Sixty-third General Assembly
12th & 13th Meetings (AM & PM)
Despite positive and precedent-setting developments to protect the rights of the child, emerging challenges -- such as the changing nature of armed conflicts and the global financial, energy and food crises -- were posing new and challenging threats to children, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) was told today.
Opening the Committee's discussion on the rights of children, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, described the changing nature of warfare and its increasingly negative impact on children. Terrorism, which disproportionately targeted civilians, dominated the security discourse in many parts of the world, and both terrorist actions and counter-terrorism measures seriously violated the rights of the child.
Vulnerable civilian groups -- like women, children and the elderly -- were often the primary targets of terrorist attacks and, at times, were used by terrorist groups as a powerful weapon of war, she said. Counter-terrorism measures therefore also targeted those same groups, and more and more, children were being found in military detention, held without due judicial process.
Those emerging challenges were only exacerbated by other new and potentially serious threats, including natural disasters fuelled by climate change, rising food prices and, most recently, the financial crisis, said Saad Houry, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). To prevent lasting damage to the next generation, social services in health, education, nutrition and protection, on which children depended, would need to be preserved, in addition to efforts by Member States to mitigate the impact of the crises.
The representative of Barbados, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), highlighted the combined impact of both new challenges and old -- such as poverty, HIV/AIDS, sexual exploitation and other forms of violence -- that threatened to derail the progress of many states and worsen the circumstances of those most at risk.
Many speakers noted that, in recent years, a number of mechanisms had been enacted to support the strengthening of children's rights, and that now included a General Assembly resolution calling on the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative on violence against children. That position had not been filled, and many delegates expressed dismay over the slow progress in filling that position. The Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ngonlardje Mbaidjol, told the Committee that the Secretary-General had undertaken broad consultations with all relevant United Nations actors and was determined to fill that post without delay.
In addition, a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the use of child soldiers, established by the Security Council in 2005 in resolution 1612, had, so far, empowered United Nations staff to negotiate the release of child soldiers by five parties that had been identified as violators in Côte d'Ivoire, said Ms. Coomaraswamy. Similar action plans were being negotiated in Sudan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Uganda, she added.
Further, new mechanisms proposed to strengthen support for the rights of the child included the creation of a new Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that would authorize the United Nations to review individual complaints. Yanghee Lee, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the body charged with overseeing implementation of the Convention on child rights, said the Committee had given consideration to that idea, and looked forward to any discussion that might be initiated in that regard.
However, the representative of Mexico, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said that, despite the adoption by the international community of mechanisms, such as the Convention of the Rights of the Child and other international commitments to protect the rights of children, the reality was that children continued to suffer because of a lack of sufficient resources and the lack of political will to turn international commitments into action. She added her voice to the common call made by delegates to help build national capacity to respond to challenges and to provide the necessary resources for effective action.
Also speaking on the issue were the representatives of France (on behalf of the European Union), Qatar (on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council), Japan, Sudan, the United States and Colombia.
Earlier in the day, the Committee concluded its general discussion on the advancement of women, in which all speakers noted the close link between improving the lives of women and overall sustainable development. Delegates touched upon specific areas of concern for women, such as the situation of women living in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the feminization of poverty, the effects of urbanization on women, cultural attitudes created by traditionally patriarchal systems, and ongoing issues related to sexual and gender-based violence.
Improving the socio-economic situation of women, especially in rural areas, and legislating gender equality were among the strategies proposed to help women meet the many challenges they faced.
Speaking on the advancement of women were the representatives of Israel, Bahrain, Myanmar, Zambia, Guatemala, Panama, Ethiopia, Norway, Argentina, Jordan, Tonga, the United Republic of Tanzania and Cameroon, as well as the Observer Mission of Palestine. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) also spoke on the subject.
The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 18 October, to continue its discussion on the rights of the child.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its discussion on the advancement of women (documents before the Committee on that topic are summarized in Press Release GA/SHC/3918), after which it will take up the promotion and protection of the rights of children.
New documents before it included the report of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (document A/63/41) at its forty-seventh session (14 January to 1 February). The report highlights issues regarding an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, relating to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which had entered into force on 18 January 2002. Notably, two unlawful activities had come under the Committee's consideration in the context of that Optional Protocol: the use of children in camel racing and the recruitment of children for use in armed conflict. The Committee believed that both cases could be considered under that Optional Protocol, in the context of the provision on the sale of children for engagement in forced labour. While it may be argued that children may voluntarily join the army or enter into camel racing, the Committee took the position that, in most cases, the choice is made under threat or due to absence of opportunity, and had recommended the States parties involved take measures to prevent such acts from happening.
The report also discusses the need to avoid the criminalization and "double victimization" of children that are victims of offences covered by the Optional Protocol. Many States parties have difficulties with this issue, especially with respect to the treatment of children used in prostitution. In addition, the report discusses the issue of sex tourism involving children, which the Committee believes is directly connected to the offences covered by the Optional Protocol. According to the report, the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had worked to raise awareness of the issue, focusing, in the last two years, on demand for sexual services deriving from exploitation and on the sale of children's organs.
Also in the report are General Comments Nos. 8, 9 and 10, relating to the rights of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment; the rights of children with disabilities; and children's rights in juvenile justice. General Comments are aimed at guiding States parties in understanding the provisions of the Convention.
The Committee also had before it a report of the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (document A/63/160), stating the number of States that had ratified and signed its Optional Protocols to date. An annex to the report contains a decision of the Committee on the Rights of the Child requesting approval, from the General Assembly at its sixty-third session, to work in two chambers.
Also before the Committee was a report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (document A/63/227), which highlights progress on that issue since the mandate of the Special Representative was last renewed in 2006. Notably, the Office of the Special Representative submitted an amicus curiae to the International Criminal Court in relation to the trial of Thomas Lubanga, charged for the conscription of children under 15 while he was leader of the Union des patriotes congolais. The brief stressed the importance of interpreting the provisions of the Court on a case-by-case basis -- regarding enlistment, conscription, participation and use of children in conflict -- which would better protect all children associated with armed groups. Further, the Office helped prepare reports for examination by the Security Council Working Group on children and armed conflict, which had led to the trial of former Mai-Mai Commander Kyungu Mutanga, alias "Gedeon", for recruiting children from the Katanga Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It has engaged in dialogue to secure the release of children associated with fighting forces in the Central African Republic.
The report also discusses several emerging concerns, such as "terrorism" and subsequent anti-terrorism measures that target children, and the conscription of children as soldiers and to work in mines. Other concerns revolve around the reintegration of war-affected children into their communities, and the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, to which children were increasingly falling victim. The report says that during the next mandate period, the Special Representative, subject to renewal, plans to strengthen international standards relating to impunity; address child protection issues with regard to peacekeeping and peacebuilding; strengthen partnerships with child-protection advocates; and advocate effective strategies for reintegration and "psycho-social healing".
Also before the Committee was a report of the Secretary-General on the follow up to the special session of the General Assembly on children (document A/63/308), at which Governments committed themselves to improving children's health, education and protection against abuse. With regard to health, the report says there have been important successes since the special session, which took place in 2002, including a significant reduction in child mortality for children below five years, mainly due to greater rates of immunization. Nevertheless, the proportion of fully immunized children in 2007 is far from the 2010 target of 90 per cent, with immunization coverage "plummeting" in some poor countries. Other obstacles to children's survival are poor sanitation and the lack of safe drinking water.
On education, the report says that poor learning outcomes persist for children living in rural areas compared to cities, and for girls compared to boys. Many countries have limited capacity to provide education beyond the primary level. But, overall gains in primary level enrolment have been huge.
Regarding protection of children from abuse, the report says overall progress has been mixed, but adds that there was growing appreciation for improved legal and social welfare systems for addressing child labour, female genital mutilation/cutting and child conscription. The report cites some progress in the promulgation of laws against such practices, as well as through addressing social norms through better data collection.
Also before the Committee was a note by the Secretariat stating that General Assembly resolution 62/141 requested the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative on violence against children for a period of three years, and requested an annual report to the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, and the Economic and Social Council. Pending appointment of the Special Representative, no report is being submitted to the sixty-third session (document A/63/203).
Statements on Advancement of Women
SANDRA SIMOVICH ( Israel) said that, despite intense efforts to promote the status of women within the country, the results were still mixed. For example, women earned only 83 per cent of men's salaries, and the heavy representation of women in the public sector made them particularly vulnerable to Government cutbacks. Efforts towards equal representation in Government had also achieved uneven success and, currently, only 17 out of 120 members were women. In response to the shortfalls that still existed, the Knesset's Committee on the Status of Women had been tasked with increasing women's representation in Government and, overall, to achieving gender equality, socially, economically and politically.
Legislating equality and promoting equal representation in Government were effective, top-down strategies for achieving women's rights, she continued. However, civil society could also take the lead in organizing education and representing women at the grass-roots level. In Israel, a vibrant non-governmental organization community had helped push forward the agenda of gender equality and had provided input on the legislative process, while supporting individuals by providing specialized education. She reminded the Committee that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had explicitly addressed property rights issues, including that of owning land. Ensuring equal property rights for women could provide a direct route towards economic empowerment and, ultimately, a greater political voice for women. While some entrenched interests might feel threatened, equality was not a "zero-sum game" and societies and economies would benefit by having all their members contribute fully.*
MARAM ANWAR AL SALEH (Bahrain), aligning herself with the statement delivered by Qatar on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, said the advancement of women was an issue of universal importance. For that reason, greater efforts must be made to strengthen the capacity of women to tackle the problems they faced. In Bahrain, programmes for the empowerment of women were based on Sharia principles, led by a council headed by the King's wife. That council had drawn up a national plan to raise public awareness of the needs of women, and was creating a strategy to facilitate their full integration into society, including as active members of the electorate.
She said that Bahrain had been recognized for its work in the area of women's advancement at the international level. A former President of the General Assembly, a Bahraini, was awarded a prize by the Peace Centre at the Vatican, among other awards. One area in which Bahrain was active was in the area of protection for victims of domestic violence, under the leadership of the Social Development Ministry and the Bahrain association against domestic violence. They had established shelters for battered women; organized workshops in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on how to draw up strategy to combat domestic violence; held seminars with members of the legal profession and in business, on ways to harmonize laws relating to women with Sharia principles; and others. In one such seminar, Morocco was being used as a case study for the eventual reform of Bahrain's family code. Already, some work was being done on the possibility of awarding citizenship through the mother.
She added that, regarding social security, an amendment was made to the family code to provide for a pension fund, as well as to give women access to credit and vocational training. Indeed, all new programmes in the field of women's rights were part of the Government's efforts to bring Bahrain in line with international agreements, within the framework of the Sharia.
AYE AYE SOE ( Myanmar), aligning herself with the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, expressed the belief that integrated measures were needed at the national level to prevent and reduce violence against women. Empowering women necessarily involved improving the socio-economic situation of women in rural areas. In Myanmar, women enjoyed equal rights with their male counterparts, including in terms of traditional law. For instance, they had equal right to the ownership of property. The Myanmar Women's Affairs Federation, a non-governmental organization with a membership of 2.6 million, implemented activities promoting women's development based on guidelines set by the National Committee for Women Affairs. Other organizations, such as the Myanmar Maternal and Chid Welfare Association, the Myanmar Women Entrepreneurs Association and the Myanmar Women Sport Federation were also active in promoting the development of women.
With regard to social issues, such as the protection of women from sexual and gender-based violence, she said the Government was making sure that the socio-economic needs and priorities of women and girls were being addressed. The Government fully supported the zero-tolerance policy in terms of such violence. She further explained that 70 per cent of the Myanmar population resided in rural areas. For their benefit, the Government had laid down five rural development initiatives, focusing on the economy, transportation, health, education and safe water supply, with direct consequence for rural women.
She touched briefly on human trafficking, saying the country had provisions in its criminal code against trafficking in persons. In the first quarter of 2008, 239 trafficking cases were prosecuted and action had been taken against 637 offenders. Those convicted faced the possibility of life imprisonment.
WINNIE NATALA CHIBESAKUNDA (Zambia), aligning herself with the statements made on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that her country was fully committed to enhancing the empowerment of women and ensuring their active involvement in nation-building. As such, the Government had focused on five priority areas to support women: increasing their participation in the education system; reducing gender-based violence; preventing the transmission of HIV/AIDS; increasing their access to titled land; and capacity-building in gender analysis. Though the implementation of a number of measures had translated into positive results, many challenges remained. For example, many of the attitudes and beliefs of the patriarchal systems of society rated men superior to women, especially when it concerned equal participation in decision-making processes, the economy and access to education.
In response to that challenge, the Government had launched a "sensitization programme of traditional leadership" to encourage leaders to change the cultural and traditional practices that adversely affected women. Already, such efforts had helped to reduce the negative attitudes towards women. While Zambia had achieved progress in gender equality and equity, the country continued to face many challenges in meeting internationally agreed-upon goals, regarding issues such as maternal mortality and poverty levels. It was clear that the problems facing women were wide and varied and required concerted efforts by the entire international community. Zambia, like other developing countries, required financial assistance, technical assistance and support for capacity-building, in order to realize its goals relating to women.
CONNIE TARACENA SECAIRA ( Guatemala), aligning herself with the statements made on behalf of the Rio Group and the Group of 77 and China, expressed her concern over the lack of progress on achieving the Millennium Development Goals and the ongoing feminization of poverty at the global level. Nationally, the participation of Guatemalan women in public entities and institutions was visibly increasing. In addition, over the past five years, the number of organizations created specifically by or for women had increased substantially. A series of legislative reforms had been initiated and were aimed at eliminating all forms of violence against women. Those reforms provided support to the victims of violence and greater punishments for the perpetrators of those crimes against women. Women in Guatemala were guaranteed a life free of violence; in family life, social life, and in the spheres of education and religion, as well.
However, Guatemala was still far from reaching its goals to protect, promote, and increase the rights of women and girls, she said. Support from partners for national efforts was vital, and would help both individual countries and the international community at large. Gender equality and the empowerment of women in development were essential for sustained development and for all efforts to end poverty, disease and hunger worldwide. For developing countries to comply with gender equality commitments, it would be necessary for them to be provided with more resources. Efforts to strengthen national entities and capacity-building were, therefore, warmly welcomed. Touching briefly on upcoming celebrations of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November, she expressed her delegation's hope that those celebrations would inspire the global community, and men in particular, to end all acts and forms of violence against women.*
MARY MORGAN-MOSS (Panama), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China and the Rio Group, said her Government's steadfast support for the advancement of women had begun to bear fruit, notably in the areas of health, and the protection of women and girls from violence. Regarding the issue of protection, she said the Government was carrying out a public awareness campaign on domestic violence with the motto "If you hit one, you hit us all." As part of that campaign, the Government had arranged an event where five women -- who appeared to have come from happy homes -- appeared before a crowd with visible scars on their faces. Their stories elicited passionate reactions from the crowd, who were appalled that their assaulters were going unpunished. That event had been one of many undertaken as part of the International Day of non-violence against women. The penal code had recently been strengthened, so that domestic violence was punishable by up to 30 years in prison. It was hoped that all Member States would comply with the General Assembly resolutions, and begin collecting sex-aggregated and gender-sensitive data, so as to help policymakers craft appropriate measures to combat violence against women.
Describing the situation of women with regard to Panama's social development, she said growing urbanization was causing an inordinate amount of population pressure on cities. The 2000 census had indicated that nearly one third of breadwinners in cities were women, indicating that some of those pressures were being borne by women. In addition, the spread of AIDS through heterosexual activity affected women greatly, as did other forms of sexually transmitted diseases. The Ministry of Health was seeking to speed up its fulfilment of health obligations to women, in line with the Millennium Development Goals. Guidelines were being drawn on ways to improve the rate of maternal mortality, while also improving women's access to birth control. The Government sought to eventually provide a full range of health services for women, for every stage of their lives, including during times of pregnancy and birth, as well as those times beyond their reproductive life, taking account of the various sociocultural aspects regarding the question of women's health. Programmes already in place were carefully monitored and formed part of Panama's holistic conceptualization of sexual health issues.
WOINSHET TADESSE ( Ethiopia) said the empowerment of women and gender mainstreaming was "very critical" for achieving internationally agreed-upon development goals. But, due to power imbalances, structural inequalities and the absence or inadequacies of penal legislation to deter abusers, violence against women was rampant worldwide. Concurring with the United Nations Secretary-General's recommendation to take a comprehensive approach to prevent and eliminate that vicious human rights violation, she recognized the crucial importance of engaging in activities aimed at improving the situation of Ethiopian women.
Ethiopia had undertaken several policy and legislative measures to curb all forms of discrimination against women, with a strong emphasis on women's participation in the development process, she continued. The Federal Constitution recognized women's equal rights and full legal rights to participate in the country's political and economic spheres, including in decision-making processes. The Government and other relevant actors had used awareness-creation, advocacy and lobbying activities that had resulted in an increase in the number of women in decision-making and leadership positions, she said, noting that 117 women had been elected to parliament, and women held a number of ministerial positions.
She added that the current health policy paid special attention to family needs, educational sector efforts had boosted the enrolment and retention rates of girls and women, and the Family Law had been revised to ensure equal rights of inheritance, divorce and child custody. The revised Penal Code now attached 10 to 15 year sentences to perpetrators of the crimes of rape and abduction. She said the coordination and strategic partnerships within the United Nations system were "critical to the success of the whole agenda" of gender equality. She called on development partners to support multifaceted efforts under way in that field, by increasing financial and technical assistance needed to translate shared goals into real actions.
LARS SIGURD VALVATNE ( Norway) said that women represented half the talent, half the market and, when included in decision-making, a better "bottom line". No nation could, thus, afford to ignore such a large part of the workforce. Norway had recently launched two domestic policy initiatives to promote gender equality. The first required State-owned companies, and certain public companies listed on the Norwegian Stock Exchange, to ensure that women constituted at least 40 per cent of the members on their respective boards of directors. The second initiative focused on fathers and provided them with greater incentives, like parental leave, to spend more time at home. Such efforts were aimed at encouraging mothers not to abandon their careers while caring for children.
On gender mainstreaming, he noted that the reports before the Committee showed that, at best, there had been modest progress. Indeed, member proposals for the upcoming meeting of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities currently showed that only six women had been proposed as members, compared to 13 men. He, therefore, encouraged the Committee to ensure that, when the 12 members were finally elected, there would be a 50-50 gender balance.
MARÍA LUZ MELON (Argentina), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China and the Rio Group, said the question of women must be considered in all its aspects, including from the point of view of human rights and social development. It was also important to consider the importance of women's active participation in a nation's political, social, cultural and economic life. For its part, Argentina had recently promulgated a law on trafficking, as part of its initiative to guarantee the protection of women. Argentina believed that international forums should remain seized of the question of the elimination of all forms of violence against women, including on the part of the countries of the Americas, within the framework of the Inter-American Convention of Belem do Para and its follow-up mechanism.
She said the National Council of Women in Argentina had embarked on a training programme to sensitize the public on the ills brought on society by violence against women. In addition, a special programme on sexual violence provided assistance to victims, be they adults or children. She added that countries of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) had agreed to harmonize their strategies for combating violence against women.
She added that maternal mortality was one of the country's priority areas. Its national programme on sexual health and responsible procreation acknowledged the right to health. At the same time, it provided for everyone's right to adequate, reversible, non-abortive and temporary birth control methods.
NADYA RIFAAT RASHEED, observer for Palestine, aligning herself with the statement made on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said that women must be allowed to enjoy their full fundamental human rights, since a denial of those rights would not only limit opportunities for women but would also handicap the development of societies. One of the most tragic human rights situations for women was occurring in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. Occupation compounded the pressures and constraints that already existed within societies in regards to the advancement of women. Like all other women, Palestinian women fought gender inequalities and discrimination within their own society. However, 41 years of occupation, and the ills that had accompanied it, remained the major obstacle to their social, economic and political advancement.
For example, the increase of restrictions on the movement of Palestinians within the occupied territories had forced 69 women to give birth at Israeli checkpoints since 2000, she said. Thirty-five of those women had miscarried, and many more pregnant women in the territories had died due to inadequate medical care. Indeed, lack of proper medical care during pregnancy was the third highest cause of mortality among Palestinian women of reproductive age in the Occupied Territories. Occupation had also placed the Palestinian economy in a disastrous state, and poverty and unemployment within the occupied territories was rampant. Urgent attention and assistance must, thus, be given to Palestinians living under occupation and, in particular, to women and their children. The international community must demand that Israel, as the occupying power, abide by its obligations under international humanitarian law towards the civilian population in the occupied territories, especially in Gaza. In spite of all the challenges they faced, Palestinian women continued to be resilient in their quest for peace, since only then would they be able to make real progress towards securing a promising future.
SAMAR AL-ZIBDEH (Jordan), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, said her Government supported the protection of women and eliminating violence against them. Women in Jordan were politically, socially and economically empowered, and played an active role within the cabinet, Parliament, Senate and various judicial bodies. Several female ambassadors represented the country abroad. A quarter of municipal council members were women. She said Jordan's laws were gender sensitive -- whether relating to political parties, publishing, corruption, money-laundering, disabled persons or other subjects. Twenty per cent of elected posts at the municipal level were currently set aside for women, and the Government was considering extending that quota to the entire civil service.
Regarding economic programmes that benefit women, she said laws were being amended to grant women more rights in the realm of business, and to extend legal protection to all workers without exception. Jordan saw a marked increase in access to credit for small enterprises, through a bank dedicated to that cause. Women benefited most from those opportunities, bringing a direct benefit to their families. However, unemployment was still a problem and, for that reason, the Government was investing in the economy in an effort to create jobs for women. Training was also being provided through the National Council of Vocational Training.
On violence against women, she said Parliament had recently passed a family protection law, which affords protection to women from domestic violence. The National Council for Family Affairs, working in cooperation with the "family protection project", was working to create a national framework to tackle family violence. A Government "family reconciliation programme" provided shelter to domestic abuse victims. At the same time, the public security directorate had initiated a rehabilitation programme for female convicts, and was educating church and mosque officials on the importance of prisoner reintegration. The national committee in charge of women's affairs was presided over by the King's daughter and was currently preparing a women's empowerment campaign. One of its aims was to encourage relevant ministries and other government bodies to adopt a gender perspective, so that remaining challenges -- with regard to poverty eradication and sexual discrimination, among others --could be better tackled.
FEKITAMOELOA 'UTOIKAMANU ( Tonga) said research had shown that advancement of women in education stimulated economic growth and poverty reduction, and reduced malnutrition and child mortality. As two thirds of the world's 1.2 billion people living in extreme poverty were women, it was vital that women be given the equal opportunity and access to education and vocational training to ensure that future generations had a chance to break the vicious cycle of extreme poverty. Globally, the percentage of women and girls living with HIV and AIDS had increased from 41 per cent in 1997 to almost 50 per cent. Because the loss of productivity and the medical expenses put women living with HIV and AIDS, and their families, in a vicious circle of extreme poverty, a proactive approach to the prevention of, and education on, HIV and AIDS must be continued.
She said environmental sustainability was strongly linked with gender empowerment. Food and water security was crucial to the prosperity of women. Since women in developing countries were the predominant force behind agricultural production and water procurement, the rapid increase in price for basic commodities and the increasing scarcity of water placed tremendous pressure on them. Special attention had been given to gender equality during the debate on system-wide coherence. The gender perspective must be integrated and mainstreamed within the United Nations agencies, particularly those agencies that were fundamental to sustainable development. As there was a risk that, because of the current financial crisis, the financing of core development programmes might be downgraded, she urged donors to refrain from taking short-term actions that would undermine the achievement of long-term benefits.
MARYAM JOY MWAFFISI (United Republic of Tanzania), aligning herself with the statements of the Group of 77 and China and SADC, said her Government had ratified national and regional instruments that aimed at promoting and protecting the rights of women, and worked tirelessly to meet those instruments' commitments. Gender equality and women's empowerment were central to her nation's development agenda and the reason why the Government had continued its efforts for gender mainstreaming. The already established gender machinery and the gender focal points in ministries, as well as local government administration, had been pivotal in that regard. There were, however, inadequate gender-disaggregated data, in particular for reporting and monitoring purposes.
She said gender-based violence was, apart from being a violation of women's human rights, a barrier to the achievement of gender equality and development. The national "Say NO to Violence against Women" campaign, launched in May, aimed at sensitizing the community and engaging it in the implementation of the National Plan of Action to end violence against women by 2015. The Government had put in place the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, aimed at combating and preventing trafficking in human beings and providing compensation to the injured victims. Another of her Government's concerns was the issue of maternal health, one of the Millennium Development Goals that were off track. Women had a right to get through pregnancy and childbirth safely, but the lack of access to health centres with qualified midwives was still a serious impediment to maternal health.
CÉCILE MBALLA EYENGA ( Cameroon) said biological, psychological, cultural and judicial stereotypes all perpetuated discrimination against women and reduced them to "second-class citizens" within their own societies. Women and girls made up the majority of the world's poor and their vulnerability to poverty was often the result of a lack of access to such areas as education, property and within decision-making processes. International, regional and national efforts should be pooled to give women back their dignity and allow them to contribute to overall developments and improvements in their societies.
At a national level, Cameroon's women were considered vital actors in development and were, thus, fully integrated into the national development strategy, she said. Thanks to the support of bilateral and multilateral partners, real progress had already been achieved. Gender issues were being specifically targeted now in all national efforts to realize the Millennium Goals. Education was the keystone to promoting women in Cameroon, and improving women's access to education was a top national priority. To ensure sustainable progress, development partners should fulfill the commitments made in previous international forums to assist countries like Cameroon in achieving their development goals and reducing the vulnerability of women and children.
XENIA VON LILIEN, of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said women were the hardest hit by the current food crisis, which was caused, among other things, by the failure of productivity to keep pace with growing demand due to population growth, rising incomes and urbanization. "Women feed the world," she said. In many parts of the world, women were the main farmers and producers. There was, however, a deep gulf between the world's reliance on food produced by women and the things women needed to grow and market that food, such as land, tools, seeds, information, credit and market access. The Comprehensive Framework for Action to boost agricultural productivity and improve food security needed to include specific steps to recognize, understand and address the barriers created by gender roles, and must better integrate women in the agricultural production value chains.
She said that, on the occasion of the first observance of the International Day of Rural Women, IFAD, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank and other partners had launched the Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook, which provided an up-to-date understanding of gender issues in agriculture, ranging from water, land and markets to natural resource management, infrastructure and governance. In the course of 2008, IFAD had enhanced its support of women in leadership positions in farmer's organizations. IFAD had also supported the role of women in decision-making at higher levels. It had launched the Network of Women Agriculture Ministers and Leaders, which had met for the first time in May, in New York.
Debate on Rights of Children
RADHIKA COOMARASWAMY, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that, though the general picture with regard to children and armed conflict continued to be bleak, there had been a number of positive and precedent-setting developments. Among the most significant was the passage of Security Council resolution 1612, which implemented a monitoring and reporting mechanism with regard to the recruitment and use of children as child soldiers. Armed with that resolution, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) staff, and other United Nations child-protection advisors, had begun to negotiate action plans with groups that recruited and used children.
In Côte d'Ivoire, all five parties that had been identified as violators had negotiated action plans and released children, she said. Similar action plans were being negotiated in Sudan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Uganda. Nevertheless, there remained 16 persistent violators who continued to recruit and use children, and Member States should set up a mechanism for determining targeted measures against those offenders. Those efforts, and the end of wars in Liberia, Nepal and Sierra Leone, were leading experts to suggest that the total number of child soldiers in the world had decreased, and there was a possibility that it would be further reduced in the near future. In addition, for the first time, there was an international prosecution on the recruitment and use of child soldiers, as the Office of the Special Representative had filed an amicus curiae with the International Criminal Court in the case of Thomas Lubanga, the former leader of the Union des patriotes congolais.
There was far less progress with regards to the other grave violations against children, such as killing, maiming, sexual violence, abduction, denial of humanitarian access, and attacks on schools and hospitals, she said. Moreover, sexual violence against girls and boys continued to be a heinous consequence of war. Her office had been working to raise awareness of those issues and the overall situation of children and armed conflict among stakeholders and the general public, in addition to mainstreaming the issue within the United Nations system. Children and armed conflict should be an integral part of peacemaking, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, and due in part to the efforts of her Office, a greater number of peace agreements had child protection provisions and demobilisation programmes that were sensitive to the needs of children.
Despite that progress, serious challenges remained, she said. One of those challenges was the ongoing fight against impunity and the need to end grave violations against children. There was now the legal architecture to do that, before both the International Criminal Court and the Security Council. In addition, it was important to build national capacity to deal with those issues. Already, in some countries, the recruitment and use of children was being criminalized, and sexual violence against children was being prosecuted. Those efforts should be further encouraged with technical support and resources.
The main challenge facing children and armed conflict lay in the changing nature of warfare, where civilian life was far less protected, she said. Recent visits to Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories had shown that those countries, as in many others, faced what had been termed a "terrorist problem", where insurgent groups mobilized children in their political and military activities and, at times, used them as child suicide bombers. Some groups attacked schools where children studied and were particularly brutal with regard to female students. In response to those developments and insurgencies, children were now being found in military detention, held without due judicial process. As well, there was an increased use of aerial bombardments and precision bombing, where collateral damage was an increasing factor and children were often innocent victims. The fundamental principles of international humanitarian law --the separation of civilian from combatant and the rule of proportionality -- were often breached and Member States must, therefore, make it clear that the rules of engagement, as defined by international law, must be implemented.
Creating innovative and successful programmes for the care and protection of children in those situations was another challenge, she said. Rescuing children was a laudable goal, but the real struggle was in the successful reintegration of those children back into their communities. Any attempt at reintegration must involve inclusive community-based programming and the family. For those efforts, child protection agencies and non-governmental organizations needed adequate resources, she continued. Though Governments and donors were willing to fund emergency relief, they were not always willing to "stay the course" to ensure that children were effectively reintegrated. Donors and Governments should be sensitized to the negative consequences of unsuccessful reintegration, as many former child soldiers might return to a life of violence or crime.
The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals was particularly difficult in situations of armed conflict, she said. More than two thirds of children under five who were undernourished lived in countries with conflict, and more than two thirds of the children out of primary school also lived in armed conflict situations. Those sobering figures should propel the international community to devise programmes and projects to ensure that the basic human rights of children were protected, and the concept of "emergency" included the provision of basic health, nutrition and educational services.
She closed with the story of a young girl, from the Central African Republic, who had been picked up by the leader of a local criminal gang. When the girl was later returned home, she refused to speak. "Discriminated by her parents, abducted by armed men and possibly violated, she now faces a bleak future," said Ms. Coomaraswamy. Because of a lack of attention on the part of the donor community, she barely had shelter, had no schooling and little respite from the violence. Unless Member States, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations redoubled their efforts and ensured that the moral imperative to protect children continued to override all political considerations, children like that young girl would never have a future.
SAAD HOURY, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), delivering a statement on the promotion and protection of the rights of children, first addressed the issue of child rights. He lauded the entry into force of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, saying it reinforced and complemented the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, since children with disabilities faced additional vulnerabilities. States parties were urged to place children with disabilities high on their agendas, since such children were "overrepresented" among those who "made their way through life impoverished, deprived of family care, without access to school, discriminated against and vulnerable".
He said it was crucial that government, civil society, and international human rights and development actors participate in the Convention's international monitoring mechanism. UNICEF was ready to play its role in that process through: advocacy and public education on the Convention; assistance with the review of national legislation and policies as they impact on children; and support to improving the availability of data on the situation of children with disabilities. UNICEF also celebrated the "historic" adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by the General Assembly last September. Used together with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Declaration would bring strength to the overall promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous children.
In light of the global crises that had accelerated in the past year, he urged Member States to take all measures to mitigate the impact of those crises to "ensure a first call for children". To prevent lasting damage to the next generation, social services in health, education, nutrition and protection, on which children depended, must be preserved.
He noted that significant advance had been made to ensure the protection of children exposed to armed conflict. For instance, the Forum on the implementation of the Paris Commitments and Paris Principles in September had showed strong support from an increasing number of Member States for the cause. In addition, Security Council resolution 1612 had provided the opportunity for many agencies to work collectively in addressing grave violations against children. It offered a new platform of engagement with countries, with increasing ownership and engagement of national authorities on the implementation of the monitoring systems. UNICEF recognized the work of the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict in that area.
He then touched on the issues of child labour and the sexual exploitation of children. Child labour was the cause, as well as consequence, of poverty, with one in 12 children subject to the worst forms of child labour: they were soldiers, miners, machinists or were exploited in the sex industry. "Those forms of child labour represented today's version of slavery," he said, and was hazardous, oppressive, damaged children's health and threatened their safety. They robbed children of a childhood, education and a future.
He said eliminating child labour could not be done "by waving a magic wand", because there were systemic, structural problems enmeshed in global economic systems that could not be addressed in isolation. The five-yearly International Conference of Labour Statisticians was expected to review the definition of child labour later in the year, providing Governments the opportunity to re-evaluate the impact of child labour on their economies and their people. The inclusion of household chores in that definition would finally recognize the work of girls -- a step that would make gender inequality more visible.
On sexual exploitation, he pointed to the upcoming World Congress against the Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents in Brazil in November. He noted that legislative improvements on that topic had not been matched by progress in the application of the law, or by prevention efforts and the provision of services and care for child survivors. It was time to take stock and set out goals and recommendations for the future.
In addition, he said the United Nations had the opportunity to advance the rights of some of the world's most vulnerable children: those living without the protection and care of their families. Last year's omnibus child rights resolution, which welcomed ongoing processes aimed at elaborating a set of United Nations guidelines for the appropriate use and conditions for alternative care for children, had been advanced further with the help of the Human Rights Council. UNICEF encouraged Member States to continue that process, leading to the finalization and adoption of the Guidelines.
He ended by addressing the issue of follow-up to commitments to the "World Fit for Children". The number of deaths due to measles had fallen since last year, and malaria prevention measures had been expanded, with increases in the use of insecticide-treated nets among children under five years. Estimated numbers of child deaths had fallen worldwide; net primary school enrolment was at least 90 per cent in all but two regions; and an estimated 198,000 HIV-positive children were receiving antiretroviral treatment as of December 2007, representing a 2.6-fold increase since 2005. Yet, much remained to be done, because evidence showed that the world was not moving fast enough to achieve its Millennium Development Goals relating to children's health.
NGONLARDJE MBAIDJOL, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, introduced the report of the Special Representative on violence against children (document A/63/203). He recalled that, pursuant to General Assembly resolution 62/141, the Secretary-General was requested to appoint, for a period of three years, a Special Representative on violence against children, who was, in turn, requested to report annually to the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, and the Economic and Social Council. The Secretary-General had undertaken broad consultations with all relevant United Nations actors and was determined to fill that post without delay. The interview panel had commenced its work by interviewing candidates and would soon propose candidates to the Secretary-General.
Next, he introduced the Secretary-General's report on the rights of the child (document A/63/160), which contained the status of ratifications of the Convention and its two Optional Protocols. He drew attention to a decision of the Committee on the Rights of the Child to request approval, from the General Assembly, to work in two chambers, to enable it to consider more effectively the many reports pending consideration before it.
Finally, he drew attention to the report of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (document A/63/41), saying the Chairperson of the Committee would present an oral report of that body's work in the period from February 2006 to January 2008.
Questions and Answers
The representative of the Russian Federation asked Ms. Coomaraswamy how it was possible to evaluate, and work out, the mechanisms for monitoring and accountability in situations of armed conflict, and what more might need to be done to ensure the successful functioning of those mechanisms.
Referring to statements made by Ms. Coomaraswamy, regarding children being detained in military prisons and the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian areas, the representative of Lebanon highlighted the fact that those were both challenges that faced the children living in the occupied Palestinian territories. Yet, neither the situation of Palestinian children, nor the obligations of Israel, an occupying power, had been discussed in the report of the Special Representative. He asked the Special Representative why that was the case.
A similar question was asked by the Observer of Palestine, who highlighted the number of children who had died -- more than 1,000 since the year 2000 - in the occupied territories. He asked how the Special Representative would address that issue in the future, and what she and the international community could do to address both that issue and the situation of Palestinian children being held in Israeli detention centres.
Also on the subject of children under detention, the representative of Egypt noted the seriousness of the problem, and asked Ms. Coomaraswamy what she thought needed to be done to help those children, particularly in terms of their release, rehabilitation and reintegration into society. On a more procedural issue, she asked whether the Working Group on children and armed Conflict was still considering holding dual meetings in dual chambers or whether it had considered adding mores sessions to ensure that the full membership would be present at all meetings, allowing all members to consider all reports before the Working Group.
The representative of Egypt also expressed her concern over the slow progress in filling the newly created position of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and asked for more information regarding a possible timetable. That same concern, and request for information, was echoed by the representatives of Uruguay and Iraq.
The representative of Libya asked for further elaboration regarding the situation of child detainees in general. He also expressed his hope that the Working Group on children and armed conflict would eventually cover all forms of violence against children in armed conflict situations and would cover more geographic areas of conflict in the future.
The representative of Benin said that trafficking in children was growing in his region and throughout the world. He asked the representative of UNICEF for further information about the situation regarding human trafficking in the subregion. He also drew the Committee's attention to Benin's efforts, in light of the adoption of Security Council resolution 1612. He acknowledged that some violations were not covered by that resolution, and as such, he asked Ms. Coomaraswamy what further assistance she might need in the future to help her in her work.
The representative of France asked how the General Assembly might contribute -- beyond renewing its support to the mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict -- to strengthening the United Nations system and holding those parties using children accountable.
The representative of Afghanistan said that, due to 30 years of war, children in her country were subject to severe poverty and difficult living conditions. Terrorist groups and activities in the country exacerbated the situation. Women and children were the primary targets of those terrorist groups. Children were often used for criminal acts, and girls were particularly at risk. Indeed, female teachers were terrorized, schools were burned down and threatening letters were often sent to parents, all to dissuade them from sending their girls to school.
The representative of Iraq, referring to language used in the report of the Special Representative, regarding "voluntary" and "ideological" recruitment, said that it would be impossible for a child to be ideologically committed to anything at such a young age, and he, therefore, asked the Special Representative for further elaboration on the subject.
Responding to questions regarding violations against children, as a result of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Ms. COOMARASWAMY said the annual report did not deal with specific country situations. Instead, she referred Member States to a separate report on her Office's visit to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel. Her Office was indeed concerned by the killing and maiming of children in that region, and voiced hoped that the current ceasefire would hold. It was also concerned about the effects of public sector strikes on children's education, since that meant schools were closed. Delays in accessing medical care also posed worries -- most recently, 11 children were reported to have died because of such delays.
On children in detention, she pointed to a set of guiding principles of juvenile justice put forward by the Secretary-General, which posited that the Members of the United Nations would always operate in the best interests of the child. Detention should be the last resort, and alternatives to detention should be used wherever possible. She expressed concern over the situation relating to juvenile detention in Iraq and Afghanistan, and said that there was also a need to examine the issue from the legal perspective. Children should be allowed the right to represent themselves and be heard. She said she had approached national authorities in those two countries, as well as the international forces, in an effort to improve the situation.
She said that once the Special Representative on violence against children was appointed, they were likely to discuss the ways in which they would collaborate on their respective tasks. For example, they might work together in terms of country visits. While her role was primarily a political one, involving advocacy on specific issues relating to armed conflict, she expressed confidence that the two Special Representatives would complement each other's work.
On child conscription and trafficking of children, she stressed the importance of reintegrating child soldiers, in order to avoid the "recycling" of child soldiers –- for example, starting as soldiers in Benin and ending up in Liberia or Côte d'Ivoire. She made a plea for long-term funding to help further that cause.
Regarding Security Council resolution 1612, she said her Office has asked that sexual violence be included in annexes of the report as a "trigger", in addition to recruitment and child soldiers. In addition, her Office had suggested that a mechanism be in place to enact sanctions against the 16 most persistent violators, and that the issue of sexual violence against children in armed conflict be included on the agenda of the Security Council Working Group on that issue. To strengthen the General Assembly resolution on the Ten-Year Review of the World Programme of Action for Youth, her Office had made suggestions regarding the use of more explicit language on sexual violence, prosecution and reintegration, as well as on the need to emphasise all other rights of children, such as the right to education, nutrition and health. She observed that the Security Council could deal with issues regarding punishment for violations, while the General Assembly could deal with "child rights" issues.
She ended by thanking the Governments of Afghanistan and Iraq for facilitating her visits to those countries. Regarding the question of so-called "voluntary" involvement in the army, she said no recruitment under 18 was deemed such. Nevertheless, it was important to understand that some children drifted towards the army because they romanticized the idea of "heroic death", which in turn was propagated by the adults. "It's not always by abduction," she stressed.
The next to speak was Mr. HOURY, who responded to the questions regarding the Special Representative on violence against children. He said that interviews were still ongoing and added that the selection would take place soon.
Regarding how UNICEF would coordinate with the Special Representative, he said UNICEF had adopted a child protection strategy that incorporated all recommendations contained in the Secretary-General's study on violence against children. UNICEF would work closely with the new appointee, in line with that strategy, and UNICEF would provide support, as requested. The World Health Organization (WHO), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) were other close partners in that process.
On the question of regional approach to trafficking of children in West Africa, he said efforts were under way to crate a holistic response, incorporating prevention, protection and institutional reform within countries.
Mr. MBAIDJOL said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General was required to adhere to terms of reference established as a result of resolution 62/141. He or she was expected to head the inter-agency committee and coordinate its activities. Regarding the question on the Committee on the Rights of the Child, he said the Chair of that body would soon address the issue.
KAIRE M. MBUENDE ( Namibia), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said that children were one of the most vulnerable groups in regards to HIV/AIDS transmission. Mother to child transmission was the most predominant mode of transmission, and statistics had shown that roughly 50 per cent of infants who contracted HIV/AIDS from their mothers died before their second birthday. He, therefore, called on researchers and pharmaceutical companies to come up with effective pediatric, anti-retroviral drugs to help arrest HIV/AIDS-related deaths among children. He also urged the international community to continue to support national efforts to fight the pandemic, including the provision of sufficient resources.
On education, he said the SADC had invested substantial resources to make education effective and accessible to both boys and girls. Partnerships among Governments, parents, communities, civil society and donors had resulted in substantial progress at the primary level. However, the region continued to face challenges in providing quality education, due to limited resources. Despite those challenges, the Development Community had been responsive and innovative in its efforts to eradicate illiteracy in the region and to provide quality education for children and youth.
Turning to the violence, abuse and the exploitation of children that continued to persist in all parts of the world, he noted that young girls were particularly vulnerable and prone to abuse and exploitation. Regionally, there had been overall progress in developing policies and programmes that specifically targeted the advancement of girls, especially in education. The appointment of a Special Representative on violence against children would help assist countries to address violence against girls and all aspects of violence against children. A greater sense of urgency by Governments and the international community, enhanced international cooperation and global partnerships, and the fulfillment of official development assistance commitments were also all essential to ensure the full protection of the rights of children.
FABIEN FIESCHI ( France), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said children should be considered as fully fledged human beings requiring special attention. He reaffirmed the European Union's commitment to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which he said had facilitated major improvements in the rights and living conditions of children around the world. The European Union lent its support to the Committee responsible for following up on its implementation, and believed that it was important to elect a Special Representative on violence against children as soon as possible. He noted that discussions were currently under way regarding the drafting of a third Optional Protocol to the Rights of the Child Convention, which would authorize the Committee to review individual complaints.
For its part, the Union had adopted guidelines on the rights of the child in 2007, and had reviewed its guidelines on children in armed conflict in 2008. It had expanded the list of problematic situations to 19 countries and continued to monitor them.
He went on to commend the Brazilian Government for organizing the upcoming World Congress III on the sexual exploitation of children, and suggested that the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child dealing with the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography could form a good basis for discussion. Regarding the Optional Protocol on children in armed conflict, he noted that the Security Council Working Group was a crucial vehicle through which the United Nations could demobilize thousands of child soldiers around the world. In addition, the Paris Commitments on Children and Armed Conflict was an innovative political text that could be used to step up the fight against children in armed conflict. A follow-up forum was expected to meet biannually on the subject. He hoped the Paris process would be useful in finding funds for reintegration programmes. Progress in that area was connected to progress in international criminal justice, and he lauded the arrest of warlords in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on the charge of child conscription.
MOHAMMAD IQBAL DEGIA (Barbados), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the international community had overwhelmingly supported the Convention on the Rights of the Child, because it had recognized that one of the best investments a Government could make was to invest in its children. In his report, the Secretary-General cited some advances in improving the situation of children around the world, but in many countries progress was not likely. Poverty, conflict, instability, HIV/AIDS, environmental degradations and natural disasters hindered the development of many countries and impacted one of the most vulnerable sectors of the population: children. Economic turmoil and the global food crisis threatened to derail the progress of many states and worsen the circumstances of those most at risk.
He said poverty, hunger, underdevelopment, the inability of many States to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, and the present global financial crisis were rooted in structural problems. Those were: the unfair and unequal international trading system; and a lack of democracy and transparency in the international financial and economic system. Until the international community resolved those underlying structural issues and gave a greater voice to developing countries in international decision-making, the developing world would continue to linger behind the developed world in terms of social and economic development, and children would suffer the most. While developing countries retained responsibility for their own development, national efforts must be complemented by a supportive international system. Those responsible for the global financial crisis could not be trusted to resolve it and, as such, developing countries must demonstrate leadership in the search for a lasting solution.
The rights of women and children were inextricably linked, and the promotion of the rights of women was, therefore, key to the survival and development of children, families and communities, he said. The commitment of CARICOM countries to gender equality and the rights of children was part of the Community's holistic approach to human rights and development, which included the rights of women and children; the right to education, food, and health; and other economic, social, civil and political rights. While there remained many daunting challenges to realizing the rights of children, much progress had already been made globally over the previous decades. The challenge now was to pursue, with even greater intensity, policies that would make the world a better place for children.
SOCORRO ROVIROSA (Mexico), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said that a regional campaign to improve maternal, newborn and child health had recently been launched in Chile to help the region achieve the Millennium Development Goals relating to maternal health and child mortality. Globally, the lives of millions of children were still threatened by disease, ignorance, poverty and violence. That painful reality was the result of an insufficiency of resources meant for children, and the absence of a sense of urgency and a strong will to transform international commitments into concrete actions in favour of children. Answers must be found, at the national and multilateral levels, to address the consequences of various global challenges to the welfare of children, such as the rising price of food, the situation of migrant families and the impact of climate change.
It was necessary to strengthen State capacity to maintain and expand the provision of basic services, she said. The need to build national capacity was recognized in the resolution on the triennial policy review of operational activities for development, and the need for international cooperation towards that goal was of vital importance. Turning to the universal nature, and magnitude of the problem, of violence against children, she highlighted the need for a comprehensive response, with a gender perspective, in the fields of protection, prevention, the restoration of rights and the fight against impunity. The Rio Group was deeply concerned about the delay in the appointment of a Special Representative on violence against children.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, there had been a significant reduction in child labour over the previous few years, she said. Still, 5.7 million children who had not yet reached the minimum working age were illegally employed. To face that challenge, the countries of the Rio Group had launched several programmes at national and regional levels, and further efforts had been undertaken to include the issue of child labour in the regional economic agenda and in regional agreements and declarations.
In closing, she drew the Committee's attention to the need for comprehensive programmes for early childhood development. More than 25 million children under five years of age lived in poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean. The implementation of efficient health, education and nutritional programmes through a comprehensive, early childhood development programme was, thus, urgently needed. Such a programme should ensure systematic interventions on health, nutrition and education, as well as social and emotional stimulation for children up to six years of age. The protection of children during early childhood had a multiplying effect on society, since it increased a child's ability to develop capacities that would benefit the community in the future. Children and teenagers were not demanding more commitments from leaders; they were demanding concrete actions.
SHEIKHA ALYA AHMAD BIN SAIF AL-THANI (Qatar), speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, discussed the steps being taken by States in the Arab Gulf to promote and protect the rights of the child. Those countries had taken various legal and operational measures to guarantee those rights, in line with Islamic Sharia law. For Gulf States, the promotion of the rights of the child depended on the "consolidation of the rights and duties of the family".
She said States of the Gulf Cooperation Council had succeeded in extending the primary health-care network, as well as maternal and child health-care centres, to a wider audience. Education at all levels had, likewise, been extended to all children. A look at social indicators relating to children, most notably a decrease in the child mortality rate and an enhanced level of social services, revealed much positive development. States of the Gulf were currently engaged in drawing up national strategies for the advancement of children, in line with the Sharia and the social values of those countries, which were the result of broad, participatory processes. Those States had also engaged in sensitization exercises for groups working with children, so that they fully appreciated the importance of the principles and provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, within the framework of Sharia law.
On fighting violence against children, she said States of the Gulf had established bodies to receive complaints and reports on child abuse, and for undertaking investigations in a way that respected the privacy and well-being of victims. They had established an inter-ministerial committee for child and family questions to ensure coordination at the regional level, and were working in close cooperation with UNICEF in its humanitarian activities, as well as other rights-based activities. She ended by expressing gratitude to the Committee on the Rights of the Child for its work to oversee implementation of the Convention. She expressed similar gratitude to the Special Representative on children and armed conflict for her work in relation to the demobilization of child soldiers.
The Committee then broke off their discussion to hear an oral report on the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols, all three of which required reporting.
YANGHEE LEE, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, discussed the achievements and challenges faced by the Committee in the past year. She began by explaining how useful it had been to work in two chambers to clear the backlog of reports. At the moment, the Committee faced a backlog of over 80 States party reports, which represented a delay of three years.
She said that, as of 1 October, the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had 129 States parties and the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict had 123 parties. To date, the Committee had reviewed 70 State party reports under the Optional Protocols. In order to review the reports submitted, the Committee would like to request the General Assembly to approve appropriate financial support for the Committee to work in two chambers, during four sessions, over the next two years.
She then drew attention to several notable accomplishments of the Committee in the past year. First, she said it had written two "general comments", which are attached to its report. Those comments dealt with the right of the child to be heard, as set out in article 12 of the Convention; and with the rights of indigenous children, with reference to non-discrimination and article 30 of the Convention. Next, she said the Committee had given consideration to the idea of creating an individual complaints mechanism through the adoption of a new Optional Protocol, and looked forward to any discussion that might be initiated in that regard. She also drew attention to a draft United Nations guideline for the appropriate use and conditions of alternative care for children, referred to in a recent Human Rights Council resolution.
In terms of treaty body reform, she said the Committee had undertaken a two-day workshop and had actively participated in Inter-Committee meetings of the treaty bodies. It looked forward to supporting an expanded role of coordination through participation in such meetings on a more regular basis.
She said the Committee continued to be active in the promotion of the Convention through a range of events and activities, including: the annual Day of General Discussion; follow-up workshops around the world, including in West Africa; and involvement in preparations for the World Congress on Sexual Exploitation, to take place in Brazil. The Congress, whose General Rapporteur was the former Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, was an important opportunity for assessing implementation of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
She noted that 2009 was the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. She invited all States to reflect on the degree of implementation of the Convention and to identify issues to be addressed in that regard. She ended by expressing gratitude to UNICEF for granting the Committee observer status on its Executive Board. She also identified the Special Representative on children and armed conflict as an important partner of the Committee, as well as various non-governmental organizations in Geneva, for acting as a bridge between the Committee and civil society.
NOBUKO KUROSAKI ( Japan) recognized the underlying basic principle in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that children are entitled to particular care and assistance and reaffirmed its commitment to work with the international community to create a better world for children. Japan hoped that the discussion on the five main themes of the Third World Congress, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in November, would maintain momentum towards the commitment to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children. To that end, it looked forward to working with Governments, international organizations and civil society towards producing substantive results.
Her delegation was encouraged to see that noticeable results had been achieved on the issue of children affected by conflict, while recognizing that much remained to be done. In post-conflict situations, the reintegration of former child soldiers into the community remained a challenge that required a comprehensive approach involving all stakeholder and sustained international support. The children needed protection and assistance, such as physical and mental care, education and vocational training, while the communities needed assistance in providing a child-friendly environment. In this, a people-centred approach was needed. Focusing on empowering individuals and communities and protecting them form threats arising from poverty and conflict, this would mirror the human security approach, which Japan had been promoting globally.
Noting that one of the basic goals of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was to ensure the child's survival and development, she said this principle must be observed in all circumstances. In situations of armed conflict, children were the most vulnerable and many had lost their lives. Moreover, the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa was a growing concern, particularly in terms of mother-to-child transmission and AIDS orphans. Also, 20 million seriously malnourished children under the age of five were in urgent need of treatment around the world. Ensuring the survival and development of the child in this context required that a wide range of issues be addressed. Many of those areas were closely linked with the Millennium Development Goals, and at the mid-point of the efforts to achieve those Goals, further contributions were needed, including improvement of access to quality medical services. Further, tireless efforts to tackle violence against children were required through all stages of prevention, early detection and response and recovery of those children from violence.
HAMZA OMER AHMED ( Sudan) said that 1989, the year in which the Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted, marked a turning point in the cause of children's rights. General Assembly resolution 62/141 on the rights of the child had taken it one step further. The Sudan was now working to bring national law into line with the provisions of that resolution, as well as with its Millennium Development Goals obligations.
He said various events in his country had raised concerns regarding the well-being of children. The Peace Agreement of May 2006 contained provisions on the protection of the rights of the child, including provisions against the participation of children in armed conflict. The Sudan and its neighbours had incorporated those principles into their constitutions. Likewise, the Sudan's obligations under the resolution on armed conflict in the Sudan regulated the participation of children in armed conflict, as reflected in its Five-Year Plan 2005-2011 on the protection of children.
He said UNICEF was an important partner to the Sudan in ensuring that its policies in cases of armed conflict were in line with international standards. The Sudan adopted a framework document on the protection of children, 2006-2015, the results of which were seen in the document "World Fit for Children", approved at the General Assembly's special session on children. The Government would strive to deliver health and education services to all children through effective cooperation with civil society. A national committee on children's issues, under the purview of the President, would coordinate those activities, acting as an instrument of cooperation between the relevant national institutions. It had held a conference on education, which had proven to be a useful discussion on civic education. He voiced hope that the Sudan's partnership with UNICEF and other organizations, such as the Arab Centre, would continue.
T. VANCE MCMAHAN ( United States) said it had been widely noted that the global community was now at the half-way point, from 2001 to 2015, to accomplishing the Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds. To succeed, it was necessary not only to intensify national and multilateral efforts, but to ensure they were results-based. Success or failure should not be judged by how many strategic plans were made or workshops and conferences held, but how many children's lives were saved. The United States was pleased that UNICEF had renewed its commitment to results-based programming and was proud to be the largest donor to that Fund and a major contributor to other United Nations organizations, funds, and programmes addressing children's needs.
He said the reaffirmation by the General Assembly in 2002 in "A World Fit for Children" that "the family is the basic unit of society and as such should be strengthened", reinforced the recognition in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that the family was "the natural and fundamental group unit of society and was entitled to protection by society and the State." Indeed, families were the first line of defense against many systemic ills that eventually spilled over to national, regional and international arenas and Governments should create the conditions and develop policies to strengthen strong and healthy families. Protecting children against abuse, exploitation and violence remained a priority, in that context.
Child sexual exploitation –- including trafficking of children into the commercial sex trade, exploitation by travellers and tourists and child pornography -- was increasing, he continued. The issue of children trafficked into debt bondage, forced labour and conflict was also of grave concern. Children were particularly vulnerable in situations of armed conflict and it was incumbent on the international community to address that issue. Domestic laws should prohibit and punish trafficking in children, especially their sexual exploitation. Predators should not be allowed to exploit loopholes or lax enforcement. Governments and communities should band together to support victims with essential services.
CLAUDIA BLUM ( Colombia), an Observer of the Rio Group, said the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols was an essential framework for the protection of children across the world. Colombia had drawn up its own framework for action on children's rights, and had integrated those efforts with its work to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Among the initiatives implemented by her Government were subsidy programmes that had increased access to health and education, and monitoring programmes that allowed the Government to better track children living in the country. Improving access for families to health and education services would also improve other issues related to children, such as underage children recruited to work or to become members of armed groups.
On that subject, she said that the eradication of violence against children was a top national priority, and efforts to reduce the number of armed actors and groups in the country had also reduced the number of acts of violence committed against children by those actors. In addition, an increasing number of children had been rescued from armed groups, and, upon their return to their communities, they were given extra protections and treated as victims of crime, and not criminals themselves. Many had entered into specialized protection programmes to help them steer clear from further harm. Colombia had also adopted a "code for childhood and adolescence" to strengthen legal provisions for children. Overall, there was a need to strengthen the capacities of States to provide basic services for children and to develop a comprehensive and concerted response by the international community to respond to new and emerging challenges, such as the financial, energy and food crises, as well as climate change.
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