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HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL DISCUSSES VIOLENCE AGAINST CHILDREN AND CHILDREN IN ARMED CONFLICT

5 March 2019

The Human Rights Council during its midday meeting held a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, Marta Santos Pais, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba.

Presenting her annual report, Ms. Santos Pais said that her mandate had identified three strategic indicators to assess progress in the shared journey to end violence against children: the development in every country of a comprehensive, well-coordinated and funded multidisciplinary national plan to prevent and address violence; the enactment and enforcement of legislation to ban all forms of violence and ensure the protection of children; and the consolidation of data and research to identify risks and children left behind, and to inform evidence-based action.

In her presentation, Ms. Gamba stressed that protracted and high-intensity conflicts, cyclical spikes in violence, and operations to counter violent extremism had continued to make children around the world the primary victim of war.  She singled out three trends that required attention: the plight of children detained for their alleged association to violent extremist groups; attacks on schools; and the abduction of children and its cross-border effects.  Child recruitment and use by non-State armed groups raised new challenges from a child protection perspective. 

In the ensuing discussion on violence against children, speakers reminded that culture was often used to justify violence against children as a form of disciplinary action, and they asked the Special Representative to advise on appropriate strategies to overcome cultural barriers to reporting offences against children.  Some speakers emphasized that regional institutions and organizations provided the best framework for achieving progress on the rights of the child.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development offered a unique opportunity to bring about a world where all children were free from exploitation.  Some speakers remained concerned that insufficient attention had been given at the national level to gender-responsive solutions.  Gender-based violence and violence against children remained different fields of practice, and more needed to be done to bring them together. 

On children and armed conflict, speakers remained gravely concerned that children in armed conflict continued to be subjected to appalling violations of human rights, notably recruitment, indoctrination and violence.  The international community had to identify better ways to ensure accountability of international law and to implement protection measures.  Education was not only a human right; it was also an essential protection mechanism for children living in conflict.  It was emphasized that continued access to safe education could help protect children and youth from the impact of armed conflict.  The reintegration of children was necessary to guarantee peace and security and break the cycle of violence. 

Speaking were Latvia on behalf of a group of countries, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Angola on behalf of the African Group, Fiji on behalf of group of countries, Bahrain on behalf of the Arab Group, Canada on behalf of the group of French speaking countries, Kuwait, Spain, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Israel, United Kingdom, Sovereign Order of Malta, Belgium, State of Palestine, Slovenia, Croatia, Germany, Tunisia, Jordan, Fiji, Libya, Somalia, Djibouti, Uruguay, Syria, Thailand, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Portugal, Venezuela, Philippines, Paraguay, El Salvador,  Austria, France, Costa Rica, Mexico, Maldives, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Myanmar, Chad, North Macedonia, Nepal, Iran, Switzerland, China, Montenegro, Lesotho, Georgia, Botswana, Lebanon, Greece, Angola, Nigeria, Ukraine, Cameroon, Ecuador, South Africa, Luxembourg, Argentina, Belarus, Canada, Iraq, Italy, Morocco, Colombia, Bangladesh, Qatar and Algeria.  The United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Committee of the Red Cross also took the floor. 

The following civil society organizations took the floor: European Centre for Law and Justice, International Federation Terre des Hommes, in a joint statement with Foundation ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes), Plan International, Inc and Defence for Children International), Foundation ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes), in a joint statement with Stichting War Child), Save the Children International, Society for Threatened Peoples, Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Coopération Économique Internationale - OCAPROCE Internationale, Colombian Commission of Jurists, Defence for Children International, Women’s Human Rights International Association, Plan International Inc., International Catholic Child Bureau, Center for Reproductive Rights, Inc., International Committee for the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas, and Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés (OIPMA).     

The Council will next begin a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities and the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.  

Documentation

The Council has before it Violence against children - Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (A/HRC/40/50).

The Council has before it Children and armed conflict - Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (A/HRC/40/49).

Presentation of Reports by the Special Representatives of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and on Children and Armed Conflict

MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, presented her annual report that highlighted major initiatives to ensure children’s protection from violence.  The report came 30 years after the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.  The Convention had brought the international community together around a shared vision of a future where every child developed and thrived, free from fear and from violence.  The Convention had conveyed a simple message: children were above politics, but they must be at the heart of the policy agenda.  Children were entitled to grow up in a nurturing and caring environment, where they were cherished, supported and respected in their human dignity and physical integrity, and where their voice was respected and taken in due account.  Three decades later, the values of the Convention remained as relevant as ever, including its imperative to ensure children’s safety and protection from any risk of neglect, abuse and exploitation. 

Regional organizations were critical partners in the shared ambition of making violence against children a thing of the past, the Special Representatives stressed.  But the best indicators of progress were the results achieved on the ground, where children lived.  It was there that human rights began: in small places, so small that they could not be seen on any map of the world.  Yet they were the world of the individual child.  Unless those rights were meaningful there, they had little meaning anywhere.  That was why the mandate of the Special Representative had identified three strategic indicators to assess progress in the shared journey to end violence against children: the development in every country of a comprehensive, well-coordinated and funded multi-disciplinary national plan to prevent and address violence; the enactment and enforcement of legislation to ban all forms of violence and ensure the protection of children; and the consolidation of data and research to identify risks and children left behind, and to inform evidence-based action.  The number of national plans on violence against children had more than doubled since the start of the mandate.  Some 60 countries had comprehensive legislation to ban and protect children from violence.  Data systems had been further consolidated. 

However, violence against children remained pervasive, concealed and socially condoned, the Special Representative regretted.  The international community needed to move forward with a deep sense of urgency, and children furthest behind must be at the forefront of concerns.  Empowering people began with empowering children.  Children had been actively involved in the shaping of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and they remained strategic partners in the process of its implementation.  Moreover, children were the best indicators of progress in common efforts to achieve social inclusion and equitable societies.  Ms. Santos Pais urged Member States to document their positive experiences of child participation and children’s influential agency in advancing progress in the 2030 Agenda. 

VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, stressed that protracted and high-intensity conflicts, cyclical spikes in violence, and operations to counter violent extremism had continued to make children around the world the primary victim of war.  Three trends were noted that required attention: the plight of children detained for their alleged association with violent extremist groups; attacks on schools; and the abduction of children and its cross-border effects.  Child recruitment and use by non-State armed groups raised new challenges from a child protection perspective.  The transnational nature of violent extremism favoured the emergence of transnational recruitment of children as foreign fighters.  Since 2011, between 30,000 and 42,000 foreign fighters from some 120 countries had travelled to Iraq and Syria to join ISIL and this included a significant number of children.  The year 2018 was marked by a rise in attacks on schools and the military use of schools. Children had no access to education because their schools were attacked.  Schools were targeted for acts of retaliation or for child abductions.  States were called upon to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration.  An increase of child abductions had been registered in conflict situations.  In Nigeria, Boko Haram specifically abducted girls to use them as human bombs.  States and international organizations were called upon to ensure the protection of children from abductions and accountability for perpetrators. 

Ms. Gamba said she was working on a Guidance Note to provide practitioners with conceptual clarity and tools.  Some progress had been achieved: in Afghanistan amendments to the criminal code which criminalized the recruitment and use of children by armed forces had entered into force in 2018; in Nigeria, the Civilian Joint Task Force had released 833 children; in South Sudan a new Action Plan covering all six grave violations was being developed with the Government; in Sudan implementation of the action plan to end and prevent recruitment and use of children by the Sudanese Armed Forces had been finalized in 2018.

Turning to country visits, Ms. Gamba said that in Sudan in February 2018, she had advocated for the adoption of a national prevention plan to enhance the protection of children.  Concerning Yemen, a recent mission to Riyadh had been an opportunity to discuss protective measures taken by the Coalition, including the establishment of a child protection unit.  Ms. Gamba had reached out to the Great Lakes region to prepare the ground for a sub-regional plan on ending and preventing violations against children.  Concerning public awareness, she had engaged with parties in conflict during her visits to Myanmar, Sudan, South Sudan and Colombia, and had started compiling best practices on the children and armed conflict mandate.  Specific focus was put on the inclusion of child protection issues in peace processes and together with the United Nations Children’s Fund, the Global Coalition for Reintegration had been launched.

Interactive Dialogue

Latvia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, expressed concern over abduction as a means of instilling fear and terror.  Latvia asked the Special Representative what she saw as the main challenges in ensuring that the understanding of child protection as a preventive measure of conflicts was put in practice.  Uruguay, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, reiterated their strong support for the mandate of the Special Representative and for the advancement of the children and armed conflict agenda.  They called on States to increase accountability for perpetrators of all six grave violations, including child abductions.  European Union remained committed to accelerating progress towards the elimination of all forms of violence against children, and asked the Special Representative if there were any ways in which she saw the United Nations reinvigorating its actions in leaving no child behind.

Angola, speaking on behalf of the African Group, regretted that children in conflict areas continued to be victims of human rights violations.  Regional institutions and organizations provided the best framework for achieving progress on the rights of the child.  Fiji, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, noted that education was not only a human right, it was also an essential protection mechanism for children living in conflict.  Continued access to safe education could help protect children and youth from the impact of armed conflict.  Bahrain, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, regretted that increasing violations of the rights of children continued, such as the direct targeting of children in armed conflict.  Children were being sexually and physically exploited, as well as being denied access to international humanitarian aid.  

Canada, speaking on behalf of a group of French speaking countries, attached great importance to the rights of children and the resources required to meet these goals.  The group endorsed paragraph 67 of the report of the Special Representative on children and armed conflict.  Kuwait called on Member States to prevent the recruitment of children by armed groups.  The international community should uphold the rights of children and rehabilitate the victims of such violence.  The use of schools as areas of recruitment of children into armed conflict was alarming.  Spain said work was underway on a new bill covering physical and mental abuse of children, and the rehabilitation of children affected by violence.  The third Conference of Safe Schools would take place in Spain in May, and would focus on a gender perspective, and a preventative focus for monitoring the work of Member States in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.  

Pakistan welcomed the findings of the reports and stated that 2019 was a milestone year for achieving the prevention of violence against children, in order to achieve a world free from fear and violence.  Afghanistan had taken a number of measures to ensure children were secure from violence against them, including in legislation.  Placing children in the military was a criminal act.  Laws were now in place in Afghanistan to criminalize the sexual exploitation of children and the use of corporal punishment.  Sudan said its new penal code prohibited the death penalty, imprisonment and imposition of fines on children.  It had legislation against the recruitment of children for armed conflict.  Sudan was a pioneering country on the African continent for caring for children affected by crises, and had established approximately 300 child friendly spaces in areas of armed conflicts.

Israel said that Hamas was not only using children as human shields but was also using the education system to teach them hate, so the Rapporteur was asked to prepare the next report on brainwashing children and teaching them hate.  Corporal punishment was unlawful in Israel and violence against children was criminalized.  United Kingdom echoed concern about grave violations committed globally, notably in South Sudan, despite the peace agreement.  As the United Kingdom would be hosting an international conference on preventing sexual violence in conflict, the question was raised on how the international community could be galvanised to better support this issue?  Sovereign Order of Malta welcomed recommendations on the release, rehabilitation and reinsertion of children associated with armed forces, saying that faith based communities often played a key role in the reinsertion of former child soldiers.  On violence against children, the role of faith leaders was also underscored as they could help prevent violence.

Belgium asked Ms. Santos Pais whether she could share some persistent systemic challenges on ending violence against children, as well as opportunities for positive change.  The reintegration of child soldiers was not only a matter of education, but it also required sustained attention for mental health and psycho-social support.  State of Palestine was committed to the 2030 Agenda and promoting social justice and the rule of law, including numerous policies relevant for ending violence against children.  Israel committed crimes against children in Palestine, including targeted killings and destruction of schools.  In 2018, Israel had killed 52 Palestinian children.  United Nations Children’s Fund welcomed special attention on bullying in the report and other forms of violence in and around schools, and their effect on children’s academic performance and well-being.  Children affiliated with armed groups had to be treated first and foremost as victims of grave violations, and there was a necessity for collective action, including by re-establishing family links.

Slovenia asked if there had been enough progress in eliminating violence against children.  On children and armed conflict, Slovenia asked how recommendations could be taken into consideration when situations in various countries were addressed by separate resolutions.  Croatia remained gravely concerned that children in armed conflict continued to be subjected to appalling violations of human rights, notably recruitment, indoctrination and violence.  The international community had to identify better ways to ensure the accountability of international law and to implement protection measures.  Germany said it had worked to implement the repatriation and rehabilitation of former children soldiers.  It called on parties to conflicts to ensure that those children did not become double victims. 

Tunisia said that despite important steps forward, challenges remained when it came to combatting violence against children.  There should be accountability and oversight mechanisms in order to put an end to the suffering of children in armed conflict.  Jordan placed high emphasis on the protection of children and it aimed to reduce violence against women and children by 50 per cent by 2021.  It condemned the targeting of children in armed conflict, and called for the freedom of Palestinian children.  Fiji reminded that culture was often used to justify violence against children as a form of disciplinary action.  It asked the Special Representative to advise on appropriate strategies to overcome cultural barriers to reporting offences against children.

Libya noted that the report of the Special Representative gave a new momentum with the aim to put an end to violence against children.  It was necessary to improve international cooperation to help end violence against children and to hold perpetrators to account.  Somalia said rehabilitation centres for child victims of armed conflict had been opened in Somalia.  To address the concerns raised by the Special Representative, a command order had been signed by the Armed Forces to prevent harm to children during military operations.  Djibouti supported efforts to reintegrate children from armed conflicts into society.  On violence against children, Djibouti noted that the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provided an opportunity to fully achieve Sustainable Development Goal 16.2. 

Uruguay had enacted improvements to enforcement and data gathering regarding violations of children’s rights, however, more progress was needed.  Uruguay called on the Special Representatives to share their success stories on the rehabilitation and reintegration of children, especially girls who had suffered from armed conflict.  Syria said measures had been taken, including the modification of the criminal code, which could lead to capital punishment for the rape of a minor.  Syria drew attention to aspects of the report, in particular the term ‘parties of conflict’ which was not based on a correct definition, as it grouped States alongside terrorist organizations.  Thailand was conducting a mid-term review of its National Strategy on Elimination of Violence against Children and Youth, with a focus on law enforcement and on educating parents and teachers.  On the child protection agenda, importance was attached to multi stakeholder engagement. 

Russian Federation drew attention to the need for the Special Representative on children and armed conflict to comply with her mandate and pointed out that plans of actions on preventing violence against children in armed conflict were not a panacea.  It was essential to judge the progress made, not on statistics, but on objective information on the ground, and the close focus on terrorism was beyond the scope of the mandate.  Saudi Arabia said that Coalition operations had been a response to the legitimate request of the Government of Yemen and in line with the United Nations Charter and the Security Council resolutions.  Operations were in line with international human rights law and the needs of children had been met.  Portugal asked Ms. Santos Pais about plans to promote the protection of children with mental health conditions or psychosocial disabilities from violence.  Concerning the report on children and armed conflict, Portugal aligned itself with the statement delivered on behalf of Group of Friends on Children and Armed Conflict. 

Venezuela agreed with Ms. Santos Pais that the 2030 Agenda offered a unique opportunity to bring about a world where all children were free from exploitation.  The reintegration of children was necessary to guarantee peace and security and break the cycle of violence.  Philippines was pleased that the report acknowledged its efforts to link children’s rights and sustainable development through the National Plan of Action for Children.  The Special Representative was asked to share good practices of States in addressing terrorist groups’ recruitment of children.  Paraguay had been celebrating since 2012 the national day against mistreatment and sexual abuse.  Children were seen as agents of change within the overall efforts carried out for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  El Salvador condemned the practice of the recruitment and use of children in armed conflict.  It maintained the importance of strengthening of multilateral efforts, national legislation and public policy in line with the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the 2030 Agenda in countering violence against children. 

Interim Remarks

MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, said that the many shared examples of legislative reforms and new policies during the dialogue gave hope and indicated that States shared the vision of making 2019 a turning point in the protection of children.  She underlined the importance of promoting the gender dimension in that endeavour.  Data showed that one third of children suffered from bullying and cyber bullying, and that boys were more susceptible to physical bullying, whereas girls suffered more from psychological bullying.  Ms. Santos Pais encouraged States to use the opportunity to document and reflect on lessons learned on violence against children, to see how data was analyzed to shape policy responses and how resources were allocated.  She underlined the importance of good laws, good policies and good data, and children’s participation.  The role of regional organizations was absolutely fundamental, Ms. Santos Pais emphasized.  The upcoming high-level panel on children’s protection from violence aimed at reigniting commitments and action.  The Human Rights Council should treat children’s rights as its priority at all times.  The Special Representative highlighted the links between the Sustainable Development Goals 4, 8 and 16, noting that the international community had to be careful and ensure that children were protected in all contexts.  Turning to some of the conclusions of the global thematic report on violence against children, Ms. Santos Paid pointed out to weak coordination between different sectors and institutions of the State; fragmented reactions that took place after violence had happened; and insufficient resources for the protection of children.  She said only $0.65 were invested in a child in developing countries.  Services for children needed to be placed under one single roof so that children felt that they were protected and that they had hope. 

VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, noted that resolution 2427 was a very complex Security Council resolution, which included not just a mandate for prevention, but also a mandate to engage with regional and sub-regional organizations on strengthening protections for children in armed conflict.  Ms. Gamba noted that the biggest challenge so far to the implementation of this resolution had to do with a lack of public awareness to see prevention and protection as a continuum.  She was going to launch a global campaign called “Act to Protect Children Affected by Armed Conflict”, which would last three years.  The campaign was going to take each one of the major six violations, unpack them, explain them and roll them out in all regions of the world.  It would thus become much clearer globally how prevention supported protection and the other way around.  There was already a lot of willingness from regional and sub-regional organizations to look at regional prevention plans in order to prevent violations.  Prevention was noted as something that groups would like to engage with more.  Another challenge facing the implementation of the resolution was the capacity needed for the implementation of long-term prevention plans - not just financial resources, but also human resources. 

Ms. Gamba expressed distress that there had not been more advancement in the identification of child protection operators as advisers for all regional and sub-regional organizations, who might be responsible for coordinating advice on how to improve implementation.  They had lost the only child protection adviser on the African Union due to the lack of resources to maintain this position.  Regarding the issue of trafficking, the Special Representative noted that her office had been working over the past 12 months with the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, the Special Rapporteur on the rights of displaced persons, and the Working Group on the use of mercenaries.  Ms. Gamba also noted that her office might do joint trips to situations of concern, particularly on issues surrounding the trafficking of girls and children born of rape.  The Special Representative emphasized the importance of reinforcing or adopting legislation that would criminalize the six grave violations.  Regarding regional plans, protocols should be adopted which established standards for the handover and release of children.  Ms. Gamba also advocated the need to strengthen monitoring and reporting mechanisms made up of all United Nations mechanisms on the ground.

The Special Representative drew the Council’s attention to its new Brussels office, which would act as a liaison between the Secretary-General and various European organizations, non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies.  The office would be strengthening cooperation with Geneva-based human rights mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council.  Regarding the reintegration of former child soldiers, Ms. Gamba noted that a new Reintegration Initiative had been launched last September, which was free for all Member States to join.  The launch had led to a 12-month roadmap process, comprising three levels of structure.  The principal level was the Steering Committee made up of 16 actors, including United Nations agencies as well as financial institutions and Member States.  The initiative had sent invitations to every regional group to nominate a representative from each region.  Underneath the steering committee lay the initiative’s engine: the expert advisory group, which included non-government organizations, as well as financial bodies.  The engine group was in the process of creating three briefing papers to be released within the next three months.  Several topics had been identified at the steering committee level.  One of these topics was on the expansion or reframing of the reintegration issue.  Another was on gaps and needs assessment of reintegration programming.  Ms. Gamba called on Member States to join the third group within the Initiative, the Friends of Reintegration, co-chaired by France, Malta and Kazakhstan.

Interactive Dialogue

Austria voiced particular concern about child abductions in conflicts, which had become increasingly prevalent.  It asked the Special Representative to give examples on how juvenile justice mechanisms could be strengthened in affected countries to try children allegedly associated with non-State armed groups.  France stated that in 2017 it had set up an inter-ministerial plan for mobilization to counter violence against children.  It voiced concern about the growing vulnerability of children in armed conflict.  Costa Rica stressed that attacks by non-State armed groups had an especially severe impact on children, especially in heavily populated areas.  It was necessary for the authorities in conflict countries to develop specific actions to protect children from those dangers.

Mexico condemned the recruitment of children by non-State actors, and reiterated its support for the plan of the United Nations Secretary-General to counter violent extremism.  What best practices could States adopt to combat that scourge?  Maldives noted that it had recently submitted the Child Protection Bill to Parliament.  It aimed to develop an evidence-based system to enhance child protection.  Maldives welcomed the Special Representative’s recommendations on how to raise awareness about children in armed conflict.  Bulgaria stressed that all forms of violence against children were preventable and should be banned.  Its draft national strategy for the child provided a complete prohibition of corporal punishment of children.

Azerbaijan noted that protracted conflicts had been on the increase in recent years, and children bore the brunt of the suffering that resulted from these.  It was important to pay attention to children who were internally displaced and were themselves the children of internally displaced persons in conflicts that remained unresolved.  Egypt said the Government had established child protection committees with legal status to address the risks posed to children in the country.  Egypt continued to call for the ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child by all signatories.  Myanmar said several key laws had been enacted to prevent sexual abuse and child trafficking, as part of the most comprehensive child law in Myanmar’s history.  The country had now set a target to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Chad set out a range of policies enacted by the Government, including specific modules on the rights of children in military training programmes, as well as the promulgation of a law on early marriage, to protect the rights of children, in particular girls.  North Macedonia said the prevention of crimes against children in conflict must be enacted.  The delegation supported the cooperation of organizations at national and subnational levels, and commended the Special Representative’s involvement in reintegration work.  Nepal outlined the recent introduction by the Government of plans for the prevention of child labour, to protect children from working in hazardous sectors.  The delegation stressed that a focus on the developmental growth of children was essential to meeting the 2030 Agenda.

Iran noted that extremist groups triggered instability and used ordinary people to impose their destructive policy, and as a result, children were often the main victims of violence.  Iran lamented the proliferation of violent groups that systematically violated the rights of children in the region.  International Committee of the Red Cross highlighted a concern for the categorization of children due to general assumptions about certain groups related to the child: blanket categorizations too often failed to take into account the best interests of each child.  Children recruited by armed groups designated as ‘terrorist’ must benefit from judicial guarantees.  Switzerland emphasized that all children associated with parties to a conflict should be treated as victims, and not as potential security risks.  It was also essential to take into account the opinions and experiences of children so as to guarantee their rights.

China noted that over the last two years it had focused on fighting family violence.  China expressed its support for United Nations agencies in the framework of their mandate to protect children in armed conflict.  Montenegro expressed deep concern that 176 million children under five years witnessed domestic violence.  Montenegro’s Government was fully devoted to enhance the capacities at national and local levels for the protection and prevention of violence against children.  Lesotho noted that violence against children was a phenomenon being experienced worldwide as children were still one of the special groups at risk.  Ending violence against children was seen as not only important for each child’s rights, but also for healthy communities and societies.

Georgia stressed that children in the occupied territories of Georgia were denied the right to receive education in their native tongue.  The policy of Russification in both regions was already imposed at pre-school level, as all kindergartens therein used solely Russian language.  Botswana said it was commendable that close to 100 countries had adopted comprehensive national policies on violence against children and enacted legislation to prohibit physical, psychological and sexual violence, as well as to protect child victims.  However, it was concerning to note that high rates of violence against children went unpunished.  Lebanon said that the relevant ministry in Lebanon together with the United Nations Children’s Fund had developed methodology of early warning in the case of violence against children.  The need to support reintegration programmes with financing was highlighted and the Representative was asked about the complementarity of the legal framework and socio-cultural initiatives to stop recruitment.

Greece was particularly concerned about the issue of violence against children.  With regard to the recruitment of children, Greece had incorporated the Statute of the International Criminal Court into domestic legislation, so the recruitment of children under the age of 15 constituted a war crime under Greek law.  Angola was committed to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, particularly target 16.2 aiming to end all forms of violence against children.  International bodies were called on to increase efforts to put in place sustainable reintegration programmes.  Nigeria had developed a number of child protection and development measures, including the enactment of the Child Rights Act.  Commitment to the protection of children caught in the web of terrorist activities in the north-eastern part of the country was reiterated and the ongoing counter-terrorism operations made it difficult for Boko Haram to carry out its heinous acts of abducting children for exploitation.

Ukraine stated that children continued to suffer from the Russian aggression on Ukraine, although the report did not make any reference to this.  The number of internally displaced persons was 1.5 million.  The delegation hoped the situation in Ukraine would be reflected in the next report.  Cameroon stated that since 2013 they had suffered from attacks from the terrorist group Boko Haram, whose mode of operation was to recruit child fighters.  Cameroon wished to be informed of concrete measures which could be adopted by States to protect children in armed conflicts.  Ecuador said the constitution treated children and vulnerable young people as priority groups, in order to protect them.  In 2017, the Government had updated protocols to raise awareness amongst parents, teachers and counsellors to ensure that children were granted the necessary protections.  

South Africa, regarding the report on children affected by armed conflict, was particularly concerned about the impact of war on girls, and stressed the need to address the root causes of conflicts, as well as addressing their impacts.  Children associated with armed groups should be treated as victims and not perpetrators of crimes.  Luxembourg said the prompt reintegration of child fighters into society was essential to allow them to recover from their traumas, and to break the cycle of violence.  The right to education was one of the first factors to suffer during conflict, and work was needed to ensure that education remained available to children caught in conflict.  Argentina expressed its deep concern about sustained attacks on schools that led to their closure, as schools were vital to protecting children from the impact of armed conflict.  Argentina appreciated the recommendations of the Special Representative, including concrete measures to prevent the use of schools for military purposes.

Belarus agreed with the idea from the report on the need to provide support to protect children from violence.  Undertaking measures against cyber-bullying were particularly appreciated.  Canada said that eliminating all forms of violence against children, including in situations of armed conflicts, was a high priority.  More could be done to prevent the recruitment of children in hostilities, which was why the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers were launched in 2017.  Iraq had done its utmost to prevent the recruitment of children into armed conflicts.  Mobile courts had been set up to approve unregistered marriages in areas occupied by Daesh, and a Commission had been formed to find disappeared children.

Italy asked how digital tools could be further promoted for children to become active agents of change?  Italy promoted the introduction of specific provisions for the protection of children in the mandates of the United Nations peace operations and asked what measures could be taken to prevent the abduction of children in armed conflicts?  Morocco had undertaken legislative measures to prevent violence against children, including penalties in cases of forced marriage of minors.  Morocco was fighting radicalization and violent extremism in several ways, including through the Muhammed VI Institute, which advocated moderate and tolerant Islam.  Colombia said that the protection of children was at the heart of its public policy, after over five decades of recruitment and abduction of children in armed conflicts.  Reference was made in the report that peace processes could be used as an opportunity to obtain commitment from parties, as was the case in Colombia, following the release of 135 children held by former guerrillas.

Bangladesh encouraged United Nations-sponsored action plans to address rehabilitation, reintegration, counselling, legal aid, physiotherapy and psychosocial support for all affected children.  It drew attention to the horrendous impact on children of the military offensives conducted against the Rohingya in Myanmar since August 2017.  Qatar invited the Special Representative to carefully follow certain practices which undermined the best interests of the child, and underlined the need to respect the rules of international law, namely that civilians should not be targeted and that children should not be recruited.  Algeria regretted the involvement of children in long, protracted conflicts.  It appealed for the return of all children involved in conflicts for rehabilitation and reintegration. 

European Centre for Law and Justice drew attention to the atrocities carried out against children by Boko Haram in Nigeria, with more than 50,000 children orphaned by jihadist violence.  The attacks and kidnappings had been carried out when children were at school and should feel safe.  International Federation Terre des Hommes, in a joint statement with Foundation ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes), Plan International, Inc and Defence for Children International, remained concerned that insufficient attention had been given at national levels to gender-responsive solutions.  Gender-based violence and violence against children remained different fields of practice, and more needed to be done to bring them together.  International Fellowship of Reconciliation welcomed the Special Representative’s comments about the vulnerability of children who were demobilized without adequate rehabilitation.  Had the international community concentrated too closely on achieving the spurious success represented by numbers of demobilization rather than on the long-term goal of stamping out recruitment of children?    

Foundation ECPAT International (End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes, in a joint statement with Stichting War Child, welcomed the initiative to coordinate advocacy messaging with the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children.  Member States were called to honour commitments towards the 2030 Agenda, including its violence related Sustainable Development Goals targets.  Save the Children International said that its report Stop the War on Children, presented in February 2019, showed that nearly one-fifth of children lived in a conflict zone in 2017, which was a rise of nearly 30 million children from 2016.  The number of grave violations against children in conflict reported and verified by the United Nations had tripled since 2010, reaching 25,000 in 2017.

Society for Threatened Peoples described the condition of the Rohingya children they had found in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, many of whom had suffered rape, torture and trauma.  The Myanmar military and the civilian Government had both failed to abide by internationally recognized humanitarian norms of protecting children during their 2017 crackdown.  Organisation pour la Communication en Afrique et de Promotion de la Coopération Économique Internationale - OCAPROCE Internationale was very concerned about the violation of rights of children and girls in Nigeria and Cameroon.  Boko Haram kidnapped children on a daily basis in Cameroon to use as child soldiers and sex slaves, and this must be addressed.  Colombian Commission of Jurists welcomed the activities carried out by the Special Representative and asked her to insist on dialogue with the Colombian authorities, who continued to deny the existence of a conflict in the country.  Numerous armed groups in the territories left by the FARC were targeting and abusing children and vulnerable people in Colombia. 

Defence for Children International called for children accused of crimes to be tried by juvenile courts and not adult courts.  Around the world, notwithstanding the achievements to date, children continued to be deprived of their liberty, including on national security grounds.  Women’s Human Rights International Association asked the Special Rapporteur what specific follow-ups were being taken to ensure that signatories of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child were upholding it?  Iran, despite being a signatory, had registered the marriage of 37,000 underage girls last year.  Plan International, Inc stated that attacks on schools had a pervasive impact on children in conflict zones.  The impact of this not only violated child rights, but impacted their longer term reintegration into society.  They called on Member States to implement the Safe Schools Declaration to address this risk.

International Catholic Child Bureau noted that despite some political commitments materialized by path-finding States and specific national policies, the risk of violence in children’s lives was still unfortunately high.  However, national policies were not always provided with adequate resources to appropriately capture and address local needs.  Center for Reproductive Rights, Inc. emphasized that girls affected by conflict faced increased risk of sexual and gender-based violence and urgently needed sexual and reproductive healthcare services.  Conflict exacerbated pre-existing forms of gender-based discrimination and violence and created additional barriers to gaining access to sexual and reproductive health services. International Committee for the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas noted that human rights violations against indigenous Naga children from armed conflict was continuing, despite the fact that India and Naga Armed Groups had entered a ceasefire in 1997.  Naga children were systematically oppressed and denied their right to a life of freedom and peace.  Organisation internationale pour les pays les moins avancés (OIPMA) noted that there had been a significant increase in the recruitment and use of children by Houthi militias over the past three years.  Children were subjected by the Houthis to an intensive ideological extremist programme of three weeks to one-month in duration. 

Concluding Remarks

MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, with respect to questions about the digital literacy for children, noted that cyberspace was the new playground for children.  Risks were growing, and the international community had to be vigilant.  Ms. Santos Pais pointed out to experiences led by young people to sensitize their peers about those risks and to mobilize their parents and teachers.  As for the protection from cyber bullying, Ms. Santos Pais reminded that a youth manifesto had recently been presented in South Africa, identifying concerns and recommendations.  It was important that children had easy access to information that was sensitive to their age, needs and gender.  With respect to early marriage, the Special Representative underlined that investment in early childhood development and work with families could curb the impact of early marriage and the cycle of violence.  This year had to make a difference in the lives of children, rather than just being symbolic.  Ten years ago, violence against children was the concern of very few, whereas nowadays it was part of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The protection of children from violence was a question of human rights, good governance and good economics.  Millions of children worldwide expected action from States.

VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, thanked everyone for their incredible support and patience.



For use of the information media; not an official record

HRC/19/19E