Third Committee speakers underline links between poverty, child labour, other forms of exploitation, as debate on child rights concludes

Report
from UN General Assembly
Published on 17 Oct 2008 View Original


GA/SHC/3922

Culminating its discussion on child rights, in a meeting that fell on the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, delegates to the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today underlined the links between poverty, child labour and other forms of exploitation against children, while calling for greater financial and technical support to tackle those shared concerns.

Over 1 billion children across the world suffered from at least one form of poverty, said the representative of Malaysia. Chronic poverty remained the greatest challenge to a child's development, and children growing up in such conditions were often subjected to horrific abuse. Further, as the representative of Ethiopia noted, once the cycle had begun, it often became impossible for a child to escape poverty. Other factors -- such as a lack of education and the disintegration of the family unit -- often forced children into even more vulnerable situations, such as forced labour at an early age.

Thus, speakers said, national Governments in many countries, therefore, took a comprehensive approach to the protection and promotion of the rights of children. For example, Ethiopia's representative said that child labour provisions were an integral part of the national five-year "Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty", which included both basic protections on child labour and monitoring mechanisms. A similar approach had been taken in respect to Ethiopia's health and education policies, where broad-ranging development efforts had resulted in considerable improvements on specific goals for children, such as increases in primary school enrolment and reductions in child mortality rates.

Along with ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the representative of Cameroon said her Government had made significant investments in childhood education and health strategies, not only to help create a more favourable environment for childhood development, but also to provide children with the opportunity to themselves contribute to national development and poverty reduction, as they grew into adults. Echoing those remarks, the representative of Zambia called an investment in education "an investment in human capital".

However, delegates agreed that, despite national efforts and international commitments, the basic needs of too many children across the world remained unmet. The representative of Haiti said that only half of children in the country were in school, and only 20 per cent of those students reached their sixth year of schooling. In addition, children were often used as "house slaves", a practice that was part of Haitian culture and based on economic realities, where poor rural families sent their children to live in the city in return for carrying out domestic tasks. Those children were vulnerable to abuse, sometimes sexually.

At the national level, Haiti had mobilized support within the Government and from outside organizations to respond to those challenges, but those efforts had not achieved thedesirable result. To ensure the rights of children, States must renew their commitment to create a world fit for children -- by securing their right to health care, quality education and protection, while at the same time stepping up overall efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, through partnerships.

Many delegates called on Member States to make good on their previously agreed-upon commitments of financial and technical support, while the representative of Nepal, noting the vital role that the United Nations played in ensuring the full and effective implementation of international commitments, called for a critical evaluation of the status of implementation, with a view to incorporating the necessary changes, documenting the lessons learned and accelerating the implementation of all commitments at the national, regional and international levels.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Australia (also on behalf of Canada and New Zealand), Morocco, Nigeria, Venezuela, Myanmar, Syria, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Lebanon, and the Republic of Korea. Georgia spoke in right of reply.

The observer mission for Palestine and the Sovereign Military Order of Malta also made statements.

The Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Monday, 20 October, to begin its discussion on indigenous issues.

Background

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met today to conclude its discussion on the promotion and protection of the rights of children (see Press Release GA/SHC/3920).

Statements

LARA CECILE NASSAU ( Australia), also speaking on behalf of Canada and New Zealand, said the Convention on the Rights of the Child had set the standard against which all States could be measured and scrutinized. However, while recognising the work of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), there remained concern over the omnibus resolution on the rights of the child. New approaches were needed to ensure an open and inclusive framework existed to promote and debate children's rights. Over the previous five years, there had been considerable progress in regard to the global implementation of "A World Fit for Children". Yet, over half the children in the developing world continued to live without access to basic services, commodities and the protections necessary to survive and develop.

In addition, children were increasingly becoming the "means of choice" for many armed groups, she said. Children were vulnerable to recruitment for a range of reasons, including poverty, domestic violence and the lack of parental role models. The monitoring and reporting mechanism mandated in Security Council resolution 1612 on children and armed conflict must continue to be strengthened, as it had proven worthwhile as both a preventative tool and a deterrent. She also welcomed the adoption of Security Council resolution 1820 earlier in the year, which recognized that children in armed conflict were at risk of sexual violence. The mandate of a new Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children should be clearly delineated from the work of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, to ensure that the work of each would strengthen the other.

CHARIF CHERKAOUI ( Morocco) addressed the issue of child soldiers, saying those engaged in child exploitation must be held responsible for their crimes, through Security Council mechanisms and through the peacebuilding framework. The reintegration of child soldiers was an important aspect of that. It was also important to study the underlying causes behind the recruitment of child soldiers, in order to draw up appropriate policy measures to combat that phenomenon. The Paris Principles had guidelines towards that end, suggesting ways to integrate the concept of sustainable development, poverty eradication, good governance, and rehabilitation of the victims of violence, into the ultimate goal of protecting children from violence. To that end, Morocco also supported all international efforts to curb the trafficking in children and their use in slavery.

Turning to Morocco's domestic achievements, he said 90 per cent of children were likely to be covered by the national immunization plan in 2010. But, that condition could only be achieved by working with relevant partners in a coordinated manner. In general, the promotion of children's rights was part of the country's development programme, leading to revisions in the labour code that raised the minimum age of employment to 15 years and banned dangerous work for those under 18 years. In addition, only people over 18 years of age could be tried for a crime.

He said Morocco was currently working to implement its plan of action to make child rights more permanent and protect the dignity of children. It had set up "centres of reference" for child victims of violence; was encouraging mutual aid for the caring of orphans work, to promote social cohesion; established units to protect unaccompanied children of migrants; and was seeking to improve domestic labour conditions for girls. The country also sought to prepare women to take up professions, in an effort to improve the country's overall standard of living and to create income-generating projects in rural areas. It was also promoting good citizenship among school children, by encouraging their involvement in "citizenship clubs". He ended by paying tribute to the work done by UNICEF to advance the cause of child rights.

NADYA RIFAAT RASHEED, observer for Palestine, said that the Israeli occupation had permeated every aspect of the lives of Palestinian children, and as a result, they had been robbed of their childhood and prematurely forced into adult roles. Palestinian children continued to be victims of disproportionate and indiscriminate violence at the hands of the occupying power. Since 2000, more than 1,000 Palestinian children had been killed by Israeli forces, and more than 100 had been killed since the beginning of the current year. The deaths of Palestinian children at the hands of Israel troops were often only given cursory investigations at best. That had led to a culture of impunity among the occupying forces, and Israeli troops now acted under an "air of moral of immunity". Further, Palestinian children had also been victims of crimes and abuses by other armed Israeli settlers. Measures should be taken to bring the perpetrators of those crimes to justice since, without such actions, the culture of impunity would continue.

Children in the occupied territories, especially in the Gaza Strip, were denied basic health-care, nutrition and education services. Palestinian children were also among those being held in Israeli jails and detention centres, many imprisoned in inhumane conditions and subject to physical and mental ill-treatment. According to a 2008 Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs report, 700 Palestinian children had been arrested by Israeli forces in 2007 and 30 of those had been detained without trial. The report also described the physical abuse and humiliating treatment of those children during arrest, and the physical and psychological abuse they suffered during interrogation. Serious and urgent efforts must, thus, be undertaken to bring an end to that dire situation, and to bring hope to the lives of innocent and defenseless children living under occupation.

RAFF BUKUN-OLU WOLE ONEMOLA ( Nigeria) said Nigeria endorsed the international and regional treaties and declarations geared towards improving the status and situation of children. At the regional level, Nigeria endorsed the African common position on children, dubbed "Africa Fit for Children", and had signed a West African treaty on child trafficking. At the domestic level, Nigeria had incorporated provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into national laws, and established family courts. It had enacted federal and state laws prohibiting trafficking in persons, which was amended in 2005 to include forfeiture of gains of trafficking and the creation of victims trust funds. He said the Federal Executive Council approved a strategic plan for the implementation of the National Child Policy in May.

He said his country was active in providing paediatric anti-retroviral treatment and psycho-social support to children infected with HIV/AIDS, and had steadily increased coverage of the prevention of mother-to-child transmission programme. Since the launch of a national plan of action on orphans and vulnerable children in 2007, Nigeria had been busy generating baseline data for future programmes in that field. A report was expected to be finalized by year's end.

He went on to say that low birth registration, and high infant and maternal mortality rates, were of great concern; Nigeria continued to work with UNICEF and other international partners to find acceptable and sustainable ways of addressing those challenges. It had also resolved to adopt a health delivery strategy that began from conception, and was seeking to reverse the course of polio through intersectoral cooperation. In addition, it was conducting door-to-door immunization exercises. Ultimately, it would be necessary to strengthen the capacity of States in advancing the cause of promoting and protecting the rights of children.

MOIRA MÉNDEZ ROMERO ( Venezuela) said the rights of children and adolescents were too often undermined by global phenomena, such as poverty, inequity and social injustice. Children at risk -- those who wandered the streets, belonged to no one or were sold off by their families -- were at the centre of national efforts to protect and promote the rights of children. The aim of national social-inclusion policies, in regard to children, was to deal with the causes and consequences of poverty and exclusion. Over the previous 10 years, such efforts had resulted in improved literacy rates, greater food security and support for agrarian reform, as well as increased access to education for youth. In addition, thousands of children had been taken off the streets and placed in better living situations.

One recently launched programme, entitled "Boys and Girls of the Neighbourhood", was aimed specifically at supporting children most at risk between the ages of 6 and 17, she said. The programme included protection, prevention and reintegration strategies, and involved the participation of Government, youth and local communities. Another national plan, also launched recently, would help place children who continued to live on the streets in "refuge homes" and would rehabilitate dozens of community centres that would offer them support. Overall, these plans would touch an estimated 10,000 children in the country. Children were the future of a nation and should not be abandoned.

STANFIELD MICHELO ( Zambia), Chief Social Welfare Officer, Ministry of Community Development, who aligned himself with the statement of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said Zambia invested much in education, child protection, health and combating HIV/AIDS. Indeed, education was an investment in human capital, and aside from campaigns to raise the level of enrolment, vulnerable children were also being given "bursary support". Further investment, however, was needed to improve the teacher-pupil ratio and to provide enough textbooks for children. The national child policy was currently being revised to incorporate a component on orphans and vulnerable children. To ensure proper socialization and development, the Government was placing special emphasis on the importance of the family. A social cash transfer scheme would give regular small cash grants to struggling households in five pilot districts, which was expected to benefit 10,500 children.

He said the problem of street children had become a huge problem in recent times. The Government was removing them from the street and placing some of them through a children empowerment programme, where, in 2006, 204 former street children were taught various skills, such as general agriculture, shoemaking, carpentry and automotive mechanics. A child protection unit manned by police was established in 2007 to provide legal protection to children at risk. To help combat child abuse, the Government had outlawed corporal punishment and had ratified a number of international instruments related to children, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention to eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

In terms of health, he said Zambia had sought to improve health care provided to pregnant mothers and children under 5 years old. Zambia had made considerable progress in the area of immunization, successfully vaccinating over 90 per cent of children against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus and polio. The percentage of children vaccinated against measles was also nearly as high. The Government was also working to reduce the number of stunted or underweight children. HIV/AIDS among children was also receiving great attention, with commendable results in preventing mother-to-child transmission and expanding access to anti-retroviral drugs.

SUDHIR BHATTARAI ( Nepal) said that the United Nations played a vital role in protecting and promoting the rights of children, especially with regard to the full and effective implementation of agreed commitments. A critical evaluation of the status of implementation should be made, with a view to incorporating the necessary changes, documenting the lessons learned, and accelerating the implementation of all commitments at the national, regional and international levels. Nationally, Nepal had made steady progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals related to children, especially in terms of reducing child mortality and providing universal primary education. Legal provisions provided protections for the rights of children and, on education, a national plan of action had been implemented to ensure comprehensive early childhood care and education for all children, but especially the most vulnerable and disadvantaged.

His Government had also adopted a policy document that would provide sports and physical education to children within schools, he said. Overall, the environment for the protection and development of children had significantly improved in Nepal, especially after the peace process within the country had begun. As the country was now heading towards the logical conclusion of the peace process, urgent and additional financial and technical assistance was now required to improve the quality of education and health services for children, as well as other programmes for childhood development in Nepal.

U THAUNG TUN (Myanmar), aligning himself with the "Group of 77" and China, noted that the number of children dying before their fifth birthday fell below the 10 million mark for the first time in 2006, and that the trend continued in 2007. Myanmar had also achieved progress in that area, through the "Maternal, Newborn and Child Health" project. It was hoped that successful implementation of the Plan would enable the country to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two thirds at the 2015 Millennium Development Goals deadline. Myanmar's immunization programme, whose coverage has widened with the help of the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, and its universal salt-iodization strategy to eliminate iodine deficiency, were among the other measures taken by the Government to shore up child health.

He said, further, that Myanmar had expanded safe motherhood initiatives into a national movement, involving the provision of comprehensive obstetric care. As of December 2007, over 18,000 midwives and 30,000 auxiliary midwives were providing maternal care throughout the country. Turning to education, he said much effort had been expended to increase access to primary education and to promote the retention rate. To improve the quality of primary education, the country was training teachers, with a focus on teaching methods in line with a child-centred policy. As for HIV/AIDS, the National AIDS Committee was increasing awareness regarding mother-to-child transmission.

He expressed appreciation for the report by Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, on her activities to implement her mandate. His Government was fully committed to prevent the recruitment of children under 18 years into the armed forces. In Myanmar, under-aged children found in the military and recruitment centres were discharged and sent back to their parents or guardians. The Special Representative had had substantive discussions with high-level officials in the country on the modalities of a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the protection of children's rights. The Government would also consult with the United Nations country team concerning those modalities.

WARIF HALABI ( Syria) said, since the children of today were the leaders of tomorrow, caring for the child now would help all societies in the future. At the national level, Syria's commitment to its children had been clear-cut, well-documented and comprehensive. A 2006 to 2010 national plan of action emphasized the priority of human development, especially children, in achieving the Millennium Development Goals and grappling with broader challenges, such as poverty. The plan called on civil society to play a greater role in all efforts. As a result, the health, education and protection for children had been improved. On health, she said both maternal and child mortality rates had been significantly reduced. That was an indication of the improvements in primary health care to all citizens.

On education, she said that over 96 per cent of children of primary school age were now attending schools. The Government had also raised the minimum working age to 15 years to enable children to stay in school and expand their scope of knowledge, in an effort to ensure that they were better prepared for the future. A national plan had also been elaborated to protect children from abuse, exploitation and violence, and efforts had been made to implement the necessary legal framework to protect all children. Touching briefly on Israeli aggressions against countries in the region, she noted that some forms of attacks disproportionately affected civilian populations, including children. Syrian children living in the Golan Heights suffered from physical and psychological trauma and were often denied proper education by the occupying power. The absence of international organizations in the region only worsened the situation, and she, therefore, called on Member States to address the problem urgently to relieve the suffering of the children in that region.

ASKAR ZHUMABAYEV ( Kazakhstan) acknowledged the progress made so far to address the rights of children, but noted that several challenges remained. One of the most appalling crimes of the modern world was the active involvement of children in armed conflict, which had psychological and physical health consequences for victims. Even after their return to "normal life", society must deal with the difficult issue of their successful reintegration. He noted the importance of education as a way of helping children overcome the "after effects" of their involvement in war, adding that "the process of education can assist these children to be involved in humanitarian activity". He paid tribute to the Special Representative on children and armed violence for her work in that area.

He said Kazakhstan had successfully integrated the various United Nations treaties concerning child rights, as well as the outcome of the General Assembly special session on children, into its national legislative framework. In the last several years, the Parliament had passed principal laws relating to childhood and motherhood. At present, the country was about to approve a bill on marriage and family, along with a code on health and the health-care system. Work on juvenile justice was in progress.

He noted that ensuring child's rights required adequate funding, particularly in the spheres of health care, nutrition and education. The Government spent between 33 to 35 per cent of its budget on such needs. A conference in Astana in September 2007, on the well-being of the family, had resulted in a declaration on family policy in countries of the former Soviet Union, that stressed the importance of adequate budget allocation to those areas. In addition, the Government of Kazakhstan and UNICEF hosted a conference on increasing the social orientation of budgets and efficiency of public expenditures at national and local levels, involving members of the Senate, various legislative and executive bodies, and other organizations. As part of the country's strategy for "Kazakhstan-2030", the Government had adopted the programme "Children of Kazakhstan for 2006-2011", with child mortality as a main focus for the year.

WOINSHET TADESSE ( Ethiopia) said that investments in children laid a long-lasting, solid foundation for sustainable development, peace and security. The international community needed to strengthen its partnerships to build on the achievements of the past and to respond to the challenges caused by the recent global food and oil crises, as well as climate change. At the national level, the Government remained fully committed to its national and international obligations towards the promotion and protection of the rights of children and, as such, had recently reformed its penal code to ensure that abduction, child trafficking and similar harmful traditional practices were "unequivocally criminalized". In addition to legislative reforms, a number of public awareness programmes at the grass-roots, national and regional levels had been launched to raise the level of understanding of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, especially within law enforcement bodies.

She said a national plan of action also addressed some overarching priority areas, namely: promoting healthy lives; providing quality education; combating HIV/AIDS; and protecting children from abuse, exploitation and violence. That plan of action had been prepared with the involvement of various stakeholders, including children themselves, and had already shown encouraging results. Measures taken by the Government to address the root causes of child labour had also been addressed. Poverty, cultural values, lack of education, the disintegration of the family unit and natural disasters were some of the factors that forced children into work at an early age. As such, the Government had devised a national strategy to counter the problem as an integral part of its long-term development plan. For example, the five-year "Plan for Accelerated and Sustained Development to End Poverty" provided a number of basic protections for working children, along with a monitoring mechanism. Despite such efforts, the lack of human and financial resources and the absence of an effective juvenile justice system continued to pose great challenges to the achievement of a world fit for children. International cooperation remained crucial to help developing countries, especially the least developed countries, achieve their goals.

OLHA KAVUN ( Ukraine) said the Ukrainian Parliament had recently adopted a bill which would secure an integrated legislative and social protection system serving the younger generation of Ukrainians. At the moment, its main concerns with regard to children were the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster on children, and managing the spread of HIV/AIDS among children. The country was also concerned by child trafficking; many children were forced into commercial sex, child prostitution and child pornography. She urged States to ensure the prosecution of offenders and the entire chain of those involved, as well as to address victims' needs in an effective manner and to address the root causes of the problem. General violence against children was also of concern, and the United Nations study on the subject was much appreciated.

She said Ukraine was convinced of the value of the Convention on the Rights of the Child as a tool for protection children's rights. She reminded delegates that 2009 would mark the twentieth anniversary of the General Assembly's adoption of that Convention, as well as the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. In light of that, Ukraine proposed to convene, on 20 November 2009, a special commemorative meeting of the General Assembly to mark those events. She emphasized the full implementation of those instruments, and urged States that had not done so to ratify the Convention and its Optional Protocols, adding that Ukraine stood ready to work with the United Nations and civil society to ensure the coherence and effectiveness of international efforts to advance the cause of children's rights.

JOSÉ MARÍA MONTERREY SUAY ( El Salvador) said that a healthy youth could play a special role in building prosperity, eradicating poverty and fostering social inclusion. Thus, children had become a focal point of all national policies. The level of attention dedicated to the comprehensive development of children in El Salvador had already resulted in significant results. On education, the net enrolment rate of children had increased to 89.4 per cent and the literacy rates among young people had increased to 95 per cent. El Salvador was, therefore, well on its way to meeting education-related development goals. In addition, the gender disparity in the school systems had also been significantly reduced, and boys and girls now enjoyed the same educational opportunities. In the area of health, there had also been a great deal of progress; infant mortality rates had been reduced and vaccination rates for measles had been increased.

Local efforts to help protect children from violence were of particular note, he said. Indeed, local mayors played an integral role in protecting the rights of young people living within their communities, especially in terms of protecting them from all forms of violence. Another priority area for his Government was the fight against the trafficking in and sexual exploitation of children. A national plan of action had been implemented to address both issues and contained strategies for interventions and actions, as well as indicators for the eradication of those scourges. Phenomena such as poverty, social inequality, armed conflicts, ignorance and illiteracy, among others, affected the comprehensive development of children and youth. That was why his Government would continue to work towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in an effort to improve the lives of children now and in the future.

MARIA ELENA MEDAL GARRIDO (Nicaragua), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China and the Rio Group, said her country was committed to applying the provisions of the various treaties, agreements and declarations touching on the rights of the child. There was a need for a greater sense of urgency to ensure the attainment of the goals relating to children. In her country, previous neo-liberal Governments were most interested in justifying the salaries of their consultants. In contrast, the new Government was truly making a difference in the lives of its people, by designing strategies to improve their standard of living in line with national needs. It was inhuman to allow 10 million children below the age of 5 years to die of preventable diseases or go hungry, and to have their right to education, health and housing shunted aside. Yet, financial institutions were demanding cuts in social spending.

She went on to describe the programme "Love: rescue of the street children", which was being undertaken as part of the Government's social justice programme, in the hopes of reintegrating street children into the educational system. Special protective centres were working to return such children to their families, or place them with surrogate families, since growing up within the family was considered a right of the child. She noted that, as a result of the unequal growth model pursued by neo-liberals, parents living in poor countries were obliged to migrate to other countries to find work, in order to provide for their families. It was a pity that the free trade movement allowed for the free trade of goods but not people, which sometimes resulted in families being broken up. Children were sometimes sent back to their home country because they had not meant certain administrative requirements of the immigration authorities. But, wasn't growing up within a family a "right" of children? She invited Member States to fill any funding gaps with regard to child rights programmes.

CÉCILE MBALLA EYENGA ( Cameroon) said the goals of the "World Fit for Children" declaration were directly in line with the objectives of the Millennium Summit. Despite efforts to achieve those objectives, there remained serious gaps in implementation, especially in terms of the education and health of children. Gender, geographical location, income gaps and social status continued to hinder progress for children in terms of education, and children and adolescents were still among the first victims of HIV/AIDS. The international community should, thus, act with a greater sense of urgency to meet the numerous goals that it had set for itself.

At the national level, Cameroon was dedicated to combating poverty and creating a favourable environment for childhood development. To help build that favourable environment, Cameroon had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and had implemented a number of legislative reforms to better protect children. Those reforms provided greater protections for children living with disabilities, improved gender equality and access to education, and penalized various forms of exploitation and violence against children. In terms of poverty eradication, her Government had undertaken a number of measures in line with its international development commitments. It had also adopted a national education plan and launched vaccination programmes as part of the poverty reduction strategy, since both of those measures would help children better contribute to society in the future. However, despite those national efforts, some objectives would be difficult to achieve, due to a qualitative and quantitative deficiency in resources. Therefore, while thanking development partners for the support they had offered in the past, she appealed to all bilateral and multilateral partners for continued assistance in the future.

MARIE-LAURENCE PÉAN MEVS (Haiti), aligning herself with the Group of 77 and China, the Rio Group and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that, as the world evolved, increasing inequality and discrimination in society made it hard for some nations to achieve their Millennium Development Goals. Children's basic needs for food, water, health care and education were not being met, not to mention their right to protection from violence. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was founded on respect for human dignity, condemned all forms of physical and mental abuse, which would include corporal punishment and sexual violence. Haiti supported the idea of providing the funds necessary for the Committee on the Rights of the Child to meet in two chambers in order to complete its work. In addition, she took note of the recommendations of the Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict to ensure better follow-up on that issue.

She said States must renew their commitment to create a world fit for children, by securing their right to health care, quality education and protection, as well as fighting against the spread of HIV/AIDS among children. Haiti's poor infrastructure meant that only half of its children were in school, and only 20 per cent of those reached their sixth year of schooling. Girls were often kept home and not sent to school. In light of those conditions, the Government had formed a working group on education and training, while the Ministry of National Education was working with other organizations to ensure that teachers and school directors paid attention to the quality of education. In the aftermath of recent hurricanes, schooling kits were distributed, so that the education system was not completely interrupted. Meanwhile, scholarships and hot meals were being provided for certain children. Some young people were taught manual trades.

She said children in Haiti were often used as "house slaves", an issue of concern to the nation. That practice was part of Haitian culture and based on economic realities, where poor rural families sent their children to live in the city in return for carrying out domestic tasks. Those children were vulnerable to abuse, sometimes sexually. Mindful that the practice of house slaves must be eliminated, the Government was creating programmes to train and create new jobs in rural areas, to improve opportunities in those regions. Private organizations were part of the efforts to reintegrate abused children into society. She noted that the various Special Representatives of the Secretary-General dealing with children had heavy responsibilities, and she gave assurances that her Government would support them. She also urged Member States to step up efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals through partnerships. It was one way to ensure the rights of children were maintained.

MAJDI RAMADAN ( Lebanon) said the Convention on the Rights of the Child constituted a comprehensive framework within which national efforts could be launched. Despite the high priority that Lebanon had placed on promoting and protecting the rights of the child, there remained some areas of concern. For example, though overall improvements had been made regarding children's health, the national infant mortality rate and the under-five mortality rate had not shown any signs of significant reductions since 1996. The national health system had, in the past, focused more on curative medical care, rather than preventive care, and such a focus might have contributed to the lack of progress on reduction efforts. As such, efforts were now being made to reform the health system, ensuring a more preventative response to health issues and a greater focus on previously underserved areas of the country. In terms of national legislation, he noted that no forms of discrimination existed in the legal processes of Lebanon, and legislation regarding children was in line with international norms and standards.

Legislation protecting children against acts of violence was comprehensive in its coverage, he said. Moreover, further amendments to juvenile justice laws would likely be forthcoming to, among other things, provide greater child labour legal protections. Those efforts had been combined with public awareness and advocacy efforts that were aimed at promoting human rights through Government actions, the non-governmental organization community, schools, families and the media. A threat to the right to life of children was the ultimate form of violence against children, and children living in situations of armed conflict were threatened in that way every day. Even in the absence of armed conflict, the effects of previous wars continued to pose serious threats to children. For example, unexploded ordinance in the south of Lebanon was of the greatest dangers to children in the region. It was, therefore, necessary for the international community to ensure that all efforts were made to eliminate armed conflicts and protect children from its deadly consequences.

MOHAMED EZUWAN HASSAN ( Malaysia) said that children were the future custodians of the world, and there was no task nobler than giving children a better future. The quality of their lives was the truest indicator of the strength of the communities to which they belonged. Given the new and emerging challenges brought about by climate change and the food, energy and financial crises, it might be necessary to update the World Fit for Children plan of action, adopted in 2002. Many problems children faced were closely related to underdevelopment and poverty. Globally, over 1 billion children suffered from at least one form of poverty, and over half of those children lived in developing or middle-income countries. Poverty led to the abuse and exploitation of children, and the promotion and protection of children should, therefore, be at the forefront of every country's development agenda and a central priority for the international community.

At the national level, Malaysia had implemented various measures and programmes to ensure the utmost care for the rights, welfare and social needs of children, he said. The Government had formulated a national plan of action on children, through the concerted and coordinated efforts of various public agencies, non-governmental organizations and international agencies, like UNICEF and the WHO. Among those measures were programmes to enhance child participation in decision-making processes, to improve the quality of life of children with special needs, and to instil moral, social and cultural values in youth. At the same time, to ensure the protection of children from violence, exploitation and abuse, Malaysia had developed mechanisms for the care, protection and rehabilitation of child victims through an intersectoral approach.

PARK IN-KOOK ( Republic of Korea) said ensuring full implementation of the obligation of States parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child was one of the most effective ways to promote and protect the rights of children. An effective working mechanism of the Committee on the Rights of the Child should be further strengthened and, in that regard, he supported the proposed two-chamber arrangement.

He went on to say that, since the Millennium Development Goals were established, there had been significant improvements in the area of children's rights, especially with respect to wider access to education and the decreased mortality rate for children under 5 years. However, as reports indicate, much remained to be done regarding the situation of underprivileged children, especially when the world was being hit with a food crisis, increasing natural disasters due to climate change, as well as the continuation of armed conflict. In 1996 and 2001, the international community gathered to share their policies and build strategies that would bring about the end of sexual exploitation of children. The Republic of Korea had equipped itself with comprehensive measures to fight that tragedy, and had strengthened relevant laws and law enforcement mechanisms.

He drew special attention to the issue of children affected by armed conflict, and sexual violence in those situations, and to the benefits of the effective implementation of Security Council resolution 1612 and the expansion of the gateway to the monitoring and reporting mechanism, encompassing sexual violence as a priority issue. The Third World Congress against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, to be held in Brazil in November, would also provide a valuable opportunity to bolster international efforts on the issue.

MARY REINER BARNES, observer for the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, said, of the fundamental rights of children, the most basic must be the right to be born in a safe environment. The Order of Malta had established a family hospital in Bethlehem that provided the local population with a place for women to receive high-quality maternity care, regardless of race, religion, culture or social conditions. Newborns also needed to be protected from the mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS, and the Order had achieved great success in increasing its HIV/AIDS prevention programmes in Argentina, Mexico, Angola, South Africa and Cambodia. However, with estimates suggesting that donors had only allocated one third of the funding required, it would be necessary to scale up an international response to meet the needs of children infected or affected by the disease.

To help address the acute vulnerability of children in armed conflict, the Order of Malta sought to provide both immediate and long-term support, she said. Immediate practical support included the provision of food, shelter and clothing, while longer-term support was aimed at healing the psychological wounds of war. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Order provided young victims with both psychological support and supplies to help them start their own small businesses. Turning briefly to the subject of children with physical and mental disabilities, she highlighted the work that the Order had done to assist disabled persons in developing countries that lacked the institutional capacity to do so. Such work had included efforts towards the social integration of disabled children, and education and therapy services.

Right of Reply

The representative of Georgia said, since the first day of the conflict between her country and the Russian Federation, the media and Government of the Russian Federation had blamed Georgia for provoking the war and killing innocent civilians. She stressed that the organization Human Rights Watch and the Russian organization Memorial had conducted investigations and rejected official claims, by South Ossetia, that thousands of people had been killed on the South Ossetian side, and had called for a list of the dead to be published. The deputy head of Human Rights Watch in Moscow had released a statement voicing deep concern about the situation in Georgian villages in South Ossetia, which were burned to the ground.

She said some mention had been made of international organizations that had confirmed the acts of Georgian troops against women and children, but the Russian Federation had failed to name any of those "elusive" organizations. It was clear that "lack of substantial argument" had left Russian officials no choice but to lay groundless blame on Georgia.

For information media • not an official record