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Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,
Concern for children’s rights and their protection has brought world leaders together in 1989 to make a historical commitment to children and adopt a common standard around which to rally. The Convention on the Rights of the Child is however much more than a human rights convention for the protection of children and the fulfillment of their rights. It is the recognition that children, including those affected by armed conflict, are holders of human rights and should be considered not only as objects of protection but also as individuals who can be agents of change by exercising their rights.
The Convention says that childhood is separate from adulthood and lasts until 18; it is a protected time, in which children must be allowed to grow, learn, play, develop and flourish with dignity and without discrimination. Conflict was and remains however the greatest threat to that principle and to the realization of children’s rights contained in the Convention. For children trapped in conflict zones the concept of childhood as set forth in the Convention oftentimes stays a distant dream. At the same time, during times of war the vulnerability of children is compounded by the violence and turbulence which accompany conflict and children are more than ever in dire need of specific protection.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child is at the heart of the international legal framework for the protection of children affected by armed conflict and a guiding source of operative principles and standards for the mandate that I represent. A direct link with this protection can be found in its article 38 on the recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts and its article 39 stressing that States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of armed conflict. Other rights contained in the Convention are also important for the protection of children affected by armed conflict— such as the right to birth registration and the right to acquire a nationality (Article 7). Even during armed conflict states parties are required to ensure that all children, boys and girls, are effectively protected against all forms of physical, sexual or other forms of violence, abuse or exploitation as it says in Articles 19, 32–38 and to implement the rights which are critical for children’s survival and development, including the right to the highest attainable standard of health (Article 24), the right to benefit from social security (Article 26), the right to an adequate standard of living (Article 27), the right to education (Article 28), and the right to rest and leisure and to engage in play and in recreational and cultural activities (Article 31).
While an appropriate tool for the protection of children affected by armed conflict the Convention is a starting – rather than an ending – point. The standards contained therein have thus been upgraded at international level including through the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict as well as at regional level through amongst others the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. They have been further strengthened through resolutions of the UN Security Council on Children and Armed Conflict as well as through political commitments such as the Paris Principles, the Safe Schools Declaration and the Vancouver Principles.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Standards set only on paper do not change the world for children affected by war. What is needed is their full implementation through the adoption of national laws and policies as well as enforcement initiatives addressing violations of children’s rights in conflict. I am calling on all of you here today to turn good intentions into real change for children. Let me finish with the words of Nelson Mandela: “Our children are our greatest treasure. They are our future. Those who abuse them tear at the fabric of our society and weaken our nation”. This remains true for all of us.