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Morocco has recuperated that area through the Madrid Agreement [signed in 1975], recognized by the United Nations. Algeria’s Government fixates on the question of the Moroccan Sahara. It does not discuss self-determination, which it should grant to its own population, the Kabyle, instead arresting them for simply raising their own flag.
The representative of Cambodia, responding to human rights allegations made by her counterpart from the United States on 4 October 2021, called the claims baseless and politicized in nature. Her country continues to adhere to the principles of democratic systems as enshrined in its Constitution. Cambodia attaches great importance to the promotion and protection of human rights, she added, noting that human rights defenders are key partners in that regard.
The representative of Japan, speaking in exercise of his right of reply, called the remarks of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea against his country “groundless”. On the issue of abduction, he said the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea promised to carry out comprehensive investigations on all Japanese nationals concerned, including abductees. He urged the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to implement the agreement and return all the abductees to Japan as quickly as possible.
The representative of Algeria, speaking in exercise of her right of reply, called the stance of Morocco an attempt to distract attention away from the legal occupation of Western Sahara and gross violations perpetrated by Morocco. The conflict in Western Sahara is due to the decolonization process and the need for the rights to self-determination, she asserted, adding that Morocco is spreading propaganda against Algeria and insulting the work of the United Nations.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, taking the floor for a second time, said that the so-called abduction issue mentioned by Japan has already been settled. That country is abusing the issue for political purposes. Even if Japan denies it, history cannot be changed and crimes against humanity have no statute of limitations. Japan should stop its discriminatory practices against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea citizens in Japan. Until then, there cannot be any bright future for the two countries.
The representative of Morocco, taking the floor for a second time, said that she was speaking to bring the Algerian delegation back into line. She noted that Algeria had said in its statement that “Algeria is against double standards”. She underscored that she would like to see Algeria extend that right to the eight million people of Kabyle. Algeria has no place to talk about human rights, given its dark record in the sphere.
The representative of Japan said that the words of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were erroneous. It is imperative to overcome mutual distrust between Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to realize true peace in north-east Asia and work together for a bright future.
The representative of Algeria called the Moroccan delegation’s allegations scandalous and a distortion of reality, adding that the Moroccan delegation is weeping over the fate of people it has pushed into exile. Instead of weaponizing human rights, Morocco should concern itself with its own human rights violations in both in its own territory and in the occupied Western Sahara, he said.
Interactive Dialogues – Children and Armed Conflict
VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, introducing her report (document A/76/231), said that conflict, disregard for international humanitarian law and human rights, insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic continue to have a detrimental impact on children’s rights.
She said the pandemic-induced closure of schools and loss of family income aggravated an already vulnerable protection environment for children in conflict situations. In 2020, grave violations against children remained alarmingly high, she said, expressing concern that “over 26,400 violations, affecting more than 19,300 children were verified in 21 situations or 72 violations per day”. She similarly cited dramatic increases in abductions and sexual violence. Attacks on hospitals and schools, as well as their use for military purposes, were also verified in high numbers, disproportionally affecting girls’ education, including in the Lake Chad Basin region. In 2020, over 8,400 children were killed or maimed, with Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Somalia remaining the deadliest conflicts for children.
At the same time, she said some important gains for children have been made. Engagement by her Office and partners led to the 2020 release of 12,300 children, as well as to the adoption of two new action plans in Myanmar and South Sudan, which were among at least 35 new commitments by parties to end conflict and prevent grave violations against boys and girls. She stressed the importance of investing in data disaggregation and improving data analysis to better inform advocacy and engagement efforts — and to prevent grave violations from occurring. She called on all Member States to ensure that child protection priorities are translated into budgeting and staffing resources.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Croatia asked about ways to decrease the risk of school drop-out in conflict areas. The representative of Azerbaijan, condemning attacks on schools and hospitals, stressed that although conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has ended, the fate of 71 missing children is still unknown. To break the cycle of violence, respect for international law is imperative. The representative of Armenia, meanwhile, enquired about the challenges in reaching out to children in conflict or post-conflict areas, and about enhancing universal mechanisms to ensure that no child is left behind. During the pandemic, many children were unable to attend school and lacked sufficient protection, the representative of Senegal stressed. She asked for recommendations on measures to improve the situation.
“People in Myanmar are asking for help,” stressed the representative of Myanmar, asking about actions the international community can take to stop the violations of children’s rights by the military in his country. Pointing to his country’s zero-tolerance for and strong condemnation of all forms of violence against children, the representative of Sri Lanka drew attention to children in armed conflict, children without parents and children forcibly recruited by non‑State actors during the terrorist conflict with his country. The representative of Argentina asked about strengthening the role of specialized child protection personnel, in order to ensure an approach of prevention and response for victims.
Also speaking in the dialogue were representatives of the United Kingdom, Pakistan, France, India, Saudi Arabia, Malta, Burkina Faso, Qatar, Iran, China, Switzerland, Peru, Turkey, Philippines, United States, Italy, Syria, Indonesia (for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)) and Belgium.
An observer for the European Union also spoke.
Ms. GAMBA, responding, said she would answer all questions fully in writing. Having said that, she noted that the majority of questions had two things in common: how can children who are hidden be reached and how can it be ensured that none of them are left behind? In many conflict settings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of access and the isolation of a community will aggravate violations against children. The focus must be on access — finding “pull” factors to bring children back who have fallen into conflict, due to lack of opportunity. Without access to education or jobs, they will join armed groups, she explained, noting that the same is true for girls and trafficking. The international community must use the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol, which defines the age of a child to be under 18 years old.
Violence against Children
NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, introducing her report (document A/76/224), said it focuses on the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased the risks of violence against children at home, in communities and online. The pandemic has undermined the mental health and wellbeing of children and their caregivers, while disrupting the delivery of essential services. Her Office will continue to use its advocacy, advisory and bridgebuilding roles to support Member States in their efforts to tackle these issues, she affirmed.
In addition, she said her Office will support Member States by developing and publishing a range of practical tools, including a review of the 2021 voluntary national reviews, to identify and share the promising practices and lessons learned. It will continue to enhance cooperation within the United Nations system and promote a systematic, rights-based approach to ending violence against children. Further, it will continue to follow emerging situations of concern, in close collaboration with the Special Representatives for Children and Armed Conflict, and on Sexual Violence in Conflict. She called on the international community to build a new social contract that is child-centred, paving the way for more resilient economies and greater human capital development.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, delegates all welcomed the Special Representative’s report, raising questions on forced child marriage, online violence and mental health.
An observer for the European Union noted that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children is alarming, requesting clarifications on the measures Member States can take to tackle online harassment. Malaysia’s delegate expressed the same concerns, praising the establishment of a special court that addresses violence against children in his country. Other delegates pointed to violence against children in conflicts, with Morocco’s representative asking the Special Representative about measures to prevent the recruitment of child refugees by terrorist groups, and Algeria’s representative enquiring about the rights of children living in occupied territories.
The impact of COVID-19 on the young people’s mental health was also discussed, with Mexico’s delegate citing lasting effects on their development, together with Spain’s representative. Concurrently, Belgium’s delegate said that an integrated approach is needed to overcome this challenge, requesting examples.
Ms. M’JID replied that forced child marriage is a great concern, citing recent WHO estimates that 10-30 million women could be affected in the next decade. She reaffirmed the need for an integrated approach to address the root causes of this issue. Turning to online violence, she agreed that the situation has been aggravated by the pandemic. She drew attention to the need to strike a balance between the digital divide and safe access to the Internet, calling for more regulation in the ICT sector.
She went on to stress that the most vulnerable children have suffered the most from the pandemic and related violence. Mental health is a top priority that highlights the need for stronger social protection systems for children. According to the World Health Organization, violence against children has become less visible, she indicated, noting that sustainable societies cannot be achieved without ending such abuse.
Also speaking during the interactive dialogue were representatives of Australia, Portugal, Luxembourg, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Hungary, Saudi Arabia, China, Timor-Leste, Uruguay and Japan.
Sale, Sexual Exploitation of Children
FATIMA SINGHATEH, Special Rapporteur on The Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, Including Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Other Child Sexual Abuse Material, introducing her report, said her work supports States in developing legal and policy frameworks, and child protection strategies. The report shines a spotlight on the gender dimension of the sexual exploitation of children, she said, noting that it is important to strike a balance between the fact that boys are often overlooked, while girls are still much more at risk.
She went on to stress the need for “opening up space for more attention towards children and young people who identify outside the gender binary and how they may be at risk or vulnerable”. The study underscores that “any child, regardless of gender identity, can become a victim of sexual exploitation”. By focusing almost exclusively on girls as victims of sexual exploitation, support mechanisms and other services have been tailored mainly for girls, resulting in the invisibility of boys and those who identify outside the gender binary as victims. There is a need for a human-rights-based approach towards all children across the gender spectrum. To do this, child-centred policies are required, in which children and young people are informed of their rights, encouraged to participate in decisions affecting them — and taken seriously.
The report includes recommendations for promoting gender awareness and knowledge across society, she said. In addition, research should be carried out on the effects of sexual exploitation, including when facilitated by information and communication technologies (ICTs), she said, adding that the establishment of reliable disaggregated data will promote effective child protection mechanisms. Coordination and cooperation among stakeholders at the national, regional, and international levels is likewise important to help prevent and halt the sexual exploitation of children, ensure rapid identification of victims, and provide child-friendly and gender-sensitive mechanisms to report exploitative behaviour, online and offline.
When the floor opened for questions and comments, several delegates drew attention to the report’s focus on children who identify as non-binary, with the representative of the United States noting that laws using gender-inclusive and non-binary language help all children to be seen, heard and respected, especially those that identify as LGBTQI+. Citing the report’s finding that gender-sensitive sex education plays a crucial role in preventing exploitation, she asked how to ensure that children can access such education. The representative of Mexico asked the Special Rapporteur about the subject of masculine toxicity, which normalizes sexual violence against minorities, as well as about how gender laws can criminalize the victims of sexual exploitation because of their gender choice. The representative of the Russian Federation meanwhile expressed regret that the report was mostly focused on children outside of the gender binary. He urged the Special Rapporteur to follow the Convention on the Rights of the Child in her future work, which does not refer to gender identity or sexual orientation.
An observer for the European Union expressed concern that the pandemic has provided new ways to perpetrate violence against children, as they spend more time online. She asked the Special Rapporteur how States can address gender stereotypes as an underlying cause of sexual exploitation, as well as how a balance could be found in the digital environment between children’s rights, their privacy and the need to monitor their online activity.
The representative of Morocco asked the Special Representative for her views on the role of host countries in addressing the sexual slavery of girls living in refugee camps.
Also speaking were representatives of the United Kingdom, Philippines and Israel.
Ms. SINGHATEH replied that as Special Rapporteur, she advocates for the protection of all children, irrespective of who they are. She approaches the issue from a human rights perspective. Everyone has values, cultures and beliefs, but the fact remains that every child must be protected from abuse. “The gender dimension is important because it needs to extend to boys and to children who do not identify within the classical gender identity who are being exploited,” she said. “The reality is they are being exploited; they are being abused. We need to find out how to protect them”.
To questions about the use of sex education as a means for addressing exploitation, she said sex must be discussed, despite that it is considered taboo in many communities, so that children can protect themselves and understand whether they are being solicited. Parents also must be provided with knowledge in order to guide their children. On ensuring a balance in the online presence and privacy concerns, she said it is important to raise awareness among children, parents, caregivers and teachers about the dangers that exist online.
Rights of the Child
MIKIKO OTANI, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, pointed out that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected children in countless ways, including through school closures, limited access to essential services, rising poverty and mental-health concerns. She called on States to ensure that children can safely return to in-person learning, with access to necessary support for their physical and mental well-being. She also expressed concern over the growing body of evidence on the adverse effects of environmental harm. She underscored the need for children to be given the space to participate in all areas that affect them.
Turning to ratification of and reporting under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, she noted that, while the Convention has been almost universally ratified, the pace of ratification of its three Optional Protocols continues to be slow. States parties should use the services provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to fulfil their reporting obligations. She also provided an overview of the Committee’s activities since 2020, including adapted working methods in response to the pandemic, decisions adopted on 30 cases relating to the Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure, and the adoption of a general comment on children’s rights, in relation to the digital environment. Noting that the General Assembly’s regular budget for 2021 did not correct a shortfall in staff resources to support human-rights treaty bodies, she expressed hope that the 2022 budget will redress this issue.
During the ensuing dialogue, delegates posed questions and shared national experiences, including on how their nations managed the impact of COVID-19 on young people in such areas as education and health. Emphasizing the importance of learning, the representative of Indonesia said the Government is taking steps to address the pandemic’s broad impact on education. He wondered how best to speed the process for safely re-opening schools, particularly in developing countries and in conflict settings.
Citing several national initiatives, the representative of Bahrain said the Government introduced virtual schools and learning, as well as adopted protection programmes to create conditions needed to promote health and education. In addition, a vaccine programme for children from age 12 to 17 has been implemented, he said, adding that Bahrain also works with UNICEF on various issues. The representative of United Kingdom said that, as the pandemic continues to affect children around the world, her delegation is committed to supporting the UNICEF monitoring mechanism on children. In addition, policies must be in place to protect their rights.
Children are at the centre of national policies, the representative of Syria said, pointing to the Government’s ratification of related conventions and protocols. Earlier in 2021, Syria implemented a child rights law, prioritizing the prevention of child recruitment by terrorist groups. Recalling the situation of families living in refugee camps in Syria, she asked why certain States refuse to repatriate children to their home countries. The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said the Government prioritizes children and their rights. Outlining several initiatives, he said his delegation will continue to fully implement its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Protecting children’s rights is part of national efforts, said the representative of Bangladesh, outlining a range of conventions and policies her country supports. Other efforts include an online information system and child-responsive budgeting. She asked how the Third Committee can help States to fulfil their reporting obligations in the area of education. Raising concerns about terminology and gender, the representative of the Russian Federation expressed regret that language that has not been agreed upon, continues to be used in various papers and documents. Such documents cannot impose any obligations on States, he clarified.
Also participating in the dialogue were representatives of Switzerland, Spain, China, Myanmar and Thailand.
An observer for the European Union also spoke.