Opening Debate on Children’s Rights, Officials Warn Third Committee of Disturbing Spike in Targeted Abductions, Recruitment by Armed Groups, Shuttered Schools
The plight of children living in the midst of conflict had worsened in many parts of the world, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) heard today as it began its consideration of the promotion and protection of the rights of young people with an interactive dialogue with top United Nations officials.
Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, cited a number of examples in countries as varied as Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Iraq, Nigeria, Syria and Yemen, and in the State of Palestine and Israel, where violence and tensions had shown no signs of abating. Her report to the Committee drew attention to groups that had committed unspeakable atrocities against children, in actions testing the ability of States and the international community to respond.
Although education was key in countering the radicalization of young people, the right to a quality education had been compromised for millions of children living in conflict areas, said Ms. Zerrougui, who noted a disturbing spike in the abduction of children. Nevertheless, the past year had seen progress in some areas, with Children, Not Soldiers campaign enjoying strong support and field visits by the Special Representative helping towards positive developments in Nigeria, Myanmar and Somalia. Going forward, Ms. Zerrougui hoped to strengthen relationships with all stakeholders to sustain efforts to protect children.
Following her presentation, delegates engaged in an interactive dialogue, raising such concerns about child soldiers, the involvement of children in extremists and terrorist groups, preventing and responding to alleged child abuse by United Nations peacekeepers, schooling in the midst of armed conflicts and the links between the Sustainable Development Goals and the reintegration of children who had been involved in armed conflicts.
In her responses, she said it was encouraging to hear Member States asking what more they could do. Efforts were needed on the part of States to get children out of armed groups and reintegrated into society. Education was another issue, with terrorist groups systematically planning attacks on schools and hospitals. Thousands of schools had remained closed due to security concerns and there were long-term consequences if schools were closed for even a short period.
The Committee also heard today from Marta Santos Pais, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, also briefed the Committee. Noting that the Sustainable Development Agenda included firm commitments towards eliminating violence against children, she said that for the first time, their human dignity and right to live free of violence, abuse and exploitation had been recognized as an international development priority.
Drawing a link between armed violence and its long-lasting impact on children’s rights and development, she said armed and gang violence had found fertile ground in places bedevilled by poverty, social exclusion, weak rule of law and failed governance institution. Protecting children from violence needed tangible national actions, and implementation of the 2030 Agenda could help build a world as big as a child’s dream.
Omar Abdi, Deputy Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), also made a presentation during the interactive segment. Introducing three reports on progress and challenges, he pointed out that children, who were the least responsible for ongoing crises, were the ones bearing the brunt of their effects. Going forward, he said, the Sustainable Development Goals were an opportunity to reach children who had been left behind by the Millennium Development Goals.
In the morning, the Committee concluded its discussion on the advancement of women.
Delivering statements were representatives of Botswana, Nepal, Albania, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iceland, Cameroon, Malawi, Ghana, Bangladesh, Croatia, Spain, Ethiopia, Norway, Benin, Mali, Azerbaijan, Zambia, Venezuela, Bulgaria, Rwanda, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Niger and Sierra Leone (for the African Group).
Also speaking were representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the International Organization for Migration, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Food and Agriculture Organization (on behalf of World Food Programme and the International Fund for Agriculture Development) and the International Labour Organization.
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were delegates from Japan, the Russian Federation, the Republic of Korea, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Georgia and Ukraine.
The Committee will reconvene on Thursday, 15 October, to continue its discussion on the rights of children.
The Committee then began its discussion on the promotion and protection of the rights of children. Before it were: the report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (document A/70/162); the report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (document A/70/222); and the annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (document A/70/289). It would also consider reports of the Secretary-General on the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (document A/70/315); and on follow-up to the outcome of the special session of the General Assembly on children (document A/70/265).
NKOLOI NKOLOI (Botswana) said women could make a significant contribution to the socioeconomic growth of the country when suitable conditions were created for their full and equal participation. To that end, Botswana had welcomed the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For its part, his country continued to enact legislation and review national policies with the aim of accelerating the implementation of the internationally agreed goals. Recently, the Government had adopted the National Policy on Gender and Development, which served as a spring-board for the implementation of Goal 5 of the Sustainable Development Goals.
SEWA LAMSAL ADHIKARI (Nepal) said her country had undertaken substantive efforts for the promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment in all spheres of life through the implementation of policies and legal frameworks. Since the adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, Nepal had made significant progress in the realization of women’s rights, including economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights. Further, Nepal attached great importance to the elimination of violence against women and girls. With its zero-tolerance policy, the Government had aimed at eliminating gender-based violence, discrimination and exclusion as well as trafficking in women and girls. Accordingly, Nepal had implemented the National Strategy and Action Plan on Gender-based Violence, and had become the first South Asian country to develop the national action plan on Security Council resolutions 1325 (2000) and 1820 (2008).
ERVIN NINA (Albania), aligning with the European Union, welcomed the Security Council’s debate held on 13 October to assess the implementation of its resolution 1325 (2000). In implementing the women, peace and security agenda, Albania had focused on the inclusion of women into law enforcement services. Albania had succeeded in increasing the participation of women in political affairs and decision-making processes. Challenges, however, remained and the Government was continuing its efforts to address employment gaps between men and women, persisting violence against women and their lack of access to education and health services. Albania was of the view that a new international instrument on violence against women was not a necessity. Indeed, the implementation of existing international and regional conventions was the way to combat such violence. There was an implementation gap, rather than a normative gap.
RI SONG CHOL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), aligning with the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, expressed his Government’s commitment to promote women’s empowerment through legislative measures encouraging their participation in politics, the economy, the military and culture. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had also implemented its international commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and was collaborating with the relevant treaty bodies and other United Nations agencies. He expressed concerns about Japan’s attitude concerning the issue of “comfort women”, which had constituted a crime of sexual slavery and a violation of international human rights law. He called on Japan to acknowledge, apologize and provide remedy to the victims of those crimes.
STEFANIA HROON GUDRUNARDOTTIR (Iceland) noted her country’s support for the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-Women) HeForShe campaign, in which the Prime Minister had taken a principal role. It was hoped that by June 2016, one in five men in Iceland would be a “HeForShe”. Men elsewhere in the world were encouraged to join the campaign. Gender equality was not a women’s issue, but a matter of human rights that concerned all mankind. Iceland, together with Suriname, intended to hold another “barbershop conference” at United Nations Headquarters in 2016 and would organize similar events at other international institutions. With regard to income inequality, Iceland was committed to closing the gender pay gap by 2022. The new parliamentary session in Iceland had the highest number of women ever; they now made up 44 per cent of the total number of parliamentarians. Politics needed women just as women needed politics, she said.
CÉCILE MBALLA EYENGA (Cameroon) reaffirmed her country’s commitment to making the 2030 Agenda a reality and to put women and girls at the centre of all its concerns. Cameroon had, for its part, undertaken a number of initiatives on education, health, violence against women and the promotion of gender equality. Important progress had been realized in improving conditions for women participating in political life, with the proportion of women parliamentarians slightly exceeding a 30 per cent quota. With regard to migrant women, the Government had established an interministerial committee to ensure the coordination of humanitarian action on the ground. Cameroon urged the international community to fully adhere to the Horizon 2030 programme and to reinforce partnerships towards the full realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.
LOT THAUZENI PANSIPADANA DZONZI (Malawi) said his country had a gender policy, which set out clear strategies on both gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Government, in that regard, had enacted laws in the areas of gender equality, marriage and divorce, family relations, prevention of domestic violence, child care, justice and trafficking in persons. With regard to violence against women, Malawi had a comprehensive programme that had set up more than 300 community victim support units with police stations and health care services. The major challenge in making progress, however, was the lack of a reliable base for economic empowerment and training in entrepreneurship and business skills.
MARTHA AMA AKYAA POBEE (Ghana), aligning with the Group of 77 and the African Group, endorsed the view that gender equality not only was a fundamental human right, but also a necessary foundation for a peaceful, sustainable and prosperous world. Providing women with education, health care, access to decent work and representation in political and economic decision-making processes fuelled sustainable economy for the benefit of societies and humanity. Presenting some of Ghana’s strides in the advancement of women, especially in the area of education, she said adopted measures had led to increased enrolment rates for girls. The Government had also launched a national campaign on child, early and forced marriage in order to abolish that practice and allow girls to remain in school. In addition, Ghana had recently launched the National Gender Policy to mainstream equality concerns into the national development process and to ensure that women fully participated in decision-making processes and governance.
ABULKALAM ABDUL MOMEN (Bangladesh), aligning with the Group of 77, expressed his Government’s commitment to the advancement of women, which was at the heart of its development agenda. Firmly believing that women’s empowerment simply was not possible without ensuring access to education, Bangladesh had made education free for girls up to grade 12. Stipends and free meals for female students from porter families had helped to achieve gender parity in primary and secondary schools. Of the National Parliament’s 350 members, 50 seats were reserved for women, he said, noting that women could also take part in elections. The fact that Bangladesh currently had a female prime minister illustrated the country’s commitment to women’s empowerment, he concluded.
MAJA SIMUNIC (Croatia) said a number of target measures had been introduced in her country to eliminate gender discrimination. Extremists and terrorist groups had been subjecting women to hideous abuses, with subordination being a common component of their tactics, messaging and violence. Studies had found a strong correlation between levels of conflict and gender inequality. For that reason, Croatia was striving to put gender at the centre of its work on conflict, stability and security. It was applying lessons from the experiences of women and girls in conflict, using help from international organizations and civil society to understand the situation on the ground and to create best practices in protecting and empowering women and girls. The 2030 Agenda could not be achieved without gender equality. The question was how to translate political commitments into support for women’s empowerment, she said.
JUAN MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DE LINARES PALOU (Spain) noted how his country had made women, peace and security a priority during its presidency of the Security Council. Resolution 2242 (2015), adopted yesterday, would help to bridge the gap between theory and practice. Spain had adopted a zero-tolerance approach towards sexual violence involving members of its armed forces and security forces participating in international missions. Violence against women was a serious manifestation of gender-based discrimination and Spain had adopted a national strategy towards its eradication. The Government was also committed to working towards equal opportunity for men and women and the participation of women in political, economic and social life.
FESSEHA A. TESSEMA (Ethiopia) said positive progress had been made globally in advancing the rights of women in terms of poverty reduction, provision of basic services, participation in decision making and the creation of institutional mechanisms. However, high incidents of violence, extremism, exclusion, discrimination and trafficking of women still remained as a grave concern, which should be addressed at the national and international level. For its part, the Government had designed and implemented constitutional provisions, policies, packages and plans. To ensure women’s equal access to land, landholding certificates had been issued jointly in the names of husband and wife. Further, to enhance women’s access to home ownership, 30 per cent of the urban public condominiums had been allocated solely for women.
TONE SKOGEN (Norway) said the Conference on Financing for Development, the Sustainable Development Goals and climate negotiations made 2015 a landmark year. Essential and demanding processes required ambitious leadership, also on gender equality, which meant eradicating violence against women. Too many girls and women were victims of violence at home, school and work. Norway was strongly committed to ending female genital mutilation and child marriage through making financial contributions to partner countries and international organizations. She stressed that the goal of gender equality would not be reached by 2030, if the issue continued to be discussed mostly among women. Norway, therefore, called on boys and men to become champions for gender equality. She was proud that all the male ministers in the Government had joined the UN-Women HeForShe campaign and were taking a stand for gender equality.
THIERRY ALIA (Benin) said women played an essential role in society, and the Government had taken a number of steps to protect and empower them, including the adoption of plans of action and the establishment of mechanisms charged with addressing their needs. Benin had also adopted measures to reduce maternal mortality and combat malaria. With regard to education, public primary schools were free and the enrolment rate of girls had increased. Measures were also being taken to involve women in revenue-generating activities. With regard to violence against women, he said that the Constitution enshrined the rights of women and the protection of human dignity. Benin would continue to implement initiatives to achieve structural reforms that would further increase the participation of women in decision-making processes and awareness-raising projects to change mindsets and promote a more proactive role of women in all spheres of society.
SIDIKY KOITA (Mali) said the country had spared no effort to improve the status of women, including through the adhesion of international instruments and the adoption of legislative texts for their implementation. Despite the security crisis in Mali that had begun in 2012, the Government had achieved significant progress in improving the status of women, access to education and maternal health, and reducing child mortality. The Government had also undertaken targeted measures to respond to the needs of rural women, ensuring their equal access to economic resources. The Government would continue to combat discriminatory sociocultural practices, which hindered women’s participation in development efforts. Women in Mali were represented in the Government at all levels, parliament and military forces. Actions had been taken to include women into peacebuilding efforts, in compliance with Security Council resolution 1325 (2000). In closing, he appealed to the international community for support for Mali in implementing the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement.
GUNAY RAHIMOVA (Azerbaijan) said the employment rate among women in Azerbaijan had been growing and efforts were being made towards more gender balance in science, technology and engineering. The Government actively supported programs that enabled women and girls to enjoy their fundamental human rights. Measures had been introduced to address domestic violence; early forced marriage had been criminalized and work was under way to promote the inclusion of internally displaced persons into society. Turning to security issues, she said parties involved in armed conflict had an obligation to protect innocent civilians, including women and girls. It was illegal and immoral to use gender-based violence as a tactic of war. There would be no tolerance of such acts; perpetrators had to be brought to justice and impunity ended.
MWABA PATRICIA KASESE-BOTA (Zambia), aligning with the African Group and the Non-Aligned Movement, said his country was finalizing legislation that would promote gender equality and equity and stimulate productive resources for both men and women. It would also set out measures for eliminating all forms of discrimination against women and girls. Labour laws were being reviewed in order to protect women against workplace exploitation and violence. Fast-track courts had been established on a pilot basis to handle cases of gender-based violence. Most victims ended up on the doorsteps of the health care system, which could play a central role in addressing gender-based violence. Zambia faced several challenges, and any kind of help from the international community to address those challenges was appreciated, he said.
ANA CAROLINA RODRÍGUEZ DE FEBRES-CORDERO (Venezuela) recalled the legacy of the Bolivarian Revolution in terms of women’s rights and presented her country’s progress towards achieving a democratic model that viewed women as an equal part of the society. Venezuela was a party to international instruments on the advancement of women and had taken concrete measures to ensure equal opportunities, including for indigenous women, to combat violence against women, protect breast-feeding and reduce maternal mortality. The current National Human Rights Plan contained specific references to the rights of women. Venezuela had also taken measures to improve the participation of women in public affairs and decision-making processes. Turning to education, she said girls’ enrolment rate was 93 per cent in primary schools and 79 per cent in secondary schools.
STEPHAN TAFROV (Bulgaria) said women had full and equal participation in his country’s decision-making processes. Women were largely represented within the Government, local administrations, parliament and the judiciary. The Constitution promoted equal rights to men and women. International treaties and European norms on gender equality were fully integrated into Bulgaria’s domestic law and legislative measures, and policies had been adopted to ensure their implementation. Bulgaria warmly supported the Planet 50‑50 initiative launched by UN-Women. It was important to combat negative gender stereotypes, he said, underlining his country’s commitment to continue ongoing efforts to do so.
JEANNE D’ARC BYAJE (Rwanda) said it would take more than slogans to move forward with regard to gender equality and empowerment of women. Africa in particular was not starting in a vacuum, as reflected by the declaration of the African Women’s Decade. The twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration was an opportunity to take stock of what had been achieved so far. Gender equality and empowerment of women were prerequisites for development and security, and special attention must be given to the most vulnerable. Measures undertaken by Rwanda at the national level addressed education of girls, reduction of maternal and infant mortality, mother-to-child HIV transmission and the ability of women to legally have assets separate from their spouses.
JASEM K. S. HARARI (Libya), supporting the Group of 77 and the African Group, said his country was committed to implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women at the national level. Women had participated in decision-making processes throughout the transitional period in Libya and currently occupied 32 seats in Parliament. The involvement of women in the Libyan electoral campaign had been surprising. Libya, however, was gravely concerned about the deterioration of the humanitarian situation of Palestinian women; they faced discrimination and racist practices on the part of Israel, the occupying Power. It was important for the international community to take up its responsibilities and protect the rights of Palestinian women.
FATIMA ALSHUBAILI (Saudi Arabia) outlined initiatives aimed at ensuring women’s equal opportunities and access to education, information and communication technologies, and guaranteeing women’s participation in a range of development programmes on an equal footing with men. Women could serve their country while maintaining their Muslim identity. Women occupied high posts in a number of sectors and were given the right to participate in decision-making processes. The Government had attempted to reinforce women’s participation in the Chancellery of Saudi Arabia and within executive bodies. Saudi Arabia had removed obstacles preventing the participation of women, including through intensifying awareness programmes on their important contribution to development. Saudi Arabia was protecting all human rights, pursuant to its domestic law, including for civil society activists.
AICHA ISSOUFOU (Niger) thanked UN-Women for its contribution to integrating gender equality in intergovernmental processes. Niger was, more than ever before, committed to implementing the Beijing Declaration and encouraging other States to do so as well. With regard to trafficking persons, a national agency had been established to combat the problem, and a national commission established to coordinate anti-trafficking activities. Following a number of studies on the causes and consequences of violence against women, the State and its partners had undertaken a number of measures that included the creation of legal aid clinics for victims. There had been significant advances in women’s participation in politics; Niger now had 8 female government ministers, 10 chiefs of diplomatic missions and 15 members of parliament. Such small steps would become big strides.
ANN KYUNG UN DEER of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said despite significant progress made since the adoption of the United Nations Security council resolution 1325 (2000), much still remained to be done to ensure the protection of women. As the Committee worked in the field, it witnessed the first-hand devastating effects of conflict on women and girls. They were particularly vulnerable to forced displacement and random and targeted acts of violence. States, in that regard, had the primary responsibility to respect the international humanitarian law by integrating the principles of the protection of women and the prevention of violence against them.
JAMES BUCKLEY of the Observer Mission of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta said women and girls who experienced violence suffered a range of health problems, and their ability to participate in public life was diminished. Since 1996, the Order of Malta had been active in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where it ran numerous health, education, agricultural and social projects, helping to provide victims of rape with a safe haven, counselling and skill training. The Order of Malta was active in more than 30 countries in Africa, including through projects on combatting HIV/AIDS, ensuring access to education and empowering young disadvantaged women in African slums. It was committed to the advancement of women in societies throughout the world, in collaboration with the United Nations, Member States, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders.
ASHRAF EL NOUR of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said women represented about half of the international migrant population and faced specific vulnerabilities that could not be ignored, including risks of exploitation and violence. Women with an irregular migrant status, such as domestic workers and trafficked persons, were disproportionately exposed to violence and degrading living and working conditions. They often could not exercise their right to health and were therefore exposed to multiple risks, including to their sexual and reproductive health. The situation of internally displaced women, refugees, returnees and other groups caught in crisis situations was also of particular concern. Those women were unable to access essential prevention and continued care for pregnancy, childbirth emergencies and psychosocial support and mental health needs. He underlined the importance of awareness-raising activities on risks and rights, as it was important for departing migrants to receive sufficient information on their rights, on how to protect themselves and on what to do in case of violations.
DANIELLE LARRABEE of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) welcomed the new Sustainable Development Goals and the updated global strategy for health for women, children and adolescents. To succeed in securing the health and well-being of all, the international community needed to do better to reach those groups affected by humanitarian crisis. Indeed, more than 50 per cent of maternal and child deaths occurred in countries affected by conflict, disaster and fragility, where health systems had collapsed. Accordingly, she called on all stakeholders to ensure that during emergencies there was an immediate and increased access to essential supplies and commodities. For its part, IFRC stood ready to support the reach to the most vulnerable and marginalized women, children and adolescents through 189 national societies and 17 million volunteers worldwide.
CARLA MUCAVI of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), on behalf of the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), said women represented 43 per cent of the worldwide agricultural work force; in some countries, that proportion was as high as 70 per cent. Rural women often worked longer hours, and they were also the caregivers in their immediate and extended families. Most of their earnings went to their families and communities. There was, however, limited access to agricultural resources, credit, health care, education, food and nutrition, and the political process. The 2030 Agenda was a means to address that distortion. Outlining the support given to rural women by the United Nations food agencies, she said much had been achieved, but much more could be done with greater resources. To show their support, States were invited to participate in the International Day of Rural Women and World Food Day on 15 and 16 October respectively.
KEVIN CASSIDY, of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said it was undeniably clear that women’s empowerment and gender equality were essential for sustainable development, inclusive economic growth and lasting peace and security. The arc of development, with its challenges and successes, had led the international community to finally accelerate the mainstreaming of gender perspectives into all institutional functions of the United Nations system. For its part, ILO was committed to women’s economic empowerment primarily through increasing their labour force participation and creating opportunities for decent work. Recent ILO estimates had shown that low labour force participation rates for women represented an enormous loss of opportunity for economic empowerment of women. To give more visibility to gender equality in the world of work, the Organization had launched the Women at Work initiative to go beyond “business as usual” and to increase the understanding of progress on decent work for women.
Right of Reply
Exercising the right of reply, the representative of Japan, responding to statements made by his counterparts from the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said the issue of compensation, property and claims relating to the Second World War, including with regard to “comfort women”, had been settled by the San Francisco Peace Treaty and other agreements. Moreover, the leaders of Japan and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had agreed to discuss the issue during normalization talks. The report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women included criticisms and recommendations that Japan could not accept.
The delegate from the Russian Federation, exercising the right of reply, responded to statements made by her counterparts from Georgia and Ukraine. She said Abkhazia and South Ossetia were independent states and that Ukraine was trying to find a foreign enemy on which it could heap blame for the suffering of its people.
Exercising the right of reply, the representative of the Republic of Korea said the issue of so-called “comfort women” was still unresolved. It was an error that the Government of Japan should recognize and accept responsibility for. It was an issue that required full accountability, not a mere financial remedy.
Responding, in exercise of the right of reply, the representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said Japan had been persistently denying its past criminal history.
The delegate of Georgia, exercising the right of reply, responded to her counterpart from the Russian Federation, saying the Committee had just heard from the occupying Power in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian occupation practices were not limited to Georgian territory. Women and girls were entitled to rights under conventions to which Russia was a party, she said, recalling the definition of military occupation.
Exercising its right of reply, the delegate from Ukraine considered the situation in his country as an act of foreign aggression by the Russian Federation, with Russian forces attacking and capturing Ukrainian soldiers on the sovereign territory of Ukraine. He welcomed the overwhelming support by other countries to the release of those being detained by Russian forces.
The representative of Japan, taking the floor for a second time, recalled that Japan’s Prime Minister had already acknowledged past crimes and reiterated Japan’s full awareness of its moral responsibility.
Also taking the floor again, the speaker from the Republic of Korea urged Japan to work towards uncovering the issue of so-called “comfort women” as a historical lesson to prevent non-recurrence.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, taking the floor again, reiterated that Japan should address past crimes, including sexual slavery, against Korean residents.
Interactive Dialogue on Rights of Children
The Committee then began consideration of the promotion and protection of the rights of children, including the introduction of reports and an interactive discussion.
LEILA ZERROUGUI, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, introducing her report, said the plight of children had worsened. In the past two weeks, the Central African Republic had relapsed into violence, sparked by the murder of a 16-year-old boy. The situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated in Kunduz, where many children had been killed and injured. The ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq and rising tensions and violence in the State of Palestine and Israel showed no signs of abating. In Nigeria and neighbouring countries, Boko Haram continued to conduct frequent suicide attacks, often using young girls. In Yemen, aerial bombardments and ground combat had intensified, and the number of child casualties was appalling. In South Sudan, a new peace agreement had been recently signed, including provisions for child protection. The situation, however, remained precarious, with continued violations of ceasefire arrangements.
The report had also highlighted the prevalence of groups that perpetrated extreme violence. Those groups had committed unspeakable atrocities against children, testing the response capacity of national authorities and the international community alike. Recognizing the challenges faced by States, she noted that responses that had not complied with the international law had risked aiding the groups that Governments had sought to combat. Education was a key factor in countering the extremist discourse of those groups and in reducing the risk of radicalization. It was unfortunate that the right to a quality education had been compromised for millions of children affected by conflicts, she said, adding that thousands of schools had been destroyed and damaged in Yemen and Syria. The reporting period had also witnessed a substantial increase in the number and scale of the abduction of children. Further, arrest and detention of children on security charges and without due process was another area affecting thousands of children in today’s conflicts. In light of the continued increase in grave violations against children, accountability was critical for preventing further violations and providing redress to victims.
Despite the daunting challenges children had faced over the past year, important progress had been achieved. The Children, Not Soldiers campaign had continued, with strong support from Member States, regional organizations, United Nations partners and civil society. Building on the steady progress to date, the international community needed to redouble efforts to catalyse continued advancements in the coming year. Turning to her field visits, she said she had engaged in dialogue with several Governments, including in the campaign countries. The visits had facilitated the establishment of a monitoring and reporting mechanism in Nigeria, advanced the implementation of an action plan in Myanmar and allowed successful advocacy for the release of children in Somalia. Concluding, she hoped to continue to strengthen relationships with all stakeholders to sustain efforts to protect children.
When the floor opened, delegates raised concerns, asking questions about preventing the recruitment of soldiers and their reintegration into society; challenges facing children involved with extremist and terrorist groups, including the indoctrination they were subjected to; mechanisms to ensure accountability for perpetrators of violence against children during armed conflicts; the involvement of children in mediation and peace processes; preventing and responding to allegations of child abuse by United Nations peacekeepers; protecting schools and the right to education during armed conflicts; and the links between the reintegration of children involved in armed conflicts and the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.
Responding, Ms. ZERROUGUI said it was very encouraging to hear Member States asking what more they could do. It was significant that the issue had been broadly discussed at national and international levels. As children were the future of nations, States needed to ensure ceasefires and get children out of armed groups. Children released from such groups, she added, needed to be reintegrated and that was the weakest part of the work on the ground.
Another issue was education, she continued. Attacks on schools and hospitals had been systematically planned by terrorist groups, spreading fear among the society that the schools were not safe places to be. Thousands of schools had not reopened due to insecurity, interrupting access to education for millions of children. The impact of attacks on education even after a short period of hostilities had long-term consequences. On the Children, Not Soldiers campaign, she asked for strong support from Member States, regional organizations, United Nations partners and civil society.
Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Tunisia, United Kingdom, Algeria, Colombia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Norway, Switzerland, Estonia, Chad, Morocco, Austria, Mexico, Malaysia, United States, Germany, Yemen, Venezuela, Israel, Myanmar and Côte d’Ivoire, as well as the European Union and the State of Palestine.
MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, said the new Sustainable Development Agenda had an ambitious and inspiring vision and concrete commitments towards the elimination of all forms of violence against children. She welcomed the fact that, for the very first time, the human dignity of children and their right to live free of violence, abuse and exploitation had been recognized as a distinct priority on the international development agenda. That, in itself, was a historic achievement, she said, insisting that it came with a special responsibility. The voice of children was crucial in coordinating the vision reflected in the 2030 Agenda, and children were eager to playing an essential role in the process of its implementation. They had a clear vision of the world they wanted, with growing up free from violence being one of their top priorities.
Millions of girls and boys of all ages and in all regions continued to be exposed to appalling levels of violence, in their neighbourhoods, schools, institutions aimed at their care and protection and also within the family, she continued. In her annual report, special attention had been paid to the protection of children from armed violence in the community. That complex phenomenon illustrated well the pervasiveness and corrosive nature of violence and its cumulative and long-lasting impact on children’s development and rights. Gang and armed violence had found fertile ground in communities with high levels of poverty, social exclusion, weak rule of law and failed governance institutions. It had led to exclusion, stigmatization and violence. Schools had become the targets of attacks and a source of recruitment of new gang members, health centres had been drained of their ability to take care of children and households had been affected by the loss of family members. Where employment opportunities were lacking, joining a gang could be perceived as an alternative for protection and survival. Armed violence had long-term negative effects on child victims and weakened the very foundation of social progress.
Protecting children from violence was an imperative that required tangible national actions, she said. Referring to positive steps and good practices, she commended those States that had adopted a comprehensive and explicit ban on all forms of violence against children, a national strategy to prevent and address violence against them and measures to train personnel dealing children. It was also important to enhance access to legal counselling and consolidate the collection of data and research. As the international community would commemorate in 2016 the tenth anniversary of the United Nations Study on Violence against Children, efforts had to be redoubled to accelerate progress towards a world free from violence. She insisted on the importance of better data and enhanced national capacities to measure progress in children’s exposure to and protection from violence. Concluding, she stressed that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda could help build a world as big as children’s dreams.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, several delegates asked for more information about the promotion and protection of the rights of children and adolescents; strengthening national and regional frameworks; practical ways to implement recommendations; promotion of safety in schools; children in legal proceedings; the role of the international community in building a more effective juvenile justice system; and the use of new technologies to promote children’s rights. Representatives also asked about the rapporteur’s priorities in 2016; cooperation between Member States under the 2030 Agenda; children subjected to sexual violence in armed conflicts; reintegration of children into the society; prevention of violence against children; dissemination of information; and bullying.
Responding, Ms. SANTOS PAIS said 2016 would be an important year for the early stages of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Governments and other stakeholders, such as civil society organizations, development agencies, statisticians and religious leaders, would play a decisive role in elaborating plans, targets and indicators in joint efforts, with of course the involvement of children. Strengthening normative frameworks was an important aspect of the international efforts relating to the protection of children from violence. The role of regional organizations was highly important in that regard, she said, while welcoming the ratification by States of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its additional protocols.
It was fundamental to translate political commitments made with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda into concrete actions for its implementation. The question of indicators would be crucial for measuring progress achieved. Indicators had to capture all forms of violence and address concerns of all children. There was a need to empower children to allow them to report violence they may be subjected to, including bullying and cyberbullying. Training education personnel on those issues was also crucial, she said. Engaging at all levels was critical, and communities and their leaders played a fundamental role in that regard.
Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Brazil, Chile, Panama, Mexico, Japan, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Morocco, Dominican Republic, United States, Portugal, Cuba, Norway, Spain, Maldives, Colombia, and Singapore as well as the European Union.
OMAR ABDI, Deputy Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said the three reports he was presenting showed both progress and challenges. For millions of children, life was better, but others had not shared in progress. The lives of 15 million children had been upended last year by conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ukraine and the State of Palestine. Children, who were the least responsible for those crises, were the ones bearing the brunt of their effects. The Sustainable Development Goals were an opportunity to reach children who had been left behind by the Millennium Development Goals.
With regard to education, both access and quality were matters of concern, he said. More investment was a moral imperative and a practical necessity, as more schooling would translate into higher personal income and gross domestic product. The vast majority of the 59 million children out of school were girls; such girls were far more likely to encounter poor health, poverty and early marriage. Barriers to girls’ education included water and sanitation; girls in rural communities had been known to carry 20-kg containers of water for longer distances, making them vulnerable to personal injury and attack. Poor sanitation hindered their ability to manage menstruation, thus reinforcing stereotypes and prejudices. With investments and political will, progress could be made. Nearly all of the Sustainable Development Goals depended on reaching the world’s most disadvantaged children.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, several delegates asked for more information about the right to education, including the education of Arab students in Israel; the road map for global education until 2030; and the establishment of quality education systems to eliminate the discriminatory practices against children.
Responding, Mr. ABDI referred to the shelter programmes and policies initiated for children in Africa. The participation of children should not be artificial, but should be real and concrete, he stressed.
Participating in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Zimbabwe, Israel, and Cameroon.
EBUN ADEBOLA STRASSER KING (Sierra Leone), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that the world’s poorest children were four times more likely to not go to school than the world’s richest children and five times more likely not to complete primary school. A world that invested in its children and in which every child grew up free from violence enhanced the full realization or human potential. While accessibility to education for children in conflict-affected settings was critical, “pilot peacebuilding and education programmes focusing on reaching children and youth in and out of school, with conflict-sensitive orientation” should be strengthened, she stressed.