Urgent Action Needed to Address Impact of Conflict on Children, Ensure None Left Behind, Special Representatives Tell Third Committee
Concluding Debate on Advancement of Women, Delegates Begin Considering Promotion, Protection of Child Rights
Urgent action would be required of Member States, the United Nations system and all stakeholders in order to avoid losing future generations and to address the devastating impact of conflict and other crises on children, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today.
As the Committee began its consideration of the promotion and protection of the rights of young people, Special Representative Leila Zerrougui said the international community could make greater collective efforts to protect children. Emphasizing the daunting nature of reducing the impact of conflict on children, she said the means and methods of warfare exacerbated the challenges of protecting them. The situations in South Sudan and Syria were of grave concern, she noted while citing the progress made in the release of child soldiers by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
It was necessary to uphold due process and the rule of law in conflict situations, she said, adding that laws could not fall silent or children would suffer even more. Calling for more psychosocial support and assistance in reintegration, she said several trends were particularly alarming, including the increased number of attacks on hospitals and the use of explosive devices in conflict. To prevent the violation of children’s rights, a more in-depth understanding of international humanitarian law and relevant human rights instruments was needed at the national level, she said, encouraging Member States to harness the Sustainable Development Goals so as to create partnerships and mobilize resources for the protection of children
Following that presentation, delegates engaged in a question-and-answer session with the Special Representative, with some reiterating their concerns about the ongoing recruitment of child soldiers and the increased number of non-State groups using them. They also expressed grave concern over increasing attacks on hospitals and underlined the need to keep children in schools.
In her response, the Special Representative said it was encouraging to hear Member States express their strong support for children and their willingness to carry their efforts further. Highlighting best practices emerging from her work with Governments, military and police forces, she said national action plans and roadmaps were crucial in assessing gaps and designing a way forward. There was also need for appropriate birth-registration and age-verification mechanisms to systematize and strengthen child protection.
The Committee also heard from Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, who noted with concern that the early implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals was not living up to the high expectations with regard to inclusivity and “leaving no child behind”. It was important to gather disaggregated data in order to address gaps in child protection and to be able to respond to violence against children in a comprehensive manner, she emphasized. She also highlighted the negative effects of bullying, saying it was exacerbated by greater access to information and communications technologies.
In a question-and-answer session, some delegates asked the Special Representative what could be done to integrate displaced children into ongoing programming, while others asked what more could be done to address persistent violence as well as new and emerging challenges, including cyberbullying.
Omar Abdi, Deputy Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), introduced the Secretary-General’s reports on: the status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; Collaboration within the United Nations on child Protection; and on the follow-up to the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children. While acknowledging the progress made, he emphasized the need for greater efforts to increase the number of vaccinations, ensure access to food and sanitation and protect children on the move.
In the morning, the Committee concluded its discussion on the advancement of women, hearing from representatives of Tonga, Madagascar, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Eritrea, Romania, El Salvador and Togo.
Also speaking were officials representing the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
Speaking in exercise of the right of reply were representatives of Japan, Russian Federation, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Ukraine.
The Third Committee will reconvene on at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 13 October, to continue its discussion on the rights of children.
The Third Committee met this morning to consider the promotion and protection of the rights of children. Before it were reports of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (document A/71/41); the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (document A/71/205); and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children (document A/71/206).
Also before the Committee were several reports of the Secretary-General on: Protecting Children from Bullying (document A/71/213); Child, Early and Forced Marriage (document A/71/253); Collaboration within the United Nations system on child protection (document A/71/277); and the Follow-up to the outcome of the special session of the General Assembly on children (document A/71/175); as well as a Note on the Sale of Children, child prostitution and child pornography (document A/71/261).
The Committee was expected to conclude its debate on the advancement of women. For more information, see Press Release GA/SHC/4167.
Statements on the advancement of women
MAHE’ULI’ULI SANDHURST TUPOUNIUA (Tonga) said that although his country had announced its commitment to accede to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women last year, it had received push-back from a number of stakeholders which had delayed that process. Nonetheless, Tonga was committed to ensuring the protection and promotion of women. The country’s three priorities in that regard were increasing women’s political participation, ending violence against women and women’s economic empowerment. As a result of Government efforts, more women had been elected to Government positions. The country also had improved existing legislative frameworks and response measures to incidents involving violence against women, including providing training to the police.
HANTASOA FIDA CYRILLE KLEIN (Madagascar), aligning herself with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), said her country had adopted laws to protect women who had been subjected to violence and discrimination. The Government had taken initiatives to ensure the equal participation of women and girls, men and boys. Further, the national human rights commission had been tasked to advance women’s rights and investigate human rights violations, she said, stressing the importance of education and health in that context.
SVEN JÜRGENSON (Estonia) urged tackling persistent obstacles, as the roots of discrimination and violence could often be found in attitudes and behaviours. Indeed, the negative effects of stereotypes must be addressed. Early interventions and education had been most successful in bringing about change, he said, and the reporting of human rights violations could help Governments to improve laws and policies. As stated in the Sustainable Developments Goals, it was critical that women were provided with education and access to technology in order to contribute fully and effectively to economic and social development. He also noted the importance of eliminating violence against women.
ZEBIB GEBREKIDAN (Eritrea), endorsing the position of the African Group, said that Eritrean independence would not have been possible without the role played by women. The national gender policy aimed at protecting women’s rights and ensuring gender-sensitive policies. Access to education and economic empowerment were top priorities. As violence and discrimination against women were among the most prevalent forms of human rights violations, the Government was closely working with the National Union of Eritrean Women to combat violence against women and girls in all its manifestations, including a legal ban on female genital mutilation and a campaign to eliminate underage marriage.
GUNAY RAHIMOVA (Azerbaijan) said recent refugee and migrant flows had exposed women and children to greater risks of falling into the hands of human traffickers. Welcoming the adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, she also commended the mainstreaming of gender equality and women’s empowerment in the 2030 Agenda. In Azerbaijan, domestic legislation had been strengthened by the adoption of a law preventing domestic violence and amendments to the criminal code criminalizing trafficking, including a provision on forced and child marriages. Azerbaijan had also launched a country-wide online database on violence against women.
Mr. STANESCU (Romania), associating himself with the European Union, said no country was immune to violence against women and domestic violence in general. One-third of the global population had been victims of domestic violence, which hampered peoples’ right to life, safety and freedom. Violence affected not only the victim but the entire society, and as such, addressing it required an integrated approach involving politicians, mass media and civil society. After signing the Convention on Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence in 2014, Romania had worked to integrate it into national legislation. While Parliament was important in such work, the role of the European Affairs Commission was also pivotal. Legal frameworks and policies should empower girls by promoting their equal access to education and combating harmful practices against them, she asserted.
RUBÉN IGNACIO ZAMORA RIVAS (El Salvador), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, and CELAC, stressed the importance of gender equality and empowerment to development, governance, peace and democracy. El Salvador had made women’s empowerment a priority under its development plan 2014-2019. In particular, the Government was concerned about the needs of the most vulnerable women, including the elderly, migrants and refugees. Migration offered the possibility to promote more equitable growth and human development. Yet, women and girls faced many obstacles during migration – ill treatment, exploitation violence and even death. Women migrant workers were also vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of their employers. The Government had taken legislative measures to advance the rights of rural women. In the last nine years, he noted, the number of women who had received title to their land was more than seven times what it had been in the previous 30 years.
ABD-EL KADER YASMIN TCHALARE (Togo), associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, described progress made since the 1995 adoption of the Beijing Plan of Action. The Government had integrated women as important actors in national policy-making, having paid particular attention to the education of women and girls as a way to facilitate their participation into economic and political life. To increase their access to education, financial support had been made available. In addition, Togo had raised awareness about the need to protect women, as positive attitudes were crucial for achieving inclusive, sustainable development. The electoral code also had been amended, and the number of women elected had increased.
DANIELLE LARRABEE, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), said that while progress in the advancement and protection of women had been made, global crises continued to threaten such achievements. Women were disproportionately affected by human rights violations during conflict. High rates of maternal mortality were not acceptable, she said, stressing that IFRC had made every effort to reach all women and children, including through mobile clinics. To address gender-based violence, she called on States to examine their laws, policies and practices to ensure the adequate protection of all women in crisis situations.
VINCIUS PINHEIRO, Special Representative and Director, International Labour Office, said the world of work was a privileged entry point to set in motion the transformations necessary to end violence against women and provide the conditions for women’s empowerment and equality, as called for by the 2030 Agenda. The Office had adopted a number of legally binding conventions, developed codes of conduct, management tools and guidelines towards those aims, placing the issue of violence against women and men in the world of work on its 2018 international conference agenda. Ahead of its hundredth anniversary in 2019, the Office had launched a “Women at Work Centenary” initiative renewing its commitment to promoting gender equality.
Right of Reply
The representative of Japan, speaking in exercise of the right of reply to statements by his counterpart from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, said that the latter’s claims with regard to Japan were based on an erroneous understanding of the facts.
The representative of the Russian Federation, responding to remarks by her counterpart from Ukraine, said that the reunification of Crimea with the Russian Federation had taken place in full accordance with international law. The Ukrainian delegate’s statement had no relation to the issue at hand and demonstrated how any topic could be politicized. Recalling that more than 1 million Ukrainians had sought refuge in the Russian Federation since the beginning of the terrorist operation in south Ukraine, she asked her Ukrainian counterpart of clarify his method for calculating the number of refugees.
The representative of Ukraine said the Russian delegation could attempt to convince others that the Russian Federation had nothing to do with aggression towards Ukraine, but facts to the contrary had been recognized by the General Assembly. Nobody in the room – not even the Russians – needed to be convinced of that, as they were fully aware of the facts. The conflict in Crimea had been fully supported and financed by the Russian Federation. Ukraine was hosting 1.8 million internally displaced people.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea rejected the accusation made by his Japanese counterpart. Japan should admit to its crimes against humanity and crimes committed against the Korean people, such as its abductions and massacres, and forcing of 200,000 women and girls into sexual slavery for the imperial army. Moreover, Japan had blocked family reunifications by barring Korean residents of Japan from traveling to their homeland. Japan must apologize for those human rights violations.
The representative of Japan reiterated his Government’s position. In the 70 years since the Second World War, Japan had sought to build a free and democratic nation that respected human rights and the rule of law. Japan had supported peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region and would continue to do so.
The representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea replied that instead of trying to cover up its past crimes, Japan should acknowledge its responsibility.
The representative of the Russian Federation urged the Ukrainian delegation to cease politicizing the present discussion, which was dedicated to the advancement of women and not issues of territorial integrity.
The representative of Ukraine denied that accusation, drawing attention to General Assembly resolution 68/262, adopted in 2014, on the territorial integrity of Ukraine. All States had committed to the rules of the United Nations; therefore, he urged the Russian Federation to follow those rules and to act in line with its commitments.
Interactive Dialogue on Rights of Children
The Committee then began its 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 that the international community faced a daunting task to reduce the impact of armed conflict on children. The means and methods of warfare used by some parties to conflict had killed and maimed thousands of children, and forced millions to flee in search of a safer environment. The unspeakable plight of children in South Sudan, Syria and Yemen illustrated the gravity of the situation and the urgent need for action. To be sure, progress had been made. In Colombia, for example, the separation of children from Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) was ongoing. In Sudan, the Government had released 21 children, while in Somalia, Puntland authorities had agreed to release 26 children associated with al-Shabaab.
“Coordinated and sustained advocacy by all actors has led to results, but it is not enough,” she said, stressing that the treatment of children separated from armed groups was among the most pressing concerns. Children were being used for intelligence gathering, placing them in grave danger and compromising their future reintegration. Similarly, arbitrary detention was being used by some States and she expressed support for the General Assembly’s resolution on the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy Review, which called for fair, humane, transparent and accountable criminal justice systems.
Reintegration of separated children was crucial to ensure durable peace, security and development, she said, underscoring the important role of the Committee and Member States in persuading Governments to provide the support for reintegration programmes. Psychosocial support for children required further resources, both technical and financial. She voiced concern over the proliferation of actors involved in armed conflict and a corresponding increase in aerial operations, especially as the repeated killing and maiming of children were often linked to the use of explosive weapons with wide effects in populated areas. Further, healthcare institutions and workers were also frequent casualties of such munitions.
She went on to express concern about the increasing use of militia and armed groups by Governments, emphasizing that the progress achieved in increasing children’s protection had been jeopardized by the ‘outsourcing’ of conflict. “As different components of the United Nations, we must make a more compelling case to Governments that heavy-handed responses are dangerously counterproductive to their own interests of security, development and prosperity,” she said, as Governments’ violations of international law was a main driver of recruitment for armed groups.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, several speakers decried the growing number of attacks on hospitals and schools - and further - their use as sources for recruiting child soldiers. Many welcomed the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign, initiated in 2014 by the Special Representative and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), as well as the Safe Schools Declaration, which opened for States’ endorsement in 2015. Several delegates asked about the most serious challenges children faced in conflict and post-conflict settings, and for guidance on overcoming them.
The representative of Liechtenstein asked how the Special Representative evaluated the independence of her mandate, and how children and unaccompanied minors could best be protected from human trafficking.
An observer of the State of Palestine asked the Special Representative how the international community could provide protection for children living under Israeli occupation, and further, whether she planned to visit Palestine soon.
The representative of Slovenia asked the Special Representative how she envisioned “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign taking shape beyond the present year.
The representative of Lithuania asked what additional steps Member States could take to ensure the reintegration of children recruited during armed conflict.
The representative of South Africa asked the Special Representative how to strengthen respect for international humanitarian law in respect of children in armed conflict.
The representative of Australia asked what the Special Representative considered to be the greatest constraints on United Nations efforts to protect the rights of children in armed conflict.
The representative of Switzerland asked how the Special Representative evaluated the consequences of Security Council resolution 2286 (2016) – on protection of civilians in armed conflict – in relation to the protection of medical missions. She also asked her to evaluate the possibility of emphasizing children in the upcoming global compact on refugees.
Ms. ZERROUGUI, addressing the question on recruitment of child soldiers by non-State actors, said the “Children, Not Soldiers” campaign had never aimed to end the problem completely, but it had achieved a lot. There had been setbacks in some countries, such as Yemen and South Sudan, but Member States did not question the legitimacy of the goal. Holding a meaningful discussion with the military was of crucial importance, she said, adding, however, that only when Governments used best practices could there be engagement with non-State actors. She singled out the peace agreement in Colombia as a best practice, saying it had three guiding principles, one of which was the priority accorded to children’s reintegration into their communities.
The representative of Austria asked for an explanation of best practices for capacity building in child protection.
The representative of the Russian Federation said the biggest problem facing children in armed conflict was from non-State armed groups and asked what steps would be most effective to regularize the situation on the ground.
The representative of Yemen asked how his country could continue its campaign in light of the present conflict there.
The representative of Syria asked why references to Saudi Arabia and Israel had been withdrawn from the report. He also asked why the report stated that there were only 83 refugees in Qatar.
The representative of Estonia asked the Special Representative to offer practical short-term solutions that Member States could apply to improve the situation of children in armed conflict, given the longer-term nature of many armed conflicts. She also asked what could be done to reintegrate detained children accused of involvement in non-State armed groups, in order to ensure that States did not detain them again in the future.
The representative of Germany asked how regional organizations could contribute to implementing action plans and bringing perpetrators of war crimes into compliance with international obligations.
The representative of Norway asked how the international community could end the situation of schools being used for recruitment.
The representative of the European Union asked about measures States could take regarding children being kept from school because of conflicts.
The representative of Costa Rica asked for details about the reintegration of children.
The representative of Portugal asked how an emergency mechanism to ensure children’s access to education could be envisaged.
The representative of New Zealand asked what the Special Representative saw as the key challenges for her mandate over the next 20 years, and what advice she had for delegations to support the mandate going forward.
The representative of Eritrea asked about measures host Governments could take to end the recruitment of children to armed groups from refugee camps.
In response to questions posed by several delegates about education in armed conflict, Ms. ZERROUGUI stressed the need to provide education to displaced children, and to protect schools from attack. In the past, education had not been a first priority in conflict situations because there had been less demand for it from parents, who were often illiterate. Today, however, many displaced parents were literate and valued education - and therefore demanded it for their children. It was important to focus more on “alternative” forms of education in emergency situations, where there was often a shortage of teachers. She welcomed the contributions of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UNICEF in that regard.
To protect schools from attack, she said accountability was of utmost importance. Perpetrators must understand that attacks on schools were not allowed, and militaries should be prohibited from conducting activities in front of schools.
She went on to address alternatives to detention, agreeing with many delegations that a lack of capacity often impeded child protection efforts. Her Office had worked with UNICEF to establish standard operating procedures for the rapid handover of children detained by the military to child protection workers.
With regard to resources, she said greater investment and expertise were needed in education, reintegration, protection from abuse and putting in place legislation and measures for the accountability of perpetrators. In situations where the ability to guarantee accountability was lacking, “naming and shaming” was an option. Finally, she acknowledged concerns about trafficking in children, stressing that a response to that problem must be included in efforts to protect children in conflict.
MARTA SANTOS PAIS, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, recalled that the 2030 Agenda recognized the dignity of children and their right to live free from fear and violence as a clear priority. In particular, it included a distinct target to end all forms of violence against children, which represented a historic achievement as well as a special responsibility. Earlier this year, the Human Rights Council had launched the High Time to End Violence against Children initiative to draw attention to the fact that every year more than half the world’s children suffered some form of violence. While more than 90 countries had already put in place a comprehensive national policy agenda on ending violence against children, implementation - as well as strong monitoring and accountability mechanisms – were critical.
“The sad truth is that, in the first year of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, millions of children are being left behind,” she said, adding that the “silent emergency” of violence against children remained pervasive across the world and required renewed commitment and resolve. Recalling that her report had highlighted the plight of millions of children fleeing their homes as a result of violence, political instability and the breakdown of society, she described the serious risks they faced from traumatic journeys, physical harassment, sexual abuse, extortion, trafficking and neglect. It was imperative and urgent to safeguard the rights of those children, prioritize their best interests, bring an end to their detention and ensure a friendly, safe and secure environment.
Describing other concerns addressed in the report, she spotlighted the issue of bullying, which often resulted in a deep sense of fear, loneliness and helplessness. As young people had increasing access to information and communication technologies, cyberbullying had become a source of special concern. “Bullying undermines children’s health, emotional wellbeing and school performance and leaves scars that may persist into adult life,” she said, stressing that parents, schools and State institutions had a shared responsibility for securing children’s protection from bullying.
When the floor was opened for questions and comments, several speakers asked how to approach the situation of migrant and refugee children. Others asked about specific initiatives, such as the Global Study and a platform related to information and communications technology.
The representative of Estonia asked if the platform was operational and working.
The representative of Switzerland asked how the Special Representative of the Secretary-General proposed to monitor implementation of Sustainable Development Goals to combat violence against children.
The representative of Austria asked how the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children could be used to further legal reforms to end violence against children. She also asked the Special Representative to highlight the opportunities and challenges with regard to the collection of accurate and disaggregated data on violence against children.
The representatives of Norway and Japan asked the Special Representative to elaborate on measures to address violence against children on the internet, specifically cyberbullying.
The representative of Canada asked the Special Representative what she considered the main gap in the global campaign to end violence against children. She also asked whether she had seen improvements in support for victims and whether there had been gaps in the way Member States responded to violence and helped victims recover.
The representative of Slovenia asked the Special Representative for steps to accelerate progress in ending violence against children.
Also speaking in the interactive dialogue with the Special Representative were the representatives of Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Portugal, Qatar, Chile and the European Union.
Ms. SANTOS PAIS said the Global Study offered an opportunity to document good practices. Noting that her mandate had been supported by a large panel of non-governmental organizations, she said many States had committed to support the study, so funding was indeed important. She also expected the appointment of an Independent Expert who would work on topics covered by the Global Study. On the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, she said more than 90 countries had “excellent” legislation on violence against children. She expressed disappointment that hardly a reference had been made to children during the High-Level Forum. Adults must communicate with children about their digital lives, guiding them online just as they would guide them in the real world.
In a second round of questions, the representative of Thailand asked about the best way to implement the Sustainable Development Goals in an inclusive manner.
The representative of the United States asked about how to make child-friendly and accessible material for children.
The representative of Costa Rica asked what could be done to better protect children.
The representative of the Maldives asked how to address persistent challenges to changing harmful attitudes.
The representative of the United Kingdom asked about the relationship between the “High Time to End Violence against Children” initiative and the Global Partnership, as well as efforts on data collection.
The representative of Morocco asked what would be the most appropriate framework to address online sexual abuse and bullying.
The representative of Saudi Arabia expressed his concern about Syrian refugee children.
The representative of Colombia underscored the importance of addressing the needs of children affected by violence.
The representatives of Djibouti, Ethiopia and Syria spoke on a point of order.
Ms. SANTOS-PAIS, addressing various questions, said that in the Secretary-General’s report on bullying, children’s views had been included based on information gathered in Norway. The “High Time to End Violence against Children” initiative had envisioned children’s participation, she said, noting that the website was in an evolving phase. Millions of children continued to suffer violence, prompting questions about how children could seek help without fear of retaliation. A number of recommendations had been made, such as having the national human rights institution make unannounced visits to relevant sites. Regarding child refugees or migrants, she said some countries had made it illegal to detain children. She drew attention to the launch of a report on bullying on 14 October.
OMAR ABDI, Deputy Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), introduced three reports: the Follow-Up to the Special Session of the General Assembly on Children; the Report of the Secretary-General on the Status of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; and the Report of the Secretary-General on Collaboration within the United Nations System on Child Protection. The reports showed clear successes, but also that it was necessary to do more for children, and to do more together, he said.
The first report showed that undeniable progress had been made since 1990, including dramatic declines in maternal mortality and the number of deaths of children under five, he said. However, millions were still denied vaccinations against diseases, proper sanitation, adequate nutrition, and access to education, and a growing number of children and families suffered because of political instability or natural hazards. The second report focused on children “on the move,” noting that they needed to be treated as children first regardless of their migration status. The third report clearly demonstrated that strengthened collaboration among United Nations entities had led to significant progress in the protection of children from violence, exploitation and abuse around the globe.