10 March 2010 - Child Rights at the Human Rights Council 59
- Report from the day on the rights of the child
- Side event on 10th anniversary of the Optional Protocols to the CRC
- News in Brief
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Children Have Rights Too!
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A whole day at the Human Rights Council was given over to a discussion on children’s rights.
This year, State delegates, NGOs, UN agencies and individual experts gathered at the Palais des Nations, in Geneva, Switzerland, to discuss the issue of sexual violence.
The aim of the discussion was to “raise awareness about the question of sexual violence against children, reaffirm existing standards and commitments, highlight good practices and lessons learnt from work over the years, identify key challenges and anticipate future work.” Read more about the event.
During the morning presentations, Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative to the Secretary General on Violence Against Children, outlined the dangers that sexual violence poses to children – long term consequences in addition to the immediate harm. “Studies show that sexual assault by an intimate partner is not rare, and is experienced in many areas of the world.”
Ms Santos Pais quoted a survey on sexual violence in Swaziland, which suggested that one in three girls has experienced some sort of sexual violence. Marginalised children were found to be particularly at risk. In 75 per cent of cases, the perpetrators were well known to victims.
She said: “This example shows how prevalent sexual violence is in the world. Children feel abandoned, worried about reporting, scared that no one will believe them, and, in particular, that there are no mechanisms to hear them.”
Tim Ekesa, of the Kenya Alliance for the Advancement of Children, also spoke during the morning session. He said: “Sexual violence against children in the East Africa region is encouraged by cultural traditions. Lack of basic needs...drive certain children...to seek help from adults. In return for their help, some of these adults ask for sexual favours.”
He noted that a lack of stiff penalties and slow judicial procedures make bringing cases difficult, while, in the meantime, teachers who have abused may continue to teach the same pupils.
Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on Torture, then took the floor. He said: “More than one million children around the world are deprived of their liberty, making them among the most vulnerable and forgotten in society.”
He added that the number of children in detention is rising. “Rather than receiving preferential treatment , they are in fact at higher risk of abuse...They are not only more subject to corporal punishment but also violence from fellow detainees,” Professor Nowak said.
He noted that detaining children in the same facilities as adults placed them at greater vulnerability of abuse, despite international obligations requiring separate facilities.
“When sexual or other types of abuse occur, they frequently go unreported mainly due to fear of further reprisals or of shame,” he said.
Children often face particular difficulties in accessing legal and medical services, including forensic evidence to substantiate their claims. Special care to ensure that victims are not retraumatised, particularly who have experienced gender-based violence, and who need to be protected from further stigmatisation, is often not available. The trauma may cause children to suffer long after their detention, Professor Nowak said.
There is not always a clear distinction between placing children going through judicial process and those in need of protection in separate institutions. So victims of trafficking or sexual exploitation, homeless children, and those with mental disabilities, often are held together without distinction. “All this places children at further risk of abuse,” he added.
Finally, Professor Nowak made the point that many sex offences laws around the world only consider girls, and do not address violence towards boys.
He concluded that in order to end sexual violence against children, there must be strong policies and leadership, and adequate training. States should elaborate a clear policy demonstrating that sexual violence against children in detention will not be tolerated. The institutional detention of children should only be of last resort, and must be for the shortest possible time. This must be separate from adults. Complaints and monitoring systems must also be established.
Lena Karlsson, of Save the Children, spoke of the particular vulnerability of children on the move. She said: “Boys are generally considered capable of protecting themselves because of constructions of masculinity, and so services are less directed at them.”
Border crossing makes children vulnerable to sexual violence, because guides or border guards help them to get over the border. She said: “Many children are even criminalised for the sexual violence they have experienced.” Some children are sent back to home countries where they experience additional stigmatisation. Ms Karlsson added that we also tend to label children on the move, for example migrants, and services for them are often based on those categorisations which may mean services are limited.
She concluded: “We need to gain a better understanding of children’s movement and the reasons behind it. We also need to better understand the perpetrators’ behaviour, including young perpetrators, and engage boys and men in the fight against violence.”
Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, spoke about sexual violence against children in conflict situations. “War time rape, whether against children or women, is one of the horrific manifestations of conflict.
“Sexual violence may take place because war creates a climate of impunity.
“Justice is very important, not only in itself, but sometimes because it helps the healing process and helps women and children to come to terms with it.”
Following the presentations, a representative from Spain, on behalf of the EU, asked how the implementation of the recommendations of the UN Study on Violence Against Children may be assessed. H e also spoke of addressing violence in the family context in particular, as this is the most sensitive setting.
A delegate from Mexico spoke of sexual tourism, and emphasised the need to integrate a gender perspective in any effort to fight sexual violence towards children. “What measures can be taken in this regard?” he asked.
A representative from UNICEF talked of the underlying discriminatory norms that further sexual violence. She said that the UNICEF protections strategy, among other provisions, emphasises the importance of human rights education.
A delegate from Indonesia mentioned that poverty is often at the root of vulnerability, for example in leading children to migrate to unfamiliar countries and environments.
A New Zealand delegate, also on behalf of Australia and Canada, said studies show only about 10 per cent of sexual violence incidents are reported to police. He said reasons for underreporting “must be given far greater attention.”
A representative of OMCT spoke of violence against children in detention. She highlighted that rape in detention constitutes torture, and made a series of recommendations. Read the full statement here.
A representative of Plan talked of sexual violence in schools. She noted the gender-based nature of sexual violence, and that few perpetrators are held accountable. “Victims suffer physical and psychological torture and are at risk of sexual diseases such as HIV,” she added.
In response to some of the questions, Ms Santos Pais noted that good practice is not well enough documented. “It is much more important to prevent these incidents, than lament their impact on children’s lives,” she said.
Professor Nowak said he interprets his mandate to also include violence by non-State actors. For example, he carried out a visit to Moldova to look at domestic violence with the Special Rapporteur on Women, and so he would be willing to do the same with Ms Santos Pais. He suggested carrying our joint missions and joint reports. He added he fully agrees with all OMCT recommendations. He said: “It is a shame that so many children in the world are in closed institutions, and very often are exposed to corporal punishment and other forms of corporal punishment...looking for alternatives is essential.” He added that bringing the perpetrators to justice, and ending the culture of impunity, is also essential.
Ms Karlsson emphasised the role of fathers in preventing sexual violence. “It is important to have parental programmes that address positive fatherhood”, she said. She also observed how the media could be used to disseminate positive messages. Finally, she emphasised the need to ban all forms of legal violence.
Ms Coomaraswamy spoke of the need to work with communities in conflict situations to prevent violence. She also drew attention to the root causes, such as the status of women, and the cycle of violence (many who are abused become abusers).
In the comments from the floor that followed, a representative from Ukraine said his government supported the work of the Working Group on the complaints mechanism.
Afternoon session: the prevention of sexual violence and respsonses
Susana Villaran de la Puente, of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, talked about the definition of sexual violence as an issue. Measures that can be taken to protect children include legal measures. For example, in civil legislation, the minimum age for marriage varies considerably – this must be harmonised.
Victor Karunan, Chief of Adolescent Development and Participation, UNICEF, spoke about the networks of children and young people who have begun to advocate on the issue of sexual exploitation. For example, human trafficking is a big problem in the Greater Mekong area of Asia. Children and Love raised awareness and took action in their communities, motivating adults to set up child protection networks. “Children themselves are the best advocates against violence”, he concluded.
Among the points noted by Najat M’Jid Maalla, she said that many countries do not have accessible complaint mechanisms for children. She concluded: “The sexual exploitation of children is not inevitable.” She called on States to implement all the recommendations in the Rio action plan.
Maud de Boer- Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, began her presentation by saying: “Among all the victims of violence, children are among the most vulnerable and the least protected.”
She said the Council of Europe had approached the issue of sexual violence in a number of ways, including establishing a regional convention on sexual violence against children. The Lanzarote Convention, adopted in 2007, is also open to ratification by non European countries. It is based on four pillars: prevention, protection, prosecution and participation.
She added: “We often call for child friendly services, but we do not always know what this means in practice.”
Eliana Restrepo, Deputy Director of Plan, Colombia, made the final presentation of the afternoon. She emphasised that “we can all be part of a protective network.” For example, Plan teamed up with a bank in Colombia to train more than 5,000 employees to help prevent sexual exploitation.
Victor Karunan, in responding to questions raised from the floor, said that information technology, while it could be dangerous, can also be positive, for example in helping children to exchange stories and report abuse.
Ms Restrepo emphasised the value of self-protection in respect of children – not that they should be responsible for abuse they suffer, but that they can participate in prevention mechanisms.
Najat M’Jid Maalla further emphasised the need to ensure that complaints mechanisms are confidential and accessible. A human rights culture, where sexual violence is not tolerated, must be promoted, she added.
OMCT: Violence against children in detention
ECPAT : Children's right to protection from sexual violence
Defence for Children International: Statement on Prosecution of children in military courts
Women's World Summit Foundation: Statement on violence against children
- Issues: sexual exploitation
- CRIN information page on the Human Rights Council
- About the UN Study on Violence Against Children
- Information on the 13th session of the HRC
- CRIN's news page on the Human Rights Council
- Our information page on the Human Rights Council
A side event on the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the two Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, on armed conflict and exploitation, took place during the 13th session of the Human Rights Council. (Read more about the event here)
Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative to the Secretary General on Violence Against Children, said: “We recognise that we have not done enough.”
Ms Pais emphasised that a third protocol on a complaints mechanism to the CRC would further strengthen the means of redress for children who have suffered rights violations. Read about the efforts to establish this mechanism here
Jean Zermatten, of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, noted that only two thirds of States have ratified both Optional Protocols. He also said the Committee regretted the weak data collection, dissemination of the texts, and the absence of monitoring systems on the instruments.
'More than standard setting'
Susan Bissell, Chief of child Protection at UNICEF, also presented at the event. She said: “The Optional Protocols do more than set standards. The reporting requirements demand accountability from State Parties.” Two guides on the Optional Protocols have been published by UNICEF. Read them here
Ms Bissell outlined some positive examples on the relation to the OP on exploitation. For example, in the Philippines, the child protection act, adopted in 1992, complies with many of the requirements of the OPSC. Among other provisions, it criminalises the prostitution of girls and boys under the age of 18. She also emphasised that legal provisions are “not enough.” All the general measures of the CRC must be implemented.
In East Timor, the inclusion of a gender based violence module in the national police academy training curriculum has ensured the continued focus of police on sexual abuse and exploitation. In Ukraine, a specialised police unit has been established to combat child pornography.
Ms Bissell noted that many more examples had been highlighted at the Third World Congress against Sexual exploitation of Children and Adolescents. She cautioned, however, that a culture of impunity, both legal and social, prevails in many countries.
Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, spoke about the situation of children in armed conflict. She said there has been a “sea change” in attitudes. She has been able to testify before the International Criminal Court, and investigated many complaints of violations.
How do we move ahead? One way would be to have a campaign for “straight 18” to harmonise laws. Fine tuning reintegration strategies, which are long term, is another challenge. She noted the tendency to, for example, train children as mechanics for six months before sending them back to their communities – at which point they are rerecruited by armed forces.
Jo Becker, of Human Rights Watch, said: “In my experience of human rights, things take a long time to change. But in terms of child soldiers, what has been achieved in the last ten years is remarkable.”
Ten years ago, child soldiers were used in 36 countries from around the world. Today, that number is 14. Even ten years ago, many governments were still justifying using child soldiers, for example because it is a rite of passage to manhood – now you very rarely hear excuses. Governments have also raised the age of legal involvement to 18 in many countries.
Individual criminal responsibility has also changed markedly, with trials under way for example at the ICC. The Security Council has also taken up the issue in an “unprecedented way”.
Ms Becker outlined steps which are important to implementation of OPAC. One is ratification: “We need to encourage the remaining 60 to do so.” Secondly, “there is still a lot we can do to strengthen individual accountability”. Third, the potential for stronger bilateral action by States – using political and financial influence to stop the use of child soldiers. Fourth, the potential of the Security Council, and in particular the use of targeted sanctions against violators. Finally, it is much more effective to prevent children from being recruited in the first place, and we can do more to strengthen prevention programmes, for example through education and monitoring.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, Najat M'jid Maalla, also presented at the side event. She outlined the nature of the Optional Protocol, and the clear obligations and provisions it contains. Ms Maalla tracked the progress made over the last ten years since the adoption of the Optional Protocol. She said: “National laws do not protect children efficiently,” while child protection strategies are not “entirely based on a child rights, cross-sectoral and integrated approach.”
- Read about the Optional Protocols
- Visit CRIN's A to Z of child rights to help with the jargon
- See our legal guide
- CRIN toolkits
News in Brief
Thursday 11 March, Side event on The Right to Education of girls living in precarious situations in Africa: http://www.crin.org/docs/BICE.pdf
Tomorrow's CRINMAIL: interview withTim Ekesa, of the Kenya Alliance for the Advancement of Children
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