Briefing the committee, Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that 24,000 grave violations committed against children were recorded in 2021 and that the abduction of girls has increased by 40 per cent. She highlighted her Office’s proposal to integrate all existing initiatives related to children and armed conflict into a comprehensive international framework, underlining the importance of reintegrating child soldiers into society.
In the ensuing interactive dialogue, many delegates condemned the aggression of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, while the representative of that country decried that children in his country are being killed, confined and displaced by the conflict. Addressing child soldiers, the representative of Norway expressed concern that children under 18 are no longer legally treated as children if they have been conscripted into armed conflict by armed groups, which prevents their reintegration into society, she said.
Najat Maala M’Jid, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, expressed concern about the lack of early protection for displaced children due to conflicts in Ukraine and other countries, who are at risk of being trafficked, abducted or going missing. Adding that the climate crisis is a threat multiplier for violence against children, she said that they are among those hit hardest by its impacts, with the most vulnerable particularly affected — those with disabilities, in poverty, in a rural setting, or those relying on a close relationship with nature and its resources, such as indigenous children.
Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on the Sale and Sexual Exploitation of Children, affirmed that children in situations of poverty, conflict, and internal displacement are subjected to child labour and are at an increased risk of sale and exploitation. “They are also at risk of being left behind in terms of strategies for tackling sale and sexual exploitation, as they remain largely excluded from data-collection exercises,” she added.
As such, alleviating poverty is essential, Ms. Singhateh said, offering solutions such as increased support, schemes for caregivers supporting children with disabilities, ending language barriers in accessing support systems and ensuring access to health care for families and children in street settings. She called for increased national standards to deliver needed care and also deter the exploitation of children.
Also briefing the committee were Sanjay Wijesekera, Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Mikiko Otani, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Turning to their general debate, delegates expressed regret for giving the climate crisis burden to today’s children and future generations, calling for the distribution of financial support to the most vulnerable as well as quality and continued education for all children.
Citing targeted attacks on schools in Ukraine and Myanmar, the representative of Liechtenstein insisted that schools must be protected spaces. Echoing Ms. M’Jid, he lamented the burden placed on future generations by climate change.
Striking a similar tone, the representative of South Africa recognized the duty of providing children with an education, but underscored the difficulty that the current panoply of crises poses. Highlighting the spike in violence that women and children experienced in his country during the pandemic, he said violence “deserves to be prioritized with the same urgency as the COVID‑19 pandemic and its mitigations”.
The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, also acknowledged difficulties posed by the pandemic, particularly for those living in poverty or countries in conflict, and children belonging to minorities or with disabilities. She emphasized the importance of investing in educational tools and remote learning for children in these contexts.
Also speaking were representatives of China, Israel, India, Ireland, Cameroon, Panama, United Kingdom, Colombia, Zambia, Honduras, Cuba, Indonesia, Slovakia, Canada, Thailand and Uruguay.
Youth delegates of Mexico, Serbia and Slovakia also spoke.
The Committee will meet again on Monday, 10 October to continue its debate on the rights of children.
VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict, highlighting 24,000 grave violations committed against children in 2021, said the violations with the highest verified numbers were killing, maiming, and recruitment, followed by denial of humanitarian access and abduction. Abduction of girls was strikingly on the increase at 40 per cent, she noted, adding that boys and girls are impacted by grave violations differently. Her office is developing studies on the impact of grave violations on children with disabilities in armed conflict and the links between climate insecurity and grave violations as well as linkages between child trafficking and grave violations. Moreover, her office also conducted a study on the gender dimensions of grave violations against children to examine how gender shapes the type of violations that different children experience. Highlighting the proposal to collect all existing initiatives related to children and armed conflict into a comprehensive international framework at the General Assembly level, she stressed the importance of the prevention of violations and sustaining peace.
As for reintegration, she drew attention to the Global Coalition for Reintegration for Child Soldiers’ research as well as collaboration with the World Bank to seek financing modalities for reintegration programmes. She also pointed to dialogues with national stakeholders working on child reintegration, which will be discussed during an international Symposium in Nairobi. In 2021, her office conducted dialogue with parties to conflict resulting in the release of over 12,200 children and adoption of new legislation and accountability measures, she underlined, recalling the signings of action plans with the United Nations in Mali by the Platform in August 2021 and in Yemen by the Houthis in May 2022 to end grave violations against children. During her trip to South Sudan in June, she participated in a national conference on children in armed conflict and secured a commitment for the Government to establish a child protection focal point within the Ministry of Justice. The focal point will assist prosecutors with any training needed to better implement existing laws criminalizing the six grave violations of children’s rights. She also visited Cairo, Brussels, Doha, Andorra, the United Kingdom and France and obtained concrete agreements for cooperation, such as in the agreement with the Qatar Fund for Development in Doha to support the office’s resources.
The representatives of Luxembourg, Malta, Slovenia and others aligned with the representative of the European Union, who spoke in its capacity as observer, lamenting that Ukraine went unmentioned in Ms. Gamba’s report. She asked what measures her office is taking to ensure that children do not become further victimized by the Russian aggression, and how her office works with the International Criminal Court (ICC). The representative of Ukraine emphasized that children in the country are being unlawfully confined and killed fleeing from unjustified aggression, asking what practices are best to protect these children.
The representative of Norway expressed concern that children under 18 are not treated as children if they have participated in or been conscripted into militias and terrorist groups, asking how to assure that these victims are reintegrated into society as children and not punished as adults.
The representative of Syria said that militias are holding children captive in parts of Syria, expressing regret that Ms. Gamba’s report failed to mention this. Further, he said the report was not objective and full of errors.
The representative of the Russian Federation highlighted its work with Iraq and Syria to repatriate displaced persons, adding that the problem in Syria is the illegal United States occupation there.
Also speaking in the interactive dialogue were representatives of Pakistan, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Liechtenstein, Türkiye, the United States, Germany, Estonia, the State of Palestine, France, Poland, Qatar, Mexico, Romania, India, the Philippines, Côte d’Ivoire, Lebanon, Azerbaijan, Andorra, and Albania.
Responding, Ms. GAMBA said international conventions and mechanisms need a framework to effectively respond to challenges posed at local levels, adding that “we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we just need to make it operative”. On the age of adulthood, she said a child is aged 0 to 17 and 643 days, adding that these children have special rights that must be upheld. Conversely, she continued, the international community must acknowledge that children born in camps, prisons and conflicts without birth certificates cannot be refused integration. Turning to her office’s work in Ukraine, she said that it communicates regularly with the framework already set up.
Violence against Children
NAJAT MAALLA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, introducing her report (document A/77/221), outlined activities undertaken by her office, including country visits to Chad, Ethiopia, Greece, Iceland, Jordan, Lebanon, Niger, and Romania. Her office has also participated in high-level political dialogues in various countries across regions as well as with regional organizations, and in critical engagements with States and regional institutions. In close cooperation with partners such as Special Representatives for Children and Armed Conflict and for Sexual Violence in Conflict, she has been addressing the lack of early identification and protection of forcibly displaced children due to conflicts in Ukraine and other countries, who are at risk of being trafficked, being abducted or going missing. In addition, as Chair of the United Nations Task Force on Children Deprived of Liberty, she said she would continue mobilizing and sharing practices on ending child immigration detention and child-sensitive justice.
She went on to outline the main points explored by her report, which focuses on how the climate crisis is increasing violence against children. Pointing out that the climate crisis is a threat multiplier for violence against children, she said that children – who bear the least responsibility for the climate crisis – are among those hit hardest by its impacts, with around 1 billion of them exposed to its risks. The most vulnerable children are particularly affected, including girls; children deprived of family care; those with disabilities; those living in poverty, rural areas, and humanitarian settings; and those who rely on a close relationship with nature and its resources, such as indigenous children. She went on to note that despite various commitments and policies to tackle the climate crisis, the protection of children and of their rights is not duly addressed. She called for strengthened cooperation and multilateralism, based on mutual partnerships and accountability, and underscored the need for climate and social justice for all children. Finally, she emphasized the need to listen to children, as well as empower and involve them more in decision-making processes. Further, she noted that the promise to children to put an end to violence by 2030 is regrettably very far away from being reached.
When the floor opened for comments and questions, delegates all welcomed the Special Representative’s report, raising questions on topics ranging from cyberbullying and ending child marriage to designing policies to prevent violence against children and involve children in the development of climate policies.
A number of delegates asked about how to address the mental health needs of the most vulnerable. The delegate of Niger asked about the situation of children in refugee camps in the Sahel region. The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, echoed the report’s concern about the record number of displaced children worldwide at the end of 2021 ‑ the highest number since World War II ‑ pointing out that their ranks have been swelled by the 5.2 million Ukrainian children newly displaced in 2022 due to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. She went on to ask about measures countries can take to protect children from exposure to vulnerability and violence in the context of climate change. Morocco’s delegate asked how the United Nations Task Force on Children Deprived of Liberty can continue its advocacy to end child immigrant detention. Meanwhile, the representative of Portugal asked how best a child-sensitive approach can be integrated into mental health policies and strategies. The Philippines’ delegate asked how the United Nations can enable the participation of the poorest and most disadvantaged children in climate policy and disaster risk reduction. Meanwhile, the representative of the Dominican Republic welcomed the Special Representative’s upcoming visit to his country and asked about her office’s priorities for Latin America, with an aim to putting an end to violence against children, and about how to incorporate the protection of children vis-à-vis climate change impacts. Afghanistan’s delegate asked about measures that can be taken to protect children’s rights in his country in light of reported human rights violations against women. For his part, the representative of the Russian Federation said he was “perplexed” by the report and its “constant excessive child-angle” towards climate change policy, adding that issues concerning the environment are universal and not specific to children. Moreover, children shouldn’t be pushed into civil protests.
Ms. M’JID replied that including the most vulnerable and most invisible requires early detection and comprehensive cross-sectoral child protection, encompassing health, justice and social protection. Responding to the views of the Russian Federation’s delegate, she said: “When we invest in children here, we are taking a life-cycle approach, a systemic approach.” Pointing out that violence against children costs 8 per cent of gross domestic product, she said such an approach made “economic sense” as well as addressed human rights concerns. On questions about mental health, she pointed out that exposure to crises and violence causes a strong impact, as borne out by the high incidence of self-mutilation observed during visits to refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. There is a need to strengthen local and national systems to deliver sustainable mental health services, she said. Turning to the participation of children in climate change issues, she pointed out that children are already acting and speaking on social media and elsewhere. “It is not that we are instrumentalizing them to become wonderful protestors; they have wonderful ideas and are already taking the lead,” she said, adding: “They are the parents of the future; us, we are already the past, and we have to have them on board.”
Also speaking during the interactive dialogue were representatives of Luxembourg, Mexico, Spain, Lebanon, Malta, Ireland, Romania, Costa Rica, Belgium, Colombia, Malaysia, Slovenia, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Syria, and Ukraine.
SANJAY WIJESEKERA, Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), presenting two reports of the Secretary-General — the World Fit for Children report and the report on Child, Early, and Forced Marriage — cautioned that despite significant improvements in the lives of many children, the current state of the world is not fit for all children, and progress towards the full realization of the rights of all children is lagging. He expressed concern over the impact of the COVID‑19 pandemic, climate change, and a multitude of conflict and other humanitarian crises on those children who are already most marginalised and experience multiple intersecting discriminations. He called for an urgent action to ensure that Government spending and tax systems directly benefit communities and children, and investments are strengthened in primary health care and education. He also urged States to take critical action to address the mental health of children, including adolescents. The three-pronged crisis of climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste has been identified by children as the defining task of the current century, and must be collectively and urgently addressed, he asserted.
Turning to children, early and forced marriage and outlining ways in which the COVID‑19 pandemic has impacted its risk, he said school closures deepened pre-existing gender inequalities in accessing education. Moreover, lockdown measures linked to the pandemic resulted in a surge in gender-based violence, impacting on the safety and security of girls. With health care systems around the world overwhelmed by the COVID‑19 pandemic, the rights of women and girls to have access to information and health care services were severely hampered. In this context, he detailed mitigation strategies that can limit the negative effects of the pandemic on girls, including strengthened social protection and poverty alleviation measures such as micro-credit programs, savings schemes, and cash transfers.
The representative of the European Union, speaking in its capacity as observer, stressed the importance of mainstreaming child rights into policies and considering them as rights holders. She asked about the main challenges UNICEF encountered in mainstreaming children’s rights within the European system, including on the ground. Further, she inquired about positive lessons on how children’s participation can be advanced. The European Union is fully engaged in the prevention of new forms of child labour and child sexual abuse, online and offline, she added, welcoming UNICEF’s contribution to the preparation of the Right of the Child resolution focused on the digital environment, facilitated by her Bloc and GRULAC.
The representative of Malaysia, pointing to difficulties in assessing whether interventions targeting persons with disabilities are having a positive impact. He asked about recommended practises that could be adopted to strengthen data collection regarding children with disabilities. Further, he asked if UNICEF had data already available to be shared with Member States.
The representative of Ukraine commended UNICEF’s efforts in addressing the humanitarian consequences of the Russian “full-scale, armed aggression” against her country to save children’s lives and protect those who are “severely affected by this war”. She called for strengthened joint efforts with the international community to protect Ukrainian children and take all possible measures to stop further suffering and violence against them.
The representative of Syria referred to the assistance his country has received in the past by UNICEF, targeting children who could not continue going to school due to the war, including initiatives condensing two years of study into one involving children with disabilities. Pointing to studies carried out in the northwest of Syria in which interviewed girls expressed fear of sexual aggression, he noted that the region is outside the control of Syrian authorities and under the control of groups “considered terrorists groups” by the United Nations. On early and forced marriage, he asked about the influence of coercive measures that lead to deterioration of the economic situation and force girls to marry early.
Responding, Mr. WIJESEKERA said that mainstreaming child rights required coordinated efforts within Governments, including among ministries. While digital technologies enable access to learning, such context provides potential threats as well, he said, underscoring the importance of ensuring that online space is safe for children. Adding that mainstreaming child rights includes focusing on the most vulnerable, he said children with disabilities are the last reached with services or protection measures. The recently concluded disability inclusion policy and strategy emphasizes the strong need for disaggregated data collection. A recently released report identifies specific evidence-driven issues that children with disabilities face. On conflicts, he emphasized that girls are particularly exposed to significant violence, reinforcing the importance of humanitarian action to prevent it, including sexual abuse.
Source: UN General Assembly