Independent Expert reiterates call for more attention to plight of child victims of violence
Sixty-second General Assembly
17th & 18th Meetings (AM & PM)
Presses Case for Special Representative to Address Violence against Children
A year after presenting a landmark report on violence against children, Paulo Sērgio Pinheiro, the Independent Expert who directed the study for the United Nations, reiterated his call to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) for more attention to be paid to the plight of child victims of violence -- wherever they might be in the world.
He also pressed his case for a special representative of the Secretary-General to be mandated to ensure that the recommendations aimed at ending violence against children, wherever it might happen, are fully implemented, in the face of concerns expressed by several delegations that such an office might overlap with other special procedures.
"Children want to have their childhood free of violence today", Mr. Pinheiro said in his statement to the Committee, as it concluded its general discussion on the rights of children and considered the progress report that the General Assembly had asked him to submit.
He continued: "I return to this room to reiterate my call for increased attention to the plight of child victims of violence in all regions of the world ... Now, we must move from words of action."
He stated that national planning on preventing and responding to violence against children had been identified as a priority for 2007 in at least seven countries. Much attention had been given to sexual violence, but more had to be paid to issues such as violence in the home and the family, violence in schools and in care, and in justice institutions. He bemoaned a lack of reliable information for informing effective strategies to eradicate violence against children, flagging it as a global problem. Little was known, for instance, about children in institutions. Regarding his proposal for a special representative, he said that only such a high-level, independent and full-time active voice would be able to enhance the visibility and bring attention to all forms of violence against children.
Before hearing from Mr. Pinheiro, the Committee concluded its discussion on promotion and protection of children's rights, with a number of delegations making statements that underscored the broad nature of the topic. Romania condemned the systematic institutionalization of children, which had been commonplace under the regime of former President Nicolae Ceauşescu. Uganda referred to children who had been caught up in the insurgency in the north of the country. Tonga drew attention to child obesity. The Dominican Republic, on behalf of the Rio Group, was among several delegations that warned of the threat posed to young people by HIV/AIDS.
Brazil was among several delegations that came out in favour of the proposed special representative for violence against children, with Egypt adding that the position should be funded out of the United Nations' general budget, rather than from voluntary contributions from Member States. The Observer for Palestine underlined the suffering of children in the Occupied Territories; Israel condemned rocket attacks that killed and injured children, as well as the use of children as suicide bombers. South Africa recalled how it had made corporal punishment an offence. Cambodia pointed out how poverty was a major hurdle to educating children in its countryside. Saudi Arabia said that its policy towards children was guided by Islamic law.
Also making statements on the rights of children were representatives or youth delegates of Jamaica, Philippines, Tunisia, Zambia, Moldova, Malawi, Mexico, Azerbaijan, Peru, Singapore, Libya, Yemen, Nepal, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, United Republic of Tanzania, Georgia, Croatia, Kuwait, Congo, Ethiopia, Bhutan and Cameroon.
Representatives of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the Inter-Parliamentary Union also spoke.
Mr. Pinheiro's statement to the Committee was introduced by Hilde Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).
The Committee will meet again on Monday, 22 October, to begin its discussion of indigenous issues and the Second International Decade of the World's Indigenous People.
The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its discussion of the promotion and protection of the rights of children. (For more background information, please see Press Release GA/SHC/3888 of 17 October 2007.)
ENRIQUILLO A. Del ROSARIO CEBALLOS (Dominican Republic), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said that even though infant mortality had decreased in the Caribbean and Latin America, the region continued to fight against HIV/AIDS. Campaigns had been created to eliminate mother-to-child transmissions, and to support afflicted children. Improving the quality of education was also important, he said.
The Group expressed its appreciation to Professor Pinheiro for his work on the Study on Violence against Children. The Convention on the Rights of the Child was a landmark document that implied a substantial change in the hierarchy and discretion model that had traditionally characterized relations among adults and children. Latin America was an area of great social mobilization around the implementation of the Convention.
SOHA GENDI ( Egypt) said her country supported the creation of the position of Special Representative on violence against children, but it should be funded from the regular budget of the United Nations and not through voluntary contributions. Egypt had always given particular attention to regional, national and international action to combat violence against children. Domestically, it had set up such mechanisms as a hotline that children could call to report acts of violence against them. Increasing amounts of State funds had been earmarked to address the matter.
The representative then set out several shortcomings in the report on the girl child. It lacked a comprehensive view, and simply repeated fears that had been reported by other commissions. It also lacked clear recommendations, and did not clarify the link between fistula and the broader status of the girl child, an aspect that should be explored further. On the issue of children and armed conflict, she also highlighted the initiatives taken by the Sudan, including legislation on sexual violence and the creation of a special police unit to deal with children. What the Special Representative on children in armed conflict had reported on children in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was surprising; her visit had shown her that children there had been targeted by the Israeli forces. The Special Representative should pay a similar visit to Iraq to see the situation of children there close up, and her mandate should be widened to include children living under occupation. That was one of the worst forms of violence against children.
ARIEL BOWEN ( Jamaica) said that, shortly, the Convention on the Rights of the Child would celebrate its eighteenth birthday. Its status as the most universally subscribed-to international instrument was cause for celebration. Over the years, the United Nations had played a leading role in advancing the welfare of children by addressing new and emerging issues affecting children, with instruments such as the Optional Protocol on the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (2000).
Jamaica's delegation had listened keenly to Ishmael Beah's presentation, a former child soldier himself, who had urged the Committee to go beyond mere rhetoric and take decisive actions, she said. It was imperative that the recommendations of the Secretary-General's Special Rapporteur were pursued with vigour. Creating a world fit for children demanded a comprehensive approach by the international community, and special attention must be paid to the needs of the girl child.
KOSAL SEA ( Cambodia) said that child health was the top priority on the national agenda. Notable progress had been made in reducing child mortality and improving child health since the late 1990s. Advancements had also been made in child immunizations, while measures had been implemented to expand programmes addressing childhood illnesses. He noted the significant progress in increasing children's access to basic education, but said that there was a long way to go to meet the Millennium Development Goals. Poverty was the primary barrier to improving child education in Cambodia, especially in rural areas. Following the country's conflict, the emphasis was now on getting children to school. Now it had become necessary to keep them there and improve the capacity of teachers, as well.
He said that children were the future. A law on the prevention of domestic violence and protection of its victims had been adopted in 2005. The Cambodian National Council for Children had been established as a mechanism to coordinate and monitor implementation of the rights of the child. To protect children from abuse, sexual exploitation, trafficking and violence, Cambodia had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols and concluded agreements with neighbouring countries.
LESLIE GATAN ( Philippines) began his statement by expressing condolences to Pakistan for the terrorist attacks which killed over 100 people yesterday. In the Philippines, children were also harmed by the virus of terrorism, he noted. The Philippine military authorities had never employed child soldiers, he said, and they were taking all necessary measures to avoid harming children recruited by non-State actors who wantonly deployed them in combat zones.
Intensifying its implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Philippines had created a programme called the "Bright Child Strategy", which was a comprehensive undertaking to protect and promote the welfare of all Filipino children. This programme included a component on effective parenting. The international community had to continue its support to developing countries in their efforts to improve the lives of children, as there was universal agreement that "we must do everything we can for them".
MAHE TUPOUNIUA ( Tonga) said that an increased number of intra-State conflicts had had a devastating effect on children; last year, there had been 56 conflicts, compared with 30 when the Machel report was released. Armed groups were often small and brutal, benefiting from a proliferation of small arms. Children, often orphaned, had been targeted and exploited; once conflicts had ended, their suffering continued, perpetuating the cycle of poverty. The international community had to work together and restore peace and love into the lives of children.
Youth offenders could sometimes be misled towards committing crimes, without consideration for the consequences of their actions, he said. In Tonga, a more educational approach to reintegrate young offenders -- and a move away from retribution -- had been put into place. The Government was also mindful of the high level of inactivity, as 36 per cent of boys and 52 per cent of girls in Tonga were overweight or obese. Sports were seen as a form of early intervention to prevent health problems associated with excessive weight among young Tongans. Studies had shown that, among children aged 6 to 12, those who took part in five hours of physical activity per week performed better in school. A national strategy to integrate sports education into the school curriculum was adopted earlier this year. Tonga took the well-being of children around the world seriously, and would keep working with the international community to provide a safe, peaceful environment for them.
FEDA ABDELHADY-NASSER, observer for Palestine, expressed her deep distress that the rights of children around the world continued to be egregiously violated, particularly in situations of armed conflict, including foreign occupation. Children continued to suffer in those situations. Ending impunity for crimes against children was of paramount importance, she said. Respect for the rule of law enshrined in instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child had to be compulsory for all States. Those instruments could not continue to be treated by some as optional provisions to be flagrantly and gravely violated.
She said two generations of Palestinian children in the occupied Territories had lived and grown up knowing only a harsh and abnormal existence. It was marked by the constant oppression, discrimination, humiliation and crimes of the 40-year-old Israeli military occupation of their people. Palestinian children and their families must struggle daily to fulfil the basic needs of health, nutrition education and shelter.
SAHBI KHALFALLAH ( Tunisia) referred to the steps taken by his country vis-à-vis the rights of children, going back to its ratification in 1991 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. He also summarized the last national report on the status of children, published in 2006, which gave emphasis to the right of children to express their opinion and take decisions on matters that concerned them, and to participate in family and social life. The Children's Parliament and children's municipal councils had proven highly useful, helping the authorities to shape policies to take into account the specific needs of children.
To enable children to living in a favourable family environment, he said, the President of Tunisia had encouraged the adoption of legislation to permit mothers with a child under the age of 16 and working in the public sector to keep all her promotion and retirement rights while working part-time. Information and communications technology being indispensable tools in the world today, Tunisia had stepped up its efforts to make it easier for children to access new technologies. Information technology was being integrated into the school curriculum, and schools at all levels were being connected to the Internet. The welfare of children was the best guarantee of building a moderate, open and responsible society.
LAZAROUS KAPAMBWE ( Zambia) observed that most of the youth delegates who had addressed the Committee had expressed concern over the slow progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. More resources were needed to help the health and welfare sectors –- more rural clinics needed to be built if urban clinics were to be decongested. His country was also faced with the problem of the brain drain of Zambian doctors and nurses who had migrated to developed countries.
HIV/AIDS had been declared a national crisis in Zambia, he said, and combating its spread among young people had been at the top on his country's agenda. National responses included improving access to voluntary testing, drug treatment programmes, and routine HIV counselling in antenatal centres. But despite those initiatives, about 90,000 children in Zambia were living with HIV. There was a need to train HIV/AIDS counsellors in the administration of anti-retroviral therapy to children. Many of the Millennium Development Goals had not been fulfilled, and the international community owed it to children to galvanize efforts to truly make a difference in their lives.
LAURA MUNTEANU, youth delegate from Romania, said that childcare in her country had come a long way since Communist rule. The country had taken a different approach to the rights of children and almost all large Ceausescu-era institutions had now been closed down, in favour of foster care, adoption and small State-run homes. The best way to solve the problem of children in institutionalized care was to protect the child within the family. New services had been set up to help such children to find new homes, return to their natural families, or to prevent the separation of children from their families.
Worldwide, the problems of institutionalized children did not draw as much attention as those of children facing other difficulties, she said. The Convention on the Rights of the Child anticipated institutional placement of children only as a last resort. It was critical that children be institutionalized only if it were in their best interests. And sporadic or isolated efforts to improve individual institutions would not solve the problems of children in residential care. Efforts had to be made to put a special focus to determine the underlying reasons why children had been institutionalized in the first place, including looking at factors such as poverty, family breakdown, disability and inflexible child-welfare systems.
ANA RADU ( Moldova) said that economic hardship led parents to seek work abroad and leave children behind. Child victims of the poor economic situation of countries in the region faced new challenges, such as child trafficking and lack of proper care. The growth of economic migration subjected young people to risks, such as drug and alcohol consumption, as well as HIV, which was becoming more prevalent among women. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) must address those issues more consistently. New multilateral and bilateral mechanisms should be developed to support migrants in search of a better life, which would benefit both countries of origin and destination, as well as avert criminal migration activities. In that regard, she noted the importance of the Moldova-European Union Action Plan, which included human rights protections for children.
She said that Moldova participated in numerous conventions and protocols on protecting the rights of the child and had improved its own related national legislation. She supported the conclusions of the Graça Machel report on the impact of armed conflict on children and that of the Secretary-General on the girl child. All children had the right to live securely and enjoy civilization's benefits -- "only a consensus among the adults, the decision-makers, Governments, international organizations and civil society" would protect their vulnerability.
ROSELYN MAKHUMULA ( Malawi) said her Government had made considerable efforts to promote healthy lives for children. Immunization coverage for children had gone up to over 80 per cent, while Malawi's Early Childhood Development Policy of 2004 emphasized quality services during the early life stages of the child.
The Government had taken steps to address gaps and inadequacies in the existing constitutional and legal framework, she said, in order to align it with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international instruments. In efforts to step up the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, Malawi had implemented voluntary testing and counselling and was also providing anti-retroviral drugs to prolong the life of parents. Through a Children's Parliament, children articulated their aspirations, needs and problems, and the National Assembly was thus able to respond to them from an informed point of view. Malawi reiterated its commitment to building a world fit for children.
LOUISE GRAHAM ( South Africa) said that, 10 years after the Machel report, much remained to be done vis-à-vis children in situations of armed conflict. The ongoing recruitment of children in conflict was not only an affront to human values, but also a fundamental impediment to development. Greater will and commitment were needed to support national efforts. As a non-permanent member of the Security Council, South Africa would play an active role in the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, established by Security Council resolution 1612 (2005). Turning to the United Nations Study on Violence against Children, she said further implementation of its recommendations was needed at all levels. Violence against children was complex, as it took place in various settings, such as homes, schools, workplaces and within the judicial system. In South Africa, the abolition of corporal punishment had been a major achievement; its Schools Act ensured that schools would be safer places for children.
South Africa looked forward to the mid-decade review of the United Nations special session on children in December. Collaboration should be strengthened to address permanent social ills such as child poverty, child neglect, abuse and exploitation, as well as the other circumstances that perpetuated children's vulnerability. Involvement and cooperation at all levels were also needed to protect the rights of orphans and other children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. It was time for all to take stock of their commitments to create a better world for children.
CLAUDE HELLER ( Mexico) reaffirmed his country's commitment to help raise international standards in support of children's rights. In keeping with the national policy of openness to international scrutiny, he noted that Mexico had been visited by Juan Miguel Petit, the Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography. Mexico was fully committed to the eradication of trafficking in people, which had a particularly large impact on the lives of women and girls, he said.
A national development plan included the promotion and protection of the rights of children in Mexico through a preventive approach, he said. The Government was working with civil society to design a national programme on human rights. Mexico shared the Secretary-General's opinion on the fundamental need to implement the rights of the girl child, who was often victimized because of entrenched stereotypes. His country was developing statistical indicators on violence at both the national and regional level, which paid particular attention to violence against the girl child. Mexico was also keen to guarantee the human rights of disabled children, based on the best interests of the child. He agreed with the independent expert that all violence against children was preventable; what was, therefore, required was a fundamental change of the daily habits of the family and community to ensure that children were seen as holders of human rights.
ABDULLAH S. AL-ANAZI ( Saudi Arabia) described children as the bedrock of society. Long ago, Islam took into account the rights of children. Sharia law guaranteed such rights long before a child came into the world. It stated that children should be the result of legitimate marriage; it also set out the right to life, the right of the embryo. Even before birth, a child's right to inheritance had been established.
Safeguards for the rights of children were in place in Saudi Arabia, he said. The rehabilitation of disabled children was given special attention, and their families were entitled to social security benefits. Legislation was in place setting a minimum working age and prohibiting the employment of children in harmful working environments. Saudi Arabia had acceded to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other child-related international instruments, including the Covenant on the Rights of the Child issued by the Organization of the Islamic Conference. He appealed to the international community to respond to the plight of the Palestinian children suffering in the Occupied Territories.
RANA SALAYEVA ( Azerbaijan) said that the "A World Fit for Children" was a milestone document outlining actions to create an environment that would respond to children's needs. The recent study on violence against children was crucial in highlighting one of the most acute problems in that context. National policy in her country aimed to eliminate all forms of discrimination against children. That was reflected in strategies and programmes for social development, poverty reduction and the protection of human rights, as well as in the recently adopted National Action Plan on the protection of the rights of children for 2007-2009. Special attention was being given to girls.
Another priority, she said, was addressing the needs of such vulnerable groups as orphans and children without parental care, those living and/or working in the street, as well as child refugees and internally displaced persons. Children affected by armed conflict were the most important group on that agenda. She noted that almost 200,000 Azerbaijani children were displaced due to the armed conflict with Armenia. While measures were being taken to improve the plight of those children, the wounds resulting from war, displacement, separation from family, violence and abuse were not always curable. She called for concerted action at the international level to address the issue of children affected by armed conflict and an end to the impunity enjoyed by those responsible for violations committed against children in wartime.
ROMY TINCOPA ( Peru) said her country wished to underscore that the protection of human rights was fundamental to the rights of children and young people, and Peru had developed an agenda which focused on the eradication of poverty in the pursuit of that goal. The United Nations study on violence against children detailed the daily reality of many children and adolescents around the world -- a situation which required the immediate action of the international community.
Peru was grateful for Mr. Pinheiro's report, she said, as well as for his strategic outline. Her country also shared the independent expert's view that ending violence against children required high-level leadership. Peru, therefore, supported his suggestion of a Special Rapporteur on violence against children. Peru continued to value the work of the Special Representative for children and armed conflict, and praised her initiative to protect children and to end grave violations of the rights of children in conflict. She welcomed the fact that children's and adolescents' rights were enshrined in international documents, and added that Peru would continue to implement the rights of children and would spare no effort to ensure children's rights were assured.
KAREN ONG ( Singapore) said that as a small country whose only resource was its people, Singapore believed in developing the fullest potential of its children. Children enjoyed a high quality, affordable education, health are, legislative protection and access to social services. She noted that the Global Competitiveness Report had ranked Singapore's educational system number one in its ability to meet the needs of a competitive economy and, further, that UNICEF named Singapore as the country with the world's lowest child mortality rate. Numerous measures had also been taken to protect children from both physical and psychological abuse.
Beyond the countries borders, she said, Singapore participated in regional and international initiatives dealing with child abuse. Child trafficking and child sex tourism were global problems that could not be tackled by national Governments alone. Together with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the country had embarked on a regional campaign to combat child sex tourism and planned to amend its domestic laws to extend extra-territorial jurisdiction over nationals who sexually exploited minors abroad.
ABDUSSALAM SERGIWA ( Libya) said that despite the special attention by the United Nations to the rights of children, gross violations and heinous acts against children continued. Large numbers of children had been killed or maimed in armed conflict; others had also been conscripted, and girls were subjected to rape and sexual abuse. If the identities and family ties of refugee children were to be preserved, the international community would have to work to return such children to their homelands and their families.
Despite the accession by most States to the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention to protect children from dangerous work, there was still proliferation of child labour, he said. The phenomenon of street children was widespread, as well. Such children were vulnerable to juvenile delinquency and sexual abuse. The international community and civil society had to grapple with such cases. Libya supported the creation of the position of Special Representative on violence against children. He was also deeply concerned by the plight of children in occupied territories, and his country called upon the international community to condemn Israeli acts against the children of Palestine; the credibility of the United Nations was at stake.
WAHID AL-SHAMI ( Yemen) said it went without saying that the rights of children had generated particular interest since the creation of specialized agencies, the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two optional protocols, as well as the many other initiatives on children's rights in the last years of the past century. The results achieved so far, however, did not live up to expectations. This called for more efforts in order to overcome the obstacles which were hindering children.
Yemen supported the creation of a special representative to fight violence against children, he said. Those rights were an integral part of Islamic laws, and children were a source of wealth and a guarantee for the future. Yemen was one of the first countries to accede to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two optional protocols. Since then, his country had worked to integrate the documents into Yemeni legislation and was determined to continue its efforts to promote the rights of children. Finally, he flagged the situation of Arab children under Israeli occupation who were subjected to violence, exile and poverty, as well as blockades and various deprivations of their human rights. He called on the international community to put an end to the occupation and allow those children to put their rocks down and live in peace.
SANDRA SIMOVICH ( Israel) said that her country supported the establishment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, as the issue required an independent high-level advocate. Forced and early marriages, trafficking and prostitution of girls, as well as harmful traditional practices, remained widespread. Surely, an effective approach to the advancement of women, which the Committee had recently discussed, should include the protection and advancement of the girl child? Boys also should be educated in the universal precepts of respect and equality.
Referring to the high rate of homicide among boys in many regions, she said that problem had been viewed in her country's region in a particularly troubling way, with impressionable Palestinian children, subjected to hateful propaganda, sometimes being dispatched as suicide bombers. While Israel took issue with some of the findings of the Special Representative for children and armed conflict, and regretted that some of its clarifications had not been included in her report, her efforts were appreciated. Children in the south of Israel, especially around Sderot, had continued to experience the daily terror of rocket attacks; many in the south and near the border with Lebanon had been killed or injured by rocket fire, and post-traumatic syndrome had been diagnosed in thousands of others. Many children had also lost family members. Winds of change were blowing in the region; for the sake of children especially, that sense of hope should be carried into dialogue with all of Israel's neighbours.
SUDHIR BHATTARAI ( Nepal) said that, in the post-conflict period, his country was making efforts to reintegrate children recruited into combat back into their families and communities.
Children in remote and rural areas, as well as from deprived and marginalized communities such as Dalits, bore the brunt of difficulties, he noted. The Government was placing utmost priority on social inclusion and social sector development, and was implementing comprehensive and free compulsory education, among other initiatives. Nepal was in need of more resources such as financial and technical assistance. He concluded by urging the international community to undertake concerted efforts to complement his country's national endeavours.
ZHANAR KULZHANOVA ( Kazakhstan) said that children were the future; they should not be perceived as half human, but rather as full members of society. No violence against children could be justified, and all forms of such violence could be prevented. Practical implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and "A World Fit for Children" depended on political will, the economic capacity of Member States and the effectiveness of international assistance to countries in need.
She spelled out a number of steps that her country had undertaken in relation to the rights and welfare of its children. It took a multisectoral approach to the matter that involved Government, the human rights ombudsman, non-governmental organizations and youth movements. This year, local government authorities would have separate departments for child protection. Serious problems remained, however, including disabled children, juvenile delinquency and neglect. Child mortality was a matter of great concern, and the spread of HIV/AIDS was an emerging challenge. Kazakhstan had been tackling those problems in close cooperation with international organizations and United Nations specialized agencies, such as UNICEF.
GABRIEL MOREIRA (Brazil) said that the translation of Professor Pinheiro's report on the promotion and protection of children's rights into 12 languages showed not only the report's acceptance by a wide range of Governments, but also that it had been consolidated as a central reference for international, regional and national efforts to protect children from violence. Brazil shared the independent expert's conviction on the urgent need to appoint a special representative for violence against children. In order to seize the momentum created by the study, the Third Committee should take a decision on the creation of the post of a Special Representative during this session.
Brazil believed that child protection involved parallel and complementary actions in the areas of human rights, eradication of hunger and poverty, social inclusion, education, elimination of racial and gender discrimination, he said. In conclusion, he reaffirmed his Government's political commitment to the promotion and protection of the rights of children, and said that the cooperation of the international community was a key element to addressing the complexities inherent in those rights.
MAJDI RAMADAN ( Lebanon) said that, this year, his country had made national planning to prevent and respond to violence against children a priority. Legal reforms had been undertaken, and last year, a national campaign for the protection of children from violence, titled "Their rights are our duties", had been launched. Corporal punishment had been replaced with non-violent forms of discipline. Television programmes on violence against children had also been broadcast.
Lebanon supported the establishment of an Office of a Special Representative of the Secretary General on violence against children, but it was concerned about how comprehensive its mandate would be, adding that the concerns of vulnerable children in armed conflict should not be forgotten. In the wake of Israel's war on Lebanon last year, unexploded ordnance would continue to be a danger to children for months and year to come. The full scope of the effects of the war on Lebanese children was still unfolding.
MARIAM J. MWAFFISI (United Republic of Tanzania) said people below the age of 18 made up half of Tanzania's population, and that the Government estimated that about 2.5 million children were part of the most vulnerable group -- orphans, children living on the street, child labourers, children with disabilities and sexually exploited children. The Government was reviewing its 1996 policy on child development to provide directives on the protection of children, as well as other initiatives.
Substantial progress had been made in the reduction of infant and under-five mortality through the provision of micronutrients, as well as programmes for immunization, the management of childhood illnesses and malaria control, she said. But the quality of health services was still problematic due to a number of factors, including human resources, inadequate medical equipment and the high rate of HIV/AIDS prevalence. The Tanzanian Government appealed for further debt cancellation that would free its resources for the social sectors such as improving children's well-being.
TAMAR TCHITANAVA (Georgia), aligning her delegation with the statement made by the European Union, said her country had become a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1994 and this summer had submitted its third periodic report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Although Georgia's health-care scores remained low compared to European standards, efforts directed at advancing child and maternal health care, preventing HIV/AIDS, reducing infant and under-five child mortality, malnutrition and improving education had led to improvements. In view of eliminating all forms of discrimination, torture and violence, Georgia's Parliament had recently adopted legislation to make domestic violence a criminal offence. A plan to reduce the number of institutionalized children had also been approved, and the juvenile justice system would be reformed to meet various human rights standards.
Unfortunately, issues related to the report on the impact of armed conflict on children were all too relevant in Georgia, she said. The Government, nevertheless, was working to address those issues, particularly those related to refugee and internally displaced children. While the central authorities, with cooperation from international donors, were able to provide special rehabilitation, education and leisure programmes to those children, the vast majority were still beyond the coverage. Georgian children in Abkhazia were deprived of their fundamental right to study their mother tongue, while Georgian literature, history, geography and other subjects were also restricted. It was "particularly deplorable" that a United Nations agencies working in the conflict zone had not taken a close look at this situation when it provided special funding to schools there. Georgia regarded the actions of the radical separatists as a "cultural genocide which required urgent actions from the international community", she said. Georgia valued the work done by United Nations agencies in the conflict zone, but more involvement in rehabilitation and reconciliation processes was needed.
MIRJANA MLADINEO ( Croatia) said that, although the international community was congratulating itself today on progress made in protecting and promoting the rights of children, millions of children were still suffering and being deprived of their basic rights. Croatia, which had experienced the horror of war in the 1990s, was motivated to advocate for global efforts against the recruitment of child soldiers. The causes, however, must not be forgotten in the attempts to heal the consequences, she cautioned.
As one of just 19 States which had legal instruments prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment, Croatia wished to see much more progress in addressing non-violent forms of discipline, both in families and in schools, she said. Welcoming Professor Pinheiro's study on violence against children, she hoped that the international community would find the political will to implement its recommendations by taking the appropriate actions.
SALAM AL-SAIF ( Kuwait) said his delegation had studied and welcomed the various reports that had been put before the Committee on the rights of children. Kuwait was among those States that had had a high rate of development. It had been able to formulate education and health-care programmes that benefited children. Implementation of the provisions of various conventions and summits on children was monitored by a supreme commission for children and the family. Kuwait was also a party to ILO Convention 182 that prohibited the worst forms of child labour.
He said his country agreed with the independent expert for the Secretary-General's Study on Violence against Children that scattered efforts to address the matter of violence against children would not bear fruit. He also raised the matter of Palestinian and Lebanese children and asked how could any Palestinian child not feel bitter, and become hardened, when he or she was detained for the most minor misdemeanour?
NORAH L. KATABARWA ( Uganda) said that Uganda was familiar with the situation of child soldiers, having had a number of its children caught up in armed conflict in northern Uganda as a result of the brutal insurgency by the "so-called" Lords Resistance Army. Uganda was a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its two Optional Protocols. "The existing legal framework and policy does not allow the recruitment of persons below the age of 18 into the Uganda People's Defence Forces or the local defence units", she said. Following the Juba Peace Talks and the return of peace to northern Uganda, those local defence units had been disbanded. She said that following the disbandment, "Those who were qualified were integrated into the regular army", and "the overwhelming majority were resettled in their home areas".
Rape was a crime punishable by death in Uganda, yet due to a lack of institutional capacity in the war-affected north and due to the cultural inhibitions of victims, some cases were difficult to prosecute, she said. Uganda called upon the United Nations and the international community to compel the Lords Resistance Army to immediately release children in their forces adding that the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda had recently signed an agreement to "rid our two countries of rebel elements" which had been destabilizing forces. Finally, her Government recognized that urgent interventions were needed in the Karamajong region to effect post-conflict reconstruction and recovery, which was a priority in the budget.
CHANTAL MARYSE ITOUA-APOYOLO ( Congo), referring to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, said that despite some progress, many challenges had to be overcome. It was unacceptable, in these modern times that children died of hunger or from illnesses that could be prevented and treated. In many developing countries, children -– and especially girls -– continued to be the main victims of HIV/AIDS, poverty, armed conflict, discrimination and so forth, while education was still not available to all.
She cited a number of measures that the Congo had undertaken to promote children's rights. The new school curriculum, for example, included sex and peace education, aimed at promoting children's rights and equality. With help from development partners, notably the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UNICEF, the Government had been able to rebuild schools and health facilities that had been damaged in successive wars. The general situation of children in the Congo had been improving, with better access to health care and more youngsters going to school.
FIAMMA ARDITI DI CASTELVETERE MANZO, Observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said that the promotion and protection of children's rights was fundamental to her Order, whose 80,000 volunteers were dedicated to the cause. The Order's Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem provided a place for women to receive high-quality maternal care, delivering 60 per cent of all babies in a district that included refugee camps. The Order was also expanding its successful programmes for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. It encouraged States and organizations to help provide a dramatically scaled-up response to the needs of children affected by the pandemic.
She said it was important to draw attention to obstetric fistula, which was entirely preventable with the timely availability of medical expertise. Earlier this year, her Order supported the campaign of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) to end fistula in Darfur, and hoped to see even greater support for the campaign in the future.
To help address the acute vulnerability of children in armed conflict, she said, the Order had provided not only immediate practical support, but also psychological help, in Lebanon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and elsewhere. It was time, however, for the international community to stop the abuse of young life. The Order's extensive work to protect the rights of children with physical and mental disabilities was also well known.
ANDA FILIP, Observer for the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), said there was a need to "act now and fast" to make the world safe for all children, by mobilizing all stakeholders, including parliaments. For its part, the IPU had partnered with UNICEF to produce the Handbook for Parliamentarians on Violence against Children, which brought together major recommendations from Paulo Sergio Pinheiro's United Nations Study on Violence against Children. The Handbook was launched at the 2007 IPU Assembly in Indonesia and had so far been produced in Korean, Nepalese and French, with Russian, Bahasa and Arabic version soon to be published.
The IPU and UNICEF would also organize a briefing on violence against girls at the United States Congress next week. The briefing, which would focus on issues of sexual abuse and exploitation, would bring members of parliaments from around the world together with members of the House of Representatives and their related caucuses, which covered human rights, children's issues, missing and exploited children and human trafficking.
SHEWAWORK AMIN ( Ethiopia) said her Government had taken steps to harmonize domestic law with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The penal code had been revised to criminalize abduction of children, female circumcision and genital mutilation, rape, trafficking and early marriage, and make the punishment compatible with the crimes. The family code had also been revised to set the minimum age for marriage at 18.
Efforts had been made, she added, to address problems faced by children living in difficult circumstances, particularly orphans. The Government, with development partner non-governmental organizations, was undertaking a series of child-focused interventions in the areas of basic health care, education and protection services. Other Government initiatives included a social welfare policy and guidelines covering institutional childcare, community-based, reunification, foster-family care and adoption.
She said that, last June, Ethiopia had reviewed the Plan of Action from the World Summit on Children and identified challenges and actions that should be taken in the next decade. The Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty, guided by the Millennium Development Goals, was being implemented in major areas of maternal health, child health, prevention and control of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, the strengthening of the health-care system. The nutritional status of children had improved in the last five years. The gross educational enrolment had also risen significantly.
She added that, because poverty was forcing children into under-age labour, Ethiopia was targeting poverty eradication to reduce such labour, and to improve working environments through social protections. Yet much remained to be done to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals and other targets. Meeting them required the combined efforts, full cooperation and collaboration of the Government and the international community, particularly Ethiopia's development partners, through the enhancement of the required development assistance.
TSHEWANG DORJI ( Bhutan) said that the Buddhist way of life, well enshrined social and family values, and the development philosophy of Gross National Happiness had contributed to the promotion and protection of the rights of the child in his country, which, in 1990, had been among the first to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Work to bring its laws in line with the Convention continued. The development of the child continued to be a priority in all social sector activities, with a full commitment to "education for all" and "health for all". Education, together with health, received one of the highest budgetary allocations, and Bhutan expected to achieve universal primary education before 2015.
Bhutan's traditional assets, such as its rich natural environment, unique cultural heritage, and its social fabric, as well as value systems, had been challenged by globalization and modernization, he said. Policies on HIV/AIDS and substance abuse were being drawn up with a particular focus on children. Wholesome attitudes to bringing up children was a key feature of a "school parenting education programme", as many current social youth problems could be traced back to a lack of parental guidance and awareness. The Royal Bhutan Police had set up a special women and child protection unit in Thimphu. Steps were being taken to improve the situation for disabled children.
MARTIN BELINGA EBOUTOU ( Cameroon) said that children were one of the most vulnerable groups in societies; they were the future and, therefore, deserved special attention and protection. In many regions, and particularly in Africa, the condition of children continued to be a concern. Building "a world fit for children" was, more than ever, a priority, and the entire international community must be engaged. Realizing the rights of children was a task that rested primarily on States, with the collaboration of non-governmental organizations, the United Nations and civil society.
Measures taken in Cameroon vis-à-vis children had included ratification of the ILO Conventions to eliminate the worst forms of child labour and setting a minimum working age, he said. Legislation governing the tourism industry, aimed at combating sexual tourism involving children, had been in place since 1998. Education was a pillar in the realization of the fundamental rights of children, and the President, Paul Biya, had instituted free schooling in both urban and rural districts. With support from UNICEF and UNESCO, schooling had been extended to indigenous communities and pygmy children. Cameroon was convinced that the best way to improve the status of children was to eradicate poverty. To that end, a legitimate contribution from the international community was necessary.
Statement by Independent Expert on Violence against Children
HILDE FRAFJORD JOHNSON, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, introduced PAULO SÉRGIO PINHEIRO. Mr. Pinheiro said he was returning once again to the Third Committee to reiterate his call for increased attention to the plight of child victims of violence in all regions of the world. Efforts were urgently needed to be strengthened to make sure that expectations raised by the study process were not frustrated. The efforts to develop such a comprehensive study would have no value if the destiny of the report was going to be the bookshelves of international organizations.
National planning to prevent and respond to violence against children had been identified as a priority for 2007 in at least seven countries, he noted. At least seven countries in the eastern and southern Africa region had passed or drafted new legislation with a specific focus on sexual violence. Those were just a few examples, but much more attention needed to be paid to issues such as violence in the home and the family, violence in schools and in care, as well as justice institutions. There was also a need to switch the focus from reaction to prevention.
Lack of reliable information continued to be a global obstacle for informing effective strategies to eradicate violence against children, he said. Very little, for instance, was known of the situation of over a million children living in institutions.
He reaffirmed his recommendation for the appointment of a Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, noting that, without coordination, the action being taken would be less effective. Only such a high-level, independent and full-time active voice would be able to enhance the visibility and bring attention to all the forms of violence against children and ensure improved coordination, as well as communication between different partners mobilized by the study, he said.
No country denied the need to ensure the protection of children from violence, he said, and no country denied the relevance and existence of this serious problem within its borders. In conclusion, he said that the time had come to act.
Responding to a question from Argentina about impunity, Mr. PINHEIRO said there was a basic need for reliable data about violence against children. It would not be fair to compare the situations in different States because comparable data did not exist between countries. Lack of awareness of the problem was another factor. There had been a high degree of acceptance of violence against children, a lack of mechanisms through which complaints could be made, and shortcomings in the juvenile justice systems. These all consolidated the problems of impunity.
Responding to a question from Portugal, on behalf of the European Union, about changing attitudes at the national level and getting civil society more involved, he said that "cultural revolutions are very problematic" and attitudes could not be changed from one minute to another. Consistency of efforts and continuous dialogue were needed -- that had been clear from the process of preparing the report on violence against children. That report included several examples of initiatives that had been taken at different levels. Change could only come gradually and slowly, with the strong participation of civil society. The authentic participation of communities and civil societies was necessary, and Governments had a "pedagogical duty" to ensure that a dialogue took place. In cases of female genital mutilation or forced marriage, it was only through working with communities that attitudes could be changed. Legislation, of course, could help mobilize change; in that regard, Egypt's experience had been interesting.
Responding to another question from Portugal on what the United Nations and the Third Committee could do, he said the most important thing was "to keep this dialogue happening". There was consensus that violence against children was unjustified and that it had to be stopped. No country had denied the problem. Such an absence of denial was the first decisive step for change. High-level attention to the issue had to be maintained. Without support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the ILO, it would be a "mission impossible" to implement the recommendations of his report. The involvement of civil society would also ensure a real participatory quality for the process.
Responding to questions from several delegations about the proposed special representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, notably about potential overlap with other special procedures, Mr. Pinheiro said that there would no overlap with the Special Representative on children in armed conflict, as that issue concerned fewer than 20 countries. No special rapporteurs dealt with pornography or trafficking in children. The Special Rapporteur on women could address girls, but not boys. The problem was not overlap, but rather "gaps" between the various special procedures. The main task of the proposed special representative would be to ensure the effective follow-up of recommendations on the prevention of violence against children, and working in "close coordination" with existing mechanisms. That was in the spirit of United Nations reform. Moreover, there was no guarantee that existing mandates would continue. Without a special representative, four years of work that went into producing the report would only see the report sitting on library shelves. In addition, the proposed special representative would not have an indefinite mandate; the position would be up for review in three or four years. Mr. Pinheiro concluded by reiterating that there would be no overlap. "There is no proliferation of mandates to support the protection of children from violence."
Turning to questions from some representatives about children in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, he said that, in his opinion, that was a matter that fell within the purview of the Independent Expert on Children in Armed Conflict.
Responding to a question from Singapore about corporal punishment, he said that his work had been guided by the Committee of the Rights of the Child, which had affirmed that no form of such punishment was acceptable. He thanked Singapore for the support it had given to his report, and thought it would understand his position.
Responding to a question from Lebanon, he said that his study had highlighted the increased vulnerability of children in conflict, crisis and foreign occupation. He recalled how he had personally witnessed the matter during his missions to the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to Haiti, and that he had described those situations in his report.
Responding to a question from Finland, he said that children's participation in decision-making was "essential". In preparing his report, he had become convinced that such participation made a difference and gave children ownership of the issues that confronted them. He supported the idea of children's parliaments, and said that organizations such as UNICEF, Save the Children and World Vision knew how to help States set them up. Children were full citizens with specific rights; they had to be recognized as such.
The CHAIRMAN then thanked Mr. Pinheiro for appearing.
For information media • not an official record