Human Rights Council
7 March 2013
Opens Annual Full-day Meeting on the Rights of the Child
The Human Rights Council this morning opened its annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child with a panel discussion on the right of the child to the highest attainable standard of health.
Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, opening the discussion, said that 6.9 million children around the world died each year before the age of 5 years, and that the risk of a child dying before their fifth birthday in low-income countries was 18 times higher than in high-income countries. Children with disabilities, migrant children, and children in institutions were particularly vulnerable. States had an obligation to ensure that children’s health was not undermined by discrimination.
The panel discussion was moderated by Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet. The panellists were Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization; Gustavo Giachetto, Director of the Programme on Children’s Health at the Ministry of Public Health of Uruguay; Ignacio Packer, Secretary-General of Terre des Hommes International Federation; Tama, a child from Haiti; Jonas, a child from Bolivia; Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; and Selina Amin, Plan International Bangladesh.
Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief, The Lancet, and the Moderator of the Panel Discussion, said that enormous progress over the past decade had been made in reducing child mortality, but the 6.9 million deaths of children under five that still occurred annually were largely from preventable causes. The world had the capacity to prevent those deaths but still seemed unable to do so.
Flavia Bustreo, Assistant Director-General for Family, Women and Children’s Health at the World Health Organization, said that 10 per cent of all pregnancies in the world happened in girls under the age of 18 years, and 30 per cent of all maternal deaths occurred in that group. Even if the right of the child to health was guaranteed by national constitutions, in many countries it was still not translated into a concrete package of services and benefits.
Gustavo Giachetto, Director of the Programme on Children’s Health at the Ministry of Public Health of Uruguay, said that Uruguay had taken a cross-cutting approach to its health policy and had set up special programmes devoted to pregnant women, child health, and the health of adolescents. Measures had been taken to promote training in good nutrition, and legislation had been introduced to help reduce cancer and substance abuse.
Ignacio Packer, Secretary-General of Terre des Hommes International Federation, said that achieving universal health coverage in low and middle income countries was possible but required bold steps by the international community. The focus must be on the mother, child and reproductive health. A reported 10 per cent increase in national health budgets had resulted in the increased use of services and improvement in child health.
Tama, a child from Haiti, said that the right of the child to health was the least prioritised because more concern was given to other rights such as protection and education. Jonas, a child from Bolivia, said that healthcare must be affordable and provided to all, and that national legislation must be made with the participation of children.
Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, said that sexual exploitation had a devastating impact on the child’s physical and psychological status, and that sexual violence went hand in hand with physical violence. All medical staff should be trained in detecting the signs of violence and sexual abuse in children. The perpetrators should be punished and the victims should be protected and given compensation.
Selina Amin, Plan International Bangladesh, said that over 30 per cent of girls married before 18 years in developing countries, and it was ironic that parents viewed marriage as an effective way of protecting their daughters from abuse. Health education in school was essential for the development of children, and comprehensive sexual education should be provided to children and adolescents as part of the school curriculum.
Mr. Horton, summarizing the panel discussion, said that evidence was critical to understanding and solving the problem, children were critical to the participatory process, and that all opportunities should be seized to realize the right of the child to health.
In the interactive discussion, the following countries spoke: Thailand, Uruguay, Switzerland, Sudan, Armenia, Jordan, Turkey, Qatar, United States, Slovenia, Syria, Gabon on behalf of the African Group, European Union, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Paraguay, Republic of Congo, Germany, United Arab Emirates, Nepal, Estonia, Sri Lanka, Sweden on behalf of a cross-regional group, Haiti, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Norway, Iran and the Council of Europe.
The following national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations also took the floor: National Human Rights Council of Morocco, Human Rights Watch, Caritas International, Defence for Children International and World Vision International.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue speakers underlined the importance of awareness-raising initiatives on the right of the child to health, the provision of sexual education to children and adolescents, and the dissemination of information on sexual and reproductive health. Conflict, rising food prices, increasing poverty rates, and the lack of clean water in certain areas prevented children from enjoying their rights. States should take appropriate measures to reduce child mortality, improve the living conditions of children, and contribute to the realization of children’s right to health.
At its midday meeting the Council will conclude the interactive dialogue on human rights and the environment and on the effects of foreign debt which started yesterday, and will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children and the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The annual debate on the rights of the child will continue at 3 p.m. with a panel discussion on challenges in achieving the full realization of the right of the child to health.