Seventy-eighth Session,
11th & 12th Meetings (AM & PM)

With Children at Higher Risk of Severe Rights Violations, Third Committee Emphasizes Need to Regulate Digital Spheres, Boost Protection Regimes

Increased Internet Connectivity Helps Realize Children’s Rights, But Sophisticated Technologies Pose Risk of Abuse and Sexual Exploitation, UN Official States

Children on and offline worldwide are increasingly vulnerable to grave human rights abuses due to global conflicts and the climate crisis, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) heard today, as it commenced its discussion on the rights of children.

Briefing the Committee, Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that, in 2022, the United Nations verified 27,180 grave violations against children, of which killing and maiming, recruitment and use of children, abduction and the denial of humanitarian access continued to be the highest violations.  Worse, education is under attack, she continued, highlighting a 112 per cent surge in attacks on schools and hospitals compared to 2021.  She warned that erosion of the international protection frameworks poses a grave threat to children’s rights.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, representatives of countries in active conflict exchanged barbs, with the delegate of Ukraine condemning Moscow’s crimes against Ukrainian children in its war of aggression.  In response, the representative of the Russian Federation said the situation in Ukraine has been transformed into a politicized smear campaign against it.  Meanwhile, the representative of Armenia asked what steps Ms. Gamba would take to address grave violations against children of the Nagorno-Karabakh at the hands of Azerbaijan, which countered with the accusation that Armenia has been recruiting children into their armed forces for decades.

Manuel Fontaine, Special Adviser on Child Rights, Office of the Executive Director, UNICEF, speaking on behalf of Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director, presented the Secretary-General’s report on the Rights of the Child, noting that it is a reminder of how children’s lives and rights are increasingly connected to the digital environment.  While the increase has the potential to realize child rights further, the digital divide remains and the development of new digital technologies has elevated the risk of children’s exposure to harmful content and sexual exploitation, he warned.  

Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, spotlighted voluntourism — short for volunteer tourism — in which travellers volunteer through tourism markets without any supervision or criminal background check, leading to the proliferation of exploitation and sexual abuse of children.  Governments and other stakeholders should put in place measures to prohibit the use of unskilled and untrained volunteers in childcare institutions and regulate the private sector tourism industry as well as penalize agencies and tourism companies that provide voluntourism services for profit without screening volunteers, she said.  “Addressing child sexual abuse and exploitation in the tourism sector is necessary to ensure that all forms of tourism are innovative, responsible and sustainable.”

During the Committee’s general debate, delegates highlighted barriers that the digital divide poses to education, calling for a middle way to grant all children access to the Internet while shielding them from threats online.

Tunisia’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that, due to their limited access to the Internet, African children were the hardest hit among developing countries during the COVID-19 pandemic, stressing the need to support efforts to realize sustainable development.

From another perspective, the delegate of Nepal voiced concern over increased cyberbullying and sexual exploitation in digital space, while a youth delegate from Mexico called on Governments and other stakeholders to provide young people with access to education, health services and a safe environment at home, also making them aware of online risks.

Addressing the issue, the delegate of Jamaica, speaking on behalf of the Carribean Community (CARICOM), noted that this year’s resolution on the rights of the child will focus on the rights and safety of children in the digital environment.  Discussions surrounding the resolution will focus on challenges posed by inappropriate content online, desensitizing children to inappropriate behaviour, data privacy, cyberbullying and fighting misinformation, he continued. 

Sharing a positive development, the representative of Qatar noted that its application “Help Me” enables children to ask for help through their mobile phones when they are in situations of harm.

Interactive Dialogues — Children and Armed Conflict

In the morning, the Third Committee heard from experts and United Nations directors speaking on the rights of children, followed by interactive dialogues.  Presenters included Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict; Najat Maalla M’Jid, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children; and Manuel Fontaine, Special Adviser on Child Rights, Office of the Executive Director, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

Ms. GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, reported to the Committee that in 2022, the United Nations verified 27,180 grave violations against children, of which killing and maiming, and the recruitment and use of children, followed by abduction and the denial of humanitarian access, continued to be the highest violations.  Education is under attack, she added, pointing to a 112 per cent surge in attacks on schools and hospitals compared to 2021.  Expressing her concern about risks to and vulnerabilities of displaced children, in particular disrupted access to health care and education, she underscored the criticality of data collection and announced the upcoming launch of dedicated studies on the impacts of armed conflict on children with disabilities and that of climate insecurity on children affected by armed conflict.

Stressing the importance of partnerships to the delivery of her mandate, she highlighted a Memorandum of Understanding with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to exchange expertise on education in the reintegration of conflict-affected children as well as several consultations with civil society and academia.  Detailing her visits to Colombia, Ethiopia, Israel and the State of Palestine, Mozambique, Ukraine and the Russian Federation, she noted support provided to Governments and regional organizations in determining concrete ways to prevent and end violations.  She further added that in 2022, United Nations engagement with parties to conflict led to 40 commitments and the release of 12,460 children in conflict areas.

Recalling that all persons under 18 years of age are entitled to protections enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, she warned that erosion of the international protection frameworks poses a grave threat to children’s rights, particularly for those between 13 and 18 years old, often treated as adults or subjected to counter-terrorism measures.  “I reiterate the need to better address the protection of children across the humanitarian/peace and development/human rights nexus,” she said, while requesting the support of Member States to assess the possibility of organizing a conference of all United Nations Member States on the protection, prevention and reintegration needs of children and armed conflict in all its aspects.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates from countries in conflict traded barbs about the treatment of children in conflict zones, while others condemned violence against children in conflict zones worldwide and asked the Special Representative for guidance.

The representative of Malaysia expressed concern over grave violations in the occupied Palestinian territories, underscoring that many of the six grave violations outlined by Ms. Gamba were committed and that there has been an increase in violence since 2022. He asked how such grave violations could be reduced.

Echoing Malaysia, the representative of Yemen asked if the Special Representative planned to take steps to condemn the treatment of children in the occupied Palestinian territories, noting that actions, not reporting, help children.

Developing further, the representative of the State of Palestine asked how Member States might ensure that Ms. Gamba’s mandate is not just a data collection exercise, noting with regret that Israel was not on the list of countries committing grave violations against children. A continued lack of accountability and appeasement must end, she underscored.

The representative of Estonia, speaking on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic States and in his national capacity, noted that the Russian Federation was listed in Ms. Gamba’s report as having committed grave violations, including child rape.  Highlighting Moscow’s deportation of Ukrainian children into its territory, he asked if the Russian Federation has signed onto the joint action plan or expressed any intention to do so.

The representative of Romania voiced concern over a 112 per cent increase in attacks on schools and hospitals, lamenting their targeting.  The country has made efforts to integrate displaced Ukrainian children in schools, but some prefer online schooling offered by Ukraine.  The delegate asked what future measures will support family unification and schooling.

The representative of Ukraine said that the Russian Federation’s crimes against Ukrainian children in its war of aggression are the most horrible marker of it, underscoring Ukraine’s commitment to the children abducted by Moscow’s initiative.  She reiterated the country’s call to fulfil its obligations under international law.

The delegate of the Russian Federation expressed support of Ms. Gamba’s mandate but disagreement that his country should be included on a list of countries committing grave violations, claiming politicization.  The country takes care to prevent damage to hospitals and schools, he added, noting that the situation in Ukraine has been transformed as a politicized smear campaign against the Russian Federation.

The representative of Croatia noted that international instruments have not been enough to protect children in situations of conflict, asking for best practices to hold countries to respecting their commitments to them.

Echoing Croatia, the delegate of Japan asked how to rejuvenate the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, including the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  It is regrettable that commitments to such instruments are ignored.

The representative of Nigeria noted that his country has been consistent with its laws regarding the rights of the child, stating that claims of grave violations in Ms. Gamba’s report are too strong.  Nigeria holds the rights of children in high regard, he said.

The representative of Pakistan expressed deep concern about the grave violations of children committed by Indian security forces in occupied Kashmir.  The situation remains unchanged, she lamented.

India’s delegate dismissed Pakistan's comments as utter falsehoods and reiterated the country’s support for the protection of children in armed conflict.

The representative of Armenia asked what steps Ms. Gamba would take to address grave violations against children of the Nagorno-Karabakh region who have suffered blockade and conflict.

Responding, Azerbaijan’s delegate noted that Armenia illegally recruited children into their armed forces for over a decade and asked what measures could be taken to prevent such recruitment.

In response, Ms. GAMBA said States should condemn all violations against children and take steps to criminalize them to prevent impunity and recurrence.  She noted that changes in legislation are necessary to protect children in conflict zones.  It seems that the international community has entirely forgotten the Convention on the Rights of the Child, she lamented, underscoring the importance of ratifying it for countries that have not yet done so, as well as its Optional Protocol. She noted that a planned awareness campaign would put children at the centre by highlighting how they would like to see their rights implemented.  Indeed, it is disappointing that in many discussions about world crises, the word “children” is absent, she said, stressing that they should be included in all conversations surrounding conflict and crises.  However, words are not enough, she said — action is required. Spotlighting other good practices, she said that bilateral engagement will produce dialogue that can lead to concrete actions and underscored the need for the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict to be rejuvenated.  Noting her continued engagement with the Russian Federation through monitoring, she called on that country to grant UNICEF access to the country.

Violence against Children

NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, delivering findings on child protection in the context of travel and tourism, emphasized that a renewed and relevant agenda for action that promotes sustainability in its broadest sense is needed.  “Sustainable means being green.  Sustainable means being inclusive.  Sustainable means respecting local cultures and empowering communities.  But it also means being safe for children,” she said. She noted that more than 960 million tourists travelled internationally in 2022, warning that this increased global mobility brings with it greater risks to children.  “Just as the number of tourists and travellers worldwide is increasing, and the forms of tourism and travel are evolving, children’s vulnerability to violence is increasing,” she said.  “Offenders, exploiters and traffickers take advantage of these vulnerabilities to perpetrate violence against children.”

In response, revitalizing action is needed more than ever, drawing on the strong foundations of international and national legal standards that are already in place, she said.  “There are dynamic, multi-stakeholder partnerships working on this issue.  But change is not happening at the speed or scale that is required,” she said.  States must enact legislation and policies that make businesses in the travel and tourism sector accountable — including information and communications technology (ICT) companies — and oblige them to carry out child rights due diligence in their operations and value chains.  There must be a cross-sectoral approach, as child protection goes beyond national tourism authorities and includes law enforcement, labour, justice, child and social protection sectors, among others. Effective coordination and information-sharing within and across borders need to be strengthened.

Additionally, action must be informed by the views and experiences of children, she said.  In a series of dialogues with more than 500 children around the world, they stressed the importance of being informed and empowered to face the risks of violence; to build and strengthen children’s networks and peer support; to ensure action and accountability so States, institutions and the industry can be trusted; and to secure effective prevention, protection and referral.  In conclusion, she stressed that the travel and tourism sector can act as an accelerator for sustainable development, with people and planet at its core.  “It can provide opportunities for just, inclusive growth and decent work that tackle the root causes of violence and exploitation.  It can help build and strengthen the integrated, quality services that are needed by children and families to prevent and respond to violence, both online and offline.  But to achieve all that, we need to go further and faster to ensure the travel and tourism sector is truly sustainable, with child protection at its core.”

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates spotlighted the compounding effects of contemporary crises, along with the high mobility and digitalization that transcend geographical boundaries and make travel and tourism a fertile ground for this type of vulnerability.

On that note, Israel’s delegate detailed her Government’s robust legal framework and procedures to combat child exploitation, with strict regulations such as screening of volunteers who work with vulnerable populations.  She asked the Special Representative about the best practices Member States can implement to raise awareness when facing these threats.

Along similar lines, the representative of the Philippines recalled that her Government has passed laws to penalize online sexual exploitation and abuse of children.  She also pointed to the national action plan for children with disabilities to ensure their protection against violence.  She then asked about the possibility of having a child ombudsperson or a similar mechanism for children.

Belgium’s delegate, voicing deep concern over sexual exploitation, child labour and human trafficking, stressed the need to prevent violence against children, including by raising awareness vis-à-vis their sexual exploitation.

Brazil’s delegate said that, under her country’s criminal code, the attempt to sexually exploit children is a crime.  She then detailed her Government’s policy tools to help advance the protection of children in the context of travel and tourism.

The representative of Malaysia, noting that his country relies on tourism, recognized that a solid foundation must be put in place to ensure the protection of children from all forms of violence, including online.

Ukraine’s delegate underscored that the Russian Federation aggression in Ukraine has caused the largest children’s rights crisis in Europe since the Second World War.  Internal displacement has created risks of violence against children, she said, drawing attention to the Ukrainian children who were abducted by the Russian Federation.

The representative of the Russian Federation, meanwhile, rejected the accusation that his country has illegitimately removed Ukrainian children.  Instead, it has taken measures to voluntarily evacuate children, together with their families, saving them from the shelling of the Ukrainian armed forces, which are using Western weapons to strike civilian sites. 

Ms. M'JID responded that one in six children is living in extreme poverty, while social protection is benefiting only 26.4 per cent of children worldwide.  Turning to travel and tourism, she underlined the need to ensure access to justice and to end impunity.  Also, it is crucial to involve private and public sectors, she said, noting the importance of a voluntary code of conduct.  Regarding the Global Digital Compact — to be adopted next year — she said it should ensure that child-protection issues are considered.

Rights of the Child and Girl Child

Mr. FONTAINE, Special Adviser on Child Rights, Office of the Executive Director, UNICEF, speaking on behalf of Catherine Russell, UNICEF Executive Director, presented the report of the Secretary-General on the rights of the child.  He noted that the full scope of children’s rights — civil, political, economic, social and cultural — must receive equal attention.  “The Report of the Secretary-General on the Rights of the Child is a reminder of how children’s lives and rights are increasingly connected to the digital environment, and at younger ages than ever before.”  The digital environment has “vast potential” for realizing children’s rights, such as aiding the digital inclusion of children with disabilities and allowing children impacted by humanitarian crises to find support faster and more effectively, he said.  However, the report also found a continuing digital divide.

“Too many children — especially girls, those living in rural areas, those from poorer backgrounds and those impacted by humanitarian crises — have limited or no access to the digital environment,” he continued.  Furthermore, the rapid uptake and development of new digital technologies has in many cases elevated the risk of children’s exposure to harmful, hateful content, and provided new ways to perpetrate violence against children, he warned.  In response, concerted action is needed by States to overcome digital exclusion, to ensure alignment of all aspects of the digital environment with international human rights standards and child rights principles, and to ensure that the business sector respects children’s rights in the digital environment.

Meanwhile, the report of the Secretary-General on the girl child presents a stark picture, he said.  The COVID‑19 pandemic has had a devastating impact for girls around the world, especially adolescent girls, and especially those already living in vulnerable circumstances.  It has caused, inter alia, the largest disruption to education in history — intensifying barriers to girls’ education, particularly for adolescent girls.  It has also increased worldwide food insecurity, which has disproportionately increased malnutrition among women and girls, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, as well as negatively impacted their mental health.  As a result of the pandemic and other simultaneous global shocks, the occurrence of both child marriage and female genital mutilation is expected to increase over the long term, he said.  While some pandemic recovery efforts have focused explicitly on girls, the report calls for further investment in legislative, policy and programme interventions that focus specifically on the promotion and protection of girls’ rights.  Such actions include increasing multisectoral coordination; mobilizing public budgets to guarantee quality health care and mental health services for girls; and strengthening investments in child protection systems, including in humanitarian settings.

When the floor opened for questions and comments, the representative of Bangladesh, expressing concern about the significant number of children affected by learning setbacks caused by the pandemic and climate change, asked how UNICEF plans to assist countries in their efforts to get children back into school and protect the well-being of children who have been displaced or made homeless as a result of climate change. 

The representative of Ukraine highlighted the profound impact of the war on Ukraine’s 7.5 million children, including significant displacement and psychological trauma, and requested UNICEF’s continued efforts to alleviate the suffering of Ukrainian children caused by the Russian aggression, including facilitating the identification, tracing and unification of Ukrainian children forcefully and illegally held by Russia.

Poland’s representative sounded alarm over the decline in childhood vaccination coverage due to disruptions caused by the COVID‑19 pandemic and asked how UNICEF can come into partnerships with Governments to strengthen childhood vaccination programmes. 

China’s representative expressed appreciation over UNICEF’s 2022 to 2025 strategic plan and expressed hope for active response by the Fund to the needs of countries during its implementation. 

The representative of Greece, pointing to its seventh term on the UNICEF Executive Board, asked the Special Adviser to share insights on what Member States can do to support efforts in closing the digital gender gap for girls. 

The representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, noted that, despite progress in advancing gender equality, significant barriers remain for children, particularly girls, in accessing quality education and protection.  Challenges such as child marriage, harmful practices, menstrual health, stigma and gender-based violence continue to affect their well-being.  The representative further asked the Special Adviser how Member States can support UNICEF to ensure that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be delivered for and with children. 

The representative of Malaysia, stressing the profound effect of the COVID‑19 pandemic on girls, asked about best practices to prevent child marriage. 

Underscoring the critical role of UNICEF in the welfare of millions of children thanks to its humanitarian and developmental mandate, the representative of Morocco called for UNICEF to maintain its focus on innovation, particularly with a focus on young girls, who are faced with challenges like child marriage, sexual violence and early pregnancy. 

The representative of Algeria raised a question about achieving a balance between promoting the benefits of new technologies, such as improving education and enhancing access, and addressing the risks, particularly concerning negative impacts and potential exploitation of children’s well-being and thinking. 

Echoing Algeria, the representative of Iran similarly highlighted the need for increased attention to parenting and technology, acknowledging the benefits of technology while stressing the importance of protecting children from associated risks. 

In response, Mr. FONTAINE addressed key points raised during the discussion, including the importance of recognizing children as agents of change in climate action advocacy.  He emphasized UNICEF’s commitment to vaccination access, acknowledging the challenges faced during the pandemic and the need to ensure that routine services like vaccinations are not disrupted.

Regarding the digital gap for girls, Mr. Fontaine highlighted the recommendations in the report and stressed the importance of providing girls with opportunities to contribute their views and ideas.  He also touched on acceleration of SDGs implementation, emphasizing the need for increased public financing for children that addresses data gaps, and involving children meaningfully in conversations about the achievement of the SDGs.

Mr. Fontaine mentioned the importance of keeping girls in school to prevent child marriage and highlighted specific recommendations in the report in this regard.  Lastly, he discussed the balance between digital rights and child protection, emphasizing the concept of the best interest of the child and the importance of understanding both risks and opportunities in the digital environment while listening to children’s perspectives and ensuring their meaningful participation.

General Debate

ATARINA CLIFFORD, European Union, in its capacity as an observer, speaking on behalf of its bloc and a group of candidate countries and potential candidate countries, said that protecting the rights of the child is a shared goal that all members can support, calling on Member States who have not done so to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols.  Next, emphasizing the importance of the Convention in the digital realm, she underscored that such obligations also extend to the private environment. Children’s privacy must be protected by the products they use; and risks they are vulnerable to, such as narratives promoting suicide and self-harm, trafficking and harms resulting from their exploitation as consumers, must be taken to account in this context.  It is essential to implement the Convention on the Rights of the Child in the digital environment, while addressing the digital divide around the world.

She expressed alarm that SDGs 4, 5 and 10, related to children’s rights, are far from met, calling for robust international cooperation so this generation is not left behind.  Children, especially girls, are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, she said, noting that the European Union is investing 8 billion euros in food security worldwide between 2020 and 2024. War and conflict affect the most vulnerable, she said, including children.  As the leading humanitarian assistance provider and the biggest donor of development assistance, the bloc has stepped up its efforts in this regard, welcoming the Secretary-General’s guidance note on maintaining child rights.  Expressing particular concern for children in conflict who are vulnerable to gender and sexually based violence, displacement and forced abduction, she called on States to endorse the Paris Principles and Commitments, the Vancouver Principles and the Safe Schools Declaration.

HARI PRABOWO (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the promotion and protection of children’s rights must be at the foundation of international efforts, but “unfortunately, the reality speaks differently”.  Worldwide, children’s vulnerability to violence continues to be exacerbated by multiple and overlapping crises, he said, noting that the world is drifting away from our collective commitment to end all forms of violence by 2030 or 2040.  Various forms of violence against children include forced child labor, child marriages, child trafficking and child sexual exploitation.  He urged the highest level of political commitment to promote and protect the rights and welfare of children in the ASEAN region.

States must ensure that the promotion and protection of children’s rights are conducted in a comprehensive manner, he said, declaring a joint commitment to promote and protect the rights and welfare of children in the region.  He also reaffirmed a commitment to transform early childhood education.  In addition, ASEAN is implementing the ASEAN Regional Plan of Action on the Elimination of Violence against Children.  Action points include harm prevention, child protection and judicial measures.  ASEAN member States continue to exchange best practices and build dialogue to advance capacities and attach great importance to engaging with youth.  Regional dialogue has further highlighted practical ways to protect children from all forms of online exploitation and abuse, he said.

EGRISELDA ARACELY GONZÁLEZ LÓPEZ(El Salvador), speaking on behalf of the Central American Integration System, noted its regional commitment to integrated social policies spanning from prenatal investment to adulthood, which aims to strengthen social security and protection systems.  She further detailed implementation of various regional prevention programmes to combat violence against children, including teenage pregnancy, child labor, and sexual exploitation, while stressing the importance of ensuring free and inclusive education for all, particularly for children with disabilities.  Encouraging Member States to respect, protect and promote the rights of boys and girls to express themselves freely, she underscored the importance of engaging children, including disabled children, in the decision-making process.  Empowerment of girls and investment in them are fundamental to economic growth, achieving the SDGs and eradicating poverty, she said, highlighting their role as agents of change.  El Salvador, together with the European Union, will table a resolution on the rights of the child, which she encouraged Member States to support.

FRANCISCO JOSE DA CRUZ (Angola), speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and aligning himself with the Group of 77 and China as well as the African Group, underscored progress being made by most SADC member States to combat trafficking in children, including through custodial sentences and new immigration rules for people travelling with minors.  Those States are also investing heavily in education, a strategic pillar for gender equality and economic empowerment, he said, adding, however, that hard-won gains have been undermined by the COVID‑19 pandemic, higher food prices and conflicts around the world.  In response to the pandemic, the SADC secretariat is working with UNESCO on ways to mitigate its impact on education, he said, describing children as “the custodians of the future of our nations”.

SADC is also grappling with the problem of child, early and forced marriages, he continued, citing research that shows that more than 125 million African women marry before the age of 18.  There is also growing evidence that the pandemic and climate change have eroded progress made in recent years, resulting in a greater need to invest in this area.  Some SADC member States have made significant progress in outlawing child marriages and in re-enrolling pregnant girls into school after they give birth.  He went on to note the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on adolescents and young people; appealed for help to overcome a lack of human and financial resources to promote and protect the rights of the child; and emphasized the value of strong partnerships.

NOAH OEHRI (Liechtenstein) said that in armed conflict, education is a lifeline for children, with schools providing a safe space for learners and teachers.  However, in 2022, more than 3,000 attacks on schools and universities were recorded worldwide, up nearly 20 per cent from the previous year.  In the Central Sahel region, the number of schools closed grew nearly sixfold between 2019 and 2023, while in Ukraine alone, more than 1,300 schools have been destroyed.  Such attacks are not only flagrant violations of international humanitarian law, but also deny an entire generation of children their right to learn in a safe environment, he noted.  In response to one particularly heinous crime against children in a conflict situation, the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for the President and the Minister of Children’s Rights of the Russian Federation for the war crime of unlawful deportation and transfer of children, he said.

JAKARIN TREEDARA (Thailand), aligning himself with ASEAN, said that children are the architects of our shared future.  Their rights must be safeguarded if they are expected to become active members of society.  States must respect their commitments to international instruments on the rights of the child.  Thailand makes prenatal care and early child support a priority through social welfare services and programmes such as the Child Support Grant Scheme, which disburses 600 baht monthly to cover at-risk newborns up to 6 years of age.  It is also committed to protecting children from online exploitation and abuse, he said, noting that the Government partnered with UNICEF to organize, in February, the first national conference on children in the digital age.  He went on to say that Thailand is proactive in its approach to mental health, including through the School Health Hero Campaign, which destigmatizes mental health issues and fosters constructive communication between educators, children and parents.

MOHAMED OMAR ELFAROUK HASSAN MOHAMED (Egypt), aligning with the African Group, called for more international cooperation to advance effective education programmes for children.  To that end, Egypt has launched a national initiative that has increased the number of children who move on to higher education, which in turn reduces the risks of child labour.  Egypt also prioritizes empowering parents, as they are responsible for providing a nurturing environment, and ensuring that every child receives education, food and health-care services.  It is keen to give migrant and refugee children access to basic education services to “maintain the future and to alleviate the suffering that they are going through”.   Efforts to achieve sustainable development will not be fruitful without ensuring a prosperous future for children, one in which they obtain their rights as well as protection through their families, State and society.

MAŁGORZATA STADNICKA, a youth delegate of Poland, highlighted the challenges that threaten children’s lives and access to food globally and called for collective efforts to improve conditions for the youngest and future generations.  Pointing to the impact of conflict on children, particularly in the context of the war in Ukraine and the trauma experienced by children in conflict zones worldwide, including Syria, Iraq and Niger, she urged international attention to protect children under international law.  Underscoring the importance of preserving a better world for future generations by preventing conflicts and addressing hunger and climate change, she stressed the importance of advocating for the equal representation of girls, children from minority groups and those with disabilities in governance structures.  In conclusion, she urged Member States to work towards fulfilling the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, emphasizing the responsibility to create a world in which their children can grow up safely.

RAWA ZOGHBI (Lebanon) said that the multilayered crises in Lebanon over the past four years have taken a heavy toll on its children, their health and their education.  “Having been facing one of the worst economic crises globally since the mid-nineteenth century, as per the World Bank, in addition to the Beirut blast and the continuous presence of more than 1.5 million displaced Syrians in Lebanon, our children have been paying a high price,” she said, noting that 15 per cent of households have pulled their children out of school.  Nevertheless, public schools have opened their doors to ensure that displaced Syrian children can enjoy their right to education.  She added that due to recent violence in the Ein El Hilweh refugee camp, more than 11,000 Palestinian children will be unable to begin school this year.

FLAVIA VMULISA (Rwanda) voiced concern about violence against children worldwide exacerbated by global crises and noted Rwanda’s support for the principles contained in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Integrating that instrument domestically, Rwanda has instituted laws prohibiting violence against children, including policies which ensure their safety in the digital world. In addition, the Government, social workers, psychologists and police work together to identify and respond to threats to child safety.  In education, Rwanda implemented a free education policy for children, with the primary school enrolment rate now standing at 95 per cent.  Awareness campaigns educate parents about the importance of education for both girls and boys.  Through targeted investments in health care, Rwanda has seen a big drop in child mortality of nearly 70 per cent over the past decade, she said.

CARLA MARIA RODRÍGUEZ MANCIA (Guatemala) said her country has implemented an integral attention model for children, which provides legal guidance as well as social and health support.  Steps taken nationally include promoting mental health in schools and working to eradicate malnourishment.  Other steps include a national plan for the prevention of sexual violence as well as exploitation and trafficking of young people.  In that context, she noted that Guatemala is a country of origin, transit and destination for migrants and is highly vulnerable to people trafficking.  “Trafficking is a form of modern slavery,” she said.  “The international community must redouble its efforts to fight it and to protect migrant children,” she added.  Additionally, she expressed concern for the threats of abuse and violations committed against children in armed conflicts.  She concluded with a call to States to redouble their efforts to comply with international commitments on human rights, particularly those under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

MARIA ROSENY BALTAZAR FANGCO (Philippines), aligning herself with ASEAN, said that her country’s Constitution prioritizes children’s rights, in addition to upholding its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  Relevant domestic laws include the Children’s Emergency Relief and Protection Act, the Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict Act and the First 1,000 Days Law, among others.  To ensure the safety of children online, the Anti-Online Sexual Abuse and Exploitation of Children Law was adopted in 2022 to criminalize the production, distribution, possession and availability of child sexual-abuse material.  Every November in the Philippines is National Children’s Month, she said, adding that her country places significant importance on involving children in decisions that impact them.

Interactive Dialogue — Rights of the Child

In the afternoon, the Committee further elaborated on the theme “Rights of children”, with interactive dialogues featuring presentations by Ann Skelton, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, and Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the sale, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children.

Ms. SKELTON, presenting her oral report on the Committee’s work, voiced concern over the high rates of poverty, inequality and social exclusion affecting children around the world.  In this context, she welcomed the finalization in July 2023 of the Secretary-General’s Guidance Note on Child Rights Mainstreaming, which sets out specific recommendations on how to strengthen a child rights-based approach in the work of the United Nations.  Further, she called for the universal ratification and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its three Optional Protocols as a necessary step for ensuring that all children’s rights are upheld.  On activities carried out by the Committee since 2022, she said it reviewed 22 reports.  The current backlog of reports pending consideration is now at 67 reports. Regarding the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure, the Committee adopted 22 decisions in 2023, finding violations of the Convention in six cases.  The Committee is also working on four inquiries. 

During its last session, the Committee launched its general comment No. 26 on children’s rights and the environment, with a special focus on climate change, she continued.  Indeed, data from the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change show the disproportionate, cumulative and long-term effects of climate change on children.  The motivation and momentum for this general comment came from the efforts of children themselves to draw attention to environmental crises, she added.  The Committee benefited from an unprecedented level of child participation in the development process — more than 16,000 contributions from children from 121 countries through two rounds of children’s consultations supported by a diverse and dedicated Children’s Advisory Team.  Through this general comment, the Committee is calling on decision-makers to recognize the contributions of child human rights defenders to human rights and environmental protection, and to proactively and meaningfully involve children in all environmental decision-making processes.

She further highlighted that during the ninety-fourth session, the Committee also adopted a statement on article 5 of the Convention, soon to be released.  Its purpose is to clarify the concepts of parental guidance with respect to the exercise of children’s rights and evolving capacities of the child as enshrined in article 5 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  She also noted that, while progress has been made on treaty body strengthening, the system will not work optimally without the financial, technical and human resources that are required to undertake the current mandate, for additional meeting time to address the backlogs, and to support effective implementation of the planned reforms.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates welcomed the Committee’s general comment 26 and sought Ms. Skelton’s perspective on how to include children in decision-making and protect them in the digital world.

The representative of Mexico noted that in general comment 26, the Committee underscores the right of minors to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment, and underscores the importance of including children in decision-making.  He asked how the Committee recommends including them in policy formation.

The representative of Bangladesh recalled that it was an early signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and two Optional Protocols.  Nationally, the Government has worked to create a separate commission on the concerns of the child.  Domestic and global crises interrupted the country’s previous reporting cycle, she said, asking what the Committee can do to help those countries whose capacities are limited, musing that the topic might be addressed at the Summit of the Future.

The representative of China underscored the country’s commitment to the rights of the child, noting that, as the State Party bears the main responsibility to ensure the rights of the child, it must do so within the country’s specific contexts.  He called on countries who have not done so to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The representative of Ukraine asked how the Committee will facilitate the return of Ukrainian children who were unlawfully deported and brainwashed, to be put up for adoption and turned into obedient Russian soldiers.

The representative of the Russian Federation noted that, while the Committee was created to consider the States’ progress on implementation of its pillars, countries are held hostage by the slow pace of the Committee, citing the treaty body’s backlog.  He suggested that writing general comments takes up too much time.

The representative of South Africa noted impacts of digital technologies on the rights of children, adding that they can benefit children but also violate their rights. Highlighting an increasing number of children online, he asked how States can balance the benefits of the digital environment while ensuring the security of children.

In response, Ms. SKELTON noted that Ukraine recently reported to the Committee and the return of children was discussed.  The Committee is seeking a digital uplift, she said.  While technology is indeed a boon to the Committee, online meetings sometimes lessened the time for meetings, as they are constrained by the interpreters’ schedules.  Moreover, consulting with children can also occur through civil society actors who work closely with children themselves.  A child’s rights-based approach to decision-making means taking their input and perspective into account.  Underscoring the importance of fluid communication with the Committee so that countries can simplify their reporting procedures and increase their capacity, she added that the Summit of the Future will be an important place to address such matters.

Much information is available in the Committee’s general comment No. 25 on balancing digital freedom with protections for children, she said, noting that the digital world requires regulation. She looked forward to moving forward with a simplified reporting procedure as well as the treaty body strengthening process, which will reduce the backlog on reporting, she said.  While a backlog of one to two years is indeed occurring, no State is held hostage by the delay, as they are in the unique position to resolve the issues highlighted in the Committee’s general comments.

Sale, Sexual Exploitation and Abuse of Children

Ms. SINGHATEH, Special Rapporteur on the sale, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children, recalling her visits to the Philippines and Uruguay in December 2022 and May 2023 respectively, noted that the full reports on her visits will be presented to the upcoming session of the Human Rights Council in March 2024.  Also, she said she was looking forward to her country visit to Australia in October and Botswana in 2024.  Reporting that huge strides have been made to protect children within the travel and tourism sectors, she spotlighted that global travel and tourism have more than doubled in the past 30 years, with an unprecedented growth in technological advancements and new forms of tourism that put children at risk of exploitation. Voluntourism — short for volunteer tourism — is a form of tourism in which travellers participate in voluntary work for charity, she observed, underlining that it revolves around products offered through travel and tourism markets, usually for unskilled volunteers, with no supervision or criminal background check.

While the concept is premised on noble intentions, the manifestations of exploitation and sexual abuse of children within volunteer tourism are well acknowledged, she said.  As child safeguarding measures vary across countries sending and receiving volunteers, gaps arise with respect to their applicability, causing vulnerabilities of children to exploitation and sexual abuse.  The adverse effects of this form of tourism have been a recurrent problem over the past decade across several Global South countries, she added, spotlighting that legal framework gaps, the phenomenon’s transitional nature and limited capacity and data and information constitute some of the many challenges.  In her report, she provided examples of positive practices and steps taken to prevent this crime in the context of voluntourism, underscoring the importance of developing a database on this phenomenon, empowering communities and investing in capacity-building to that end.

Furthermore, Governments and other stakeholders should put in place measures to prohibit the use of unskilled and untrained volunteers in childcare institutions and facilities and regulate the private sector within the tourism and travel industry.  Also, they should penalize agencies, tour operators and tourism companies that provide voluntourism services for profit without screening or vetting volunteers, she said, encouraging States to work towards deinstitutionalization of children and prevent their separation from their parents or families, she observed.  In addition, the “protect, respect and remedy” principles should be at the heart of any corporate existence and function, serving as a benchmark for tackling the exploitation and sexual abuse of children within travel and tourism.  Emphasizing that Governments must regulate and monitor how funding is sourced and received for childcare institutions, she stated:  “Addressing child sexual abuse and exploitation in the tourism sector is necessary to ensure that all forms of tourism are innovative, responsible and sustainable.”

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, speakers highlighted the need to take victim-centred approaches to address exploitation and abuse, employ screening and background checks for volunteers and address root causes such as poverty. 

The representative of the United States said her country is enacting victim-centered, offender-focused and trauma-informed approaches to combat the sexual exploitation and abuse of children. She encouraged all countries to adopt similar multidisciplinary approaches that prioritize the safety, health and well-being of survivors and hold perpetrators accountable.  She called on all Member States to consider policy changes aimed at protecting the next generation and addressing systemic root causes of the sexual exploitation of children.  She asked what best practices Member States can implement to address tourism's role in the sale and sexual exploitation of children. 

The representative of the Philippines asked the Special Rapporteur to recommend the enhancement of collaboration to combat child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation, and asked what specific avenues are available for increased cooperation and support.  She observed that it is important to ensure that volunteers are qualified — trained to do no harm and to uphold the best interest of the child.  She urged States to work collectively to bridge the gaps in safeguarding measures to strengthen legal protections and to reinforce child protection systems worldwide. 

Meanwhile, Israel’s delegate asked the Special Rapporteur what steps should be taken to prevent sexual abuse in voluntourism, and how youth and future generations can be educated to ensure that sexual abuse in all its forms is eliminated.  She noted that, in Israel, volunteers are required to undergo rigorous screening such as criminal background checks, submission of recommendation letters and a personal interview before they can participate in volunteer programs.

The representative of Cameroon asked what measures donor countries can take to make sure their development assistance does not directly or indirectly contribute to human rights violations and the exploitation of children, particularly when that assistance does not go through governmental channels.  He also asked her to provide examples of family services that can help combat the mistreatment and exploitation of children in general and good practices in the context of voluntourism.

Similarly, the representative of the European Union, in its capacity as observer, asked for examples of ethical and culturally appropriate alternatives to voluntourism, and whether  the Special Rapporteur has encountered good examples she can share of child engagement in tourism and volunteering programmes.  She said her bloc was alarmed by her findings on how unregulated and unmonitored volunteering exposes children to the risk of exploitation.

Ukraine’s delegate drew attention to cases of sexual violence against children committed by the Russian military, and of forceful deportations by Russia of Ukrainian children, whose whereabouts are unknown. 

The representative of Morocco said that her country has an inclusive approach focused on prevention of harm to children.  She highlighted training given to taxi drivers to allow them to identify and respond to sexual exploitation and abuse they encounter in their work.  She asked the Special Rapporteur to identify other good practices that will be useful. 

In her response, Ms. SINGHATEH said her report specifically deals with volunteer tourism, which is both a forum of volunteering and a travel product.  It involves volunteers who are unregulated, untrained, unskilled and being provided access to children without supervision.  It is of particular importance to focus on the issue, as the tourism industry is booming again, she said.

In terms of best practices, she said regulation is key, with laws to guide and regulate the industry.  Awareness-raising is also important, as the subject matter is not widely known.  In response to the question posed by the Philippines, she said bilateral cooperation, particularly amongst law enforcement, is among best practices.  Training of frontline workers, social workers, medical practitioners and police officers is also key to enable them to recognize sexual exploitation and abuse and manage complaints brought to their attention.

 In response to questions by Cameroon and the European Union, she cited examples where sending countries are vetting, screening  and training volunteers before they are deployed to ensure they are not sex-offender registers, as many times predators are disguised as volunteers.  She also commended the best practices presented by the Philippines in vetting volunteers.

Political will is key, she said.  While laws are important, they are useless without implementation.  She encouraged Member States to fund implementation of laws so that children are kept safe from sexual abuse and exploitation.  In terms of addressing root causes, she cited poverty reduction strategies to ensure that families are economically empowered so that they can keep children in the home, where they are not exposed to exploitation.

General Debate 

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), speaking on behalf of the African Group, noting that children’s rights are at the core of human social development, underscored that necessary measures must be taken to ensure the protection of children.  Despite milestones in the realization of children’s rights, progress in many African countries needs to be scaled up, he said, voicing concern over lack of progress on education-related targets, especially SDG 4.  Africa continues to face challenges of political instability, economic crisis, climate change and inadequate development financing, which make it difficult to provide infrastructure services, including new digital technology devices necessary to support children with disabilities.  He further pointed to global disruptions due to the COVID19 pandemic.

Due to their limited access to the Internet, African children were the hardest hit in developing countries during the pandemic, he said, stressing the need to support efforts towards the realization of sustainable development.  At the continental level, the issue of child marriage is a concern that is individually and collectively addressed.  African States launched a campaign to end child marriage, as it perpetuates problems relating to health, lack of education, exploitation and lack of participation in economic opportunities.  Violence against children hampers full enjoyment of their human rights, he said, adding that the international community must allocate funds to support relevant national programmes to ensure child welfare, end all forms of violence against children and ensure that children are protected from smuggling, trafficking, exploitation and abuse. 

SANTIAGO YARAHUÁN DODERO, a youth delegate from Mexico, pointing out that in his country boys and girls constitute one-third of the population, called on States to redouble their efforts to safeguard children’s rights. In this regard, he urged Governments and other relevant stakeholders to provide young people with access to education, health services and a safe environment at home, while also making them aware of online risks.  Underscoring the importance of investing in mental welfare programmes for children, he called on States to ensure safe conditions, including prevention and early detection of human-trafficking victims, for children who are on the move. Protection of children’s human rights is vital for their participation in societies, he stressed, adding that this is a step forward towards a more just, egalitarian world. 

BRIAN CHRISTOPHER MANLEY WALLACE (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said the member countries take the rights of the child seriously, noting that the mix of global crises leave them in danger on and offline.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child is the cornerstone of all policies created to protect children in the region.  They are provided with inclusive education and health-care services — with an emphasis on maternal and child health — eradicating child labour and creating systems to respond to abuse and neglect.  The Community is working to create an environment free from racism and discrimination, where children’s voices are heard.  It is also working to address trafficking in children in vulnerable situations. 

This year, he said, Jamaica, together with other countries, would continue work on the resolution on the rights of the child.  The text will address the rights and safety of children in the digital environment, which is timely, as conversations in the Ad-Hoc Committee on the use of ICTs for criminal purposes continues its work. Discussions surrounding the resolution will focus on the challenges posed by encountering inappropriate content online, desensitizing children to inappropriate behaviour, data privacy, cyberbullying and fighting misinformation.  It is imperative that Governments and businesses implement tools to protect children online while respecting their right to explore and learn in the digital age.  The family has the primary responsibility to care for and nurture the child on and offline, he said, underscoring that the Group’s commitment to the rights of the child is unwavering.

PAVOL BEBLAVY, youth delegate of Slovakia, associating himself with the European Union, said data concerning children’s rights are “daunting” due to multiple crises, conflict and climate change.  With the SDGs off-track, States must speed up their efforts to avert this trend, he said, expressing full support to human rights bodies in their action to advance human rights.  The consequences of the climate crisis will be the daily reality of children, coupled with challenges such as poverty, social exclusion, access to health care, the COVID19 pandemic and high inflation.  His Government adopted a national action plan to improve living conditions of vulnerable children in the country.  He also strongly deplored the Russian Federation’s ongoing deportation of children to their territory and the temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine.

BABALWA MAKWATI (South Africa), associating  with the African Group, said that children bear the brunt of violence, displacement and loss in times of crisis.  South Africa will continue advocating for strong international mechanisms and adherence thereto through active dialogues and partnerships, she stressed, observing that her country has been promoting and realizing children’s rights.  Her Goverment remains committed to incorporating the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into the domestic legal system through national legislation. By working collaboratively with other nations, international organizations and civil society, South Africa seeks to ensure that children are provided with the support, care and protection they deserve.  It has also been working to create inclusive environments for all children in the country.

IRINA VELICHKO (Belarus) said that the State is implementing a national plan of action to improve the situation of children.  Steps include the provision of 11 different forms of benefit payments for families with children in difficult circumstances.  Additionally, Belarus is one of a few countries where parents have an opportunity to take child-care leave until the child turns three.  To address unlawful online content, television and Internet providers have included parental controls in their services.  She, meanwhile, was disappointed at what she said was the “growing politicization of the humanitarian work”, citing speculation about children being forcibly brought to children’s camps in Belarus.  She said no specific cases or names of a child forcefully brought to Belarus have been provided.  Belarus invited the UN Secretary-General to visit or send representatives to gain first-hand “objective information”.

LA HAOZHAO (China) said that poverty, disease, hunger and natural disasters continue to victimize children and are exacerbated by unilateral coercive measures by certain countries, stymying development.  Children are the hope of the nation, he said, pointing to the country’s 290 million child population.  The country has always acted in the best interests of the child, as well as to narrow the urban-rural gaps and ensure development, he said.  To that end, a plan recently adopted at the National Chinese Congress contains a chapter safeguarding the rights of women and children.  Further, the World Health Organization (WHO) lists the country in the top 10 countries for maternal and child health, he added.  Laws exist to protect children from domestic violence.  China has fulfilled its commitments to the Convention on the Rights of the Child through submitting its report and looks forward to the conversation with the Committee on the subject. He called on countries who have not done so to ratify the Convention.

ELAINE CRISTINA PEREIRA GOMES (Brazil), reporting that the “Bolsa Família” programme was re-designed in 2023 to include early childhood benefits to families with children younger than six years old, said that those families must meet the requirements on children’s vaccination, nutritional monitoring, school attendance and prenatal care.  The payment of this benefit increased from 64 per cent to 84 per cent in families with children lifted out of poverty.  In 2023, the Ministry of Education launched a national commitment to literacy for children — with a potential investment of $600 million until 2026 — that can benefit up to 15.8 million children.  Federal and state governments, along with municipalities, will resume education of children impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  In addition, migrant and refugee children in Brazil enjoy the same rights and have access to the same public services available to the citizens.

RIZZAL DOLAH (Malaysia), aligning with ASEAN, underscored the responsibility to nurture children as holistic individuals who will chart the course of our world.  Detailing domestic efforts in the legal field to protect and promote children’s rights through Malaysia’s Child Act 2001, he highlighted adoption of a new National Child Policy and Plan of Action and establishment of the Department of Child Development.  Malaysia has also introduced the concept of family-based care to ensure that children in need of protection and rehabilitation are housed with their parents or family members.  Malaysia has adopted a new approach called the Diversion Programme, focusing on rehabilitating low-risk child offenders involved in non-serious crimes, he added, reiterating his country’s commitment to further enhance child protection services and uphold the rights of children.

LEONOR ZALABATA TORRES (Colombia) said she is “deeply moved” by the challenges that poverty, inequality, climate change and armed conflict continue to pose.  Girls and boys are social agents from the beginning of their lives, endowed with particular capacities and vulnerabilities, she said, highlighting their need for protection, guidance and support in the exercise of their rights. For this reason, Colombia’s National Development Plan 2022–2026 has put children at the centre of its national policies, she said, spotlighting her country's objective of universalizing a holistic approach for girls and boys from 0 to 5 years old.  Priority is given to rural communities and territories most affected by violence.  On children and armed conflict, she said girls and boys who have been recruited by illegal armed groups to participate directly or indirectly in the development of hostilities are considered as victims and, consequently, not imprisoned.

FATEMEH ARAB BAFRANI (Iran), pointing out that her country has strengthened institutions and allocated resources to protect children’s rights, said it has also adopted several child-friendly laws in 2023.  In addition, it has prepared its fifth and sixth periodic reports on implementation of obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  On the right to health, Iran continues to implement its mass immunization programme, she noted, adding that its national health policies led to the decrease of the maternal mortality rate from 18 cases in 2017 to 15 cases in 2021.  The infant mortality rate has also decreased from 15 cases in 2017 to 11 cases in 2022. Further, Tehran has provided free education to Afghan children living in the country, while also making efforts to reduce the number of children missing school, she added.

STEPAN Y. KUZMENKOV (Russian Federation) said that the Convention on the Rights of the Child should serve as a basis to build a world fit for children, lamenting that the United States is the sole country yet to ratify it, which allows for rights violations, especially in child labour.  He stressed the importance of the family as the context for proper child development, noting that, unfortunately, the West does not give the family proper importance. As children do not have experience nor maturity, this leaves them vulnerable to manipulation, he said, adding that their decision-making must be overseen by parents or legal representatives. Currently his country is implementing a plan of activities related to the Decade of Children, aiming to promote the safety and health as well as improve the quality of life and education of children.  The plan focuses on vulnerable children as well as children with disabilities.

NATASHA LEPAGE, a youth delegate from Luxembourg, said Luxembourg’s primary aim is to protect children from negligence, exploitation, abuse and violence.  Migrants, she said, face language and literacy challenges in the educational system, although they were helped by a recent pilot project to teach French.  She voiced concerns over the availability of mental-health care, with waits of up to six months for children to consult a psychologist.

JULIEN WALD, a youth delegate from Luxembourg, made recommendations, including to promote multilingualism in education and enable the participation of children and young people in politics.  He urged making mental health accessible and affordable to all. 

LACHEZARA STOEVA (Bulgaria), associating with the European Union, said that all national policies and programmes in her country are rooted in a rights-based approach.  Bulgaria has implemented several measures to promote the rights of vulnerable and marginalized children, including children with disabilities.  Since 2022, an inter-institutional coordination mechanism operates on the national and local levels to assist unaccompanied children or those separated from their families, she said, pointing to the country’s progress in deinstitutionalizing child care.  All former 133 specialized institutions for children have been closed, except four homes for medical and social care managed by the Ministry of Health.  Those are also being phased out.  In addition, the Government has implemented measures to prevent child abandonment by supporting families and providing foster care and integrated community services, among others.

SHAHAD ALMUNAIFI (Kuwait), noting that there are children that are being abused on a daily basis, urged Member States to exert more efforts to develop legislation and protect children against violence and poverty. Reiterating her country’s support to the countries suffering from conflict, she said that Kuwait has enacted several laws on families and children.  In 2015, it established a Family Court that aims to address and settle family disputes.  It also enacted a law that guarantees the right of children to live, develop and grow within their families, which includes protection of all forms of violence and discrimination.  Noting that citizens are the cornerstone of her country’s development, she reaffirmed the importance of education for human development and societal advancement. 

TRAN NAM TRUNG DANG (Viet Nam), aligning with ASEAN, said that, despite global advancement in securing children’s rights, the journey is far from complete.  Children are faced with conflict and climate change, while often suffering from inadequate parental care, cyberbullying and online exploitation.  He then spotlighted his country’s significant milestones, including reducing child mortality and eliminating child labour.  Regionally, Viet Nam has been actively collaborating with other ASEAN members to protect the rights of children, with the aim of promoting gender equality and addressing emerging challenges affecting women in the region. Also, his Government has enacted several action programmes to reduce child labour and provide children with education opportunities and legal protection.

MISHAL AL MANDIL (Saudi Arabia) said that a regulatory framework in his country protected the rights of the child from birth to the age of 18, shielding them from discrimination and humiliation.  The framework also prevents circulation of anything encouraging behaviour against public order, he added, noting the importance of the family in that regard.  A national policy prevents child labour and fosters a healthy environment promoting rights pursuant to Islamic Sharia, he said.  Other legislation helps protect children in cyberspace.  Saudi Arabia shares the concerns of the Special Rapporteur on Children and Armed Conflict, he said, noting that his country maintains close cooperation with UNICEF regarding aid after the Syrian earthquake as well as a programme to reinsert children recruited to be child soldiers in Yemen, which has benefited 60,000 people so far.

NELLY BANAKEN ELEL (Cameroon) said her country has promoted education aimed at strengthening moral, traditional and cultural African values, which prepare children to lead responsible lives in a free society.  Cameroon favours a greater “professionalization” of teaching, beginning in primary school with the introduction of financial education.  Children also need to learn mathematics, technology and economics so as to develop their ability to innovate and contribute to the development of their country and the world.  Additionally, schools must teach children about the past, including the consequences of colonization and the slave trade.  Children should learn biology to understand that, beyond race, “all men share common humanity, and that progress must be shared”.

KRISHNA ARYAL (Nepal) said that violence and conflict caused the displacement of more than 43 million children globally by 2022, exposing them to multiple forms of violence.  Cyberbullying and child sexual exploitation are increasing, and growing attacks on schools and hospitals disrupt regular education for millions of children. Accordingly, access to quality education and advancing gender equality through education must be assured and social protection systems should be availed to all children and adolescents. Spotlighting progress achieved in his country, he pointed to the National Strategy to End Child Marriage of 2016, which envisions ending child marriage by 2030.  Also, the National Penal Code Act of 2017 explicitly prohibits and penalizes child marriage below 20 years.  Further, his Government has enacted and implemented legislation for preventing, prohibiting, and responding to all forms of abuse and violations against children online.

ALMAHA MUBARAK F. J. AL-THANI (Qatar) said that her country has created a centre for social protection and rehabilitation under the Qatar Social Work Foundation, while also setting up a highly advanced educational system.  In 2019, education spending in Qatar constituted 3.3 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP) — one of the highest rates in the Middle East and the North Africa region, she reported.  The same year, it launched an application “Help Me” — the first electronic service to enable children to ask for help through their mobile phones when they are in situations of harm.  The Government has also undertaken initiatives to provide quality education to children deprived of it due to conflict and disasters.  Also, Doha hosts the Analysis and Outreach Hub for the Office of the UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, she said, adding that the office of the UN Children’s Fund was opened in that city in March.

NATALIIA MUDRENKO (Ukraine), associating with the European Union, said that the Russian Federation’s war of aggression has a serious impact on 7.5 million children in Ukraine, with nearly two thirds experiencing internal or external displacement.  As a result, 75 per cent of school children suffer from stress and 26 per cent have post-traumatic stress disorder, she noted, adding that only one third of children of primary and secondary school age are learning fully in person.  Nearly 3,780 educational institutions have suffered bombing and shelling, while 33 of them have been destroyed completely, she reported, also pointing out that 405 children have been killed.  “One child was killed today,” she stressed, pointing to the attack in the Kharkiv region. In addition, she said that several cases of conflict-related sexual violence against children — 20 girls and one boy — committed by Moscow’s military are being investigated, spotlighting that the youngest victim was four years-old.

MERCEDES DE ARMAS GARCÍA (Cuba) said it is imperative that boys, girls and adolescents be able to grow up in a favorable environment for them to develop and fully realize their potential.  However, no child in Cuba can be free of the “illegal economic blockade” imposed for more than six decades, she said.  “This is an extreme form of violence against Cuban children, in violation of the charter of the UN and international law.”  She stressed that the embargo is the “main impediment to our development”, directly affecting children’s rights and quality of life.  Nevertheless, she said children in Cuba are growing happily.  The principle of protecting the rights of children is increasingly integrated in the Constitution and other laws.  In matters of education and health, children in Cuba are “catered for in a way that you would find in developed countries”, she said.

For information media. Not an official record.