In this issue:
In this month's UN CRINmail, we bring you the latest news on children's rights at the United Nations, including the celebration of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, a call from civil society organisations to António Guterres to publish an impartial list of parties to armed conflict that commit grave violations of children's rights, as well as the release of the report of the High-Level Working Group on Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents. Special Rapporteurs have also been busy expressing concern at the Argentina's criminal justice system, or noting that the sale, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children remains an issue of grave concern in the Dominican Republic.
Marking the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) on 17 May, a group of UN and human rights expertsurged States to protect trans and gender diverse children and adolescents effectively from discrimination, exclusion, violence and stigma. Highlighting that trans and gender diverse children remain stigmatised, ostracised, marginalised and rejected in some families, the experts recalled that many of those children remained at risk of physical, sexual and psychological violence in community settings and within their own families. They also explained how trans and gender diverse children and adolescents were more vulnerable to school-related violence, including bullying and cyberbullying, exclusion in the classroom, playgrounds, toilets and changing rooms. The experts urged States to adopt a legal and policy framework to protect the rights of trans and gender diverse youth that is respectful of gender diversity, and for States to adopt and implement effective measures prohibiting violence, anti-discrimination laws covering gender identity and expression. They reiterated calls for States to decriminalise and de-pathologise trans and gender diverse identities and expressions, including for young transgender people, to prohibit ‘conversion therapies’ and refrain from adopting new criminalising laws.
Also speaking on IDAHOT, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, stressed that this year the theme of the family had been chosen to mark this important day, focusing on the role of families in the wellbeing of LGBTI people and respect of the rights of LGBTI families. “Many young gay and transgender people are rejected by their families, living on the streets, facing all types of discrimination and violence,” he said.
A group of 44 civil society organisations has called on UN Secretary-General António Guterres to publish an accurate and credible list of parties to armed conflict, including States, which carry out grave violations of children’s rights. The group released an open letter addressed to Guterres after reports that he was planning to “freeze” new additions to the so-called “list of shame” attached to his annual report to the UN Security Council on children and armed conflict. The alleged move follows two years of much-criticised politicisation of the list, including high profile action from Saudi Arabia, which allegedly threatened to withdraw funding from key UN programmes if it was kept on the list over ongoing children’s rights violations in Yemen. The organisations which signed the letter, including CRIN, believe that “after fifteen years of annual lists, parties to armed conflict should be well aware that if they commit grave violations against children, they may be listed”. Allowing extra time for parties to make “commitments” to children’s rights will only make the process vulnerable to additional politicisation. The organisations call on the Secretary-General to commit to “an impartial list, based on evidence, not politics. Children whose lives are devastated by armed conflict deserve nothing less.”
Leaked UN documents suggest that a peacekeeping battalion in the Central African Republic has been repeatedly flagged as a potential source of adults who sexually abuse children, though little action has been taken to remove them. In an open letter, AIDS-Free World and the Code Blue Campaign claim to have come into possession of internal UN documents that call into question the Secretary-General’s commitment to adopting “structural, legal and operational measures to make zero tolerance a reality,” as he pledged earlier this year. The documents include a 66-page assessment report and single-page memo, concerning a peacekeeping battalion in Berbérati. The campaigners claim that by failing to act on information about sexual abuse by peacekeepers, the UN is setting the stage for future abuse and placing women and children in harm's way. The 66-page report records how 120 of the 750 peacekeepers in the battalion were repatriated to the Republic of Congo “on SEA [sexual exploitation and abuse] cases,” representing 16 percent of the total force in Berbérati, with at least six reported child victims.
Speaking at an open debate on the theme “Sexual violence in conflict as a tactic of war and terrorism” at the UN Security Council, Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General, stressed that sexual violence was “no longer seen as ‘merely a women’s issue’ or as a ‘lesser evil’ in a false hierarchy of human rights violations”. Instead, it was rightly seen “as legitimate threat to security and durable peace that requires an operational security and justice response, in addition to ensuring multi-dimensional services for survivors of such crimes.” She said that a robust legislative framework was now in place, including a series of precise Security Council resolutions with new tools to drive change and progress. But “all our words, and laws, and resolutions, will mean absolutely nothing if violations go unpunished in practice, and if we fail in our sacred duty of care to survivors,” she said. Mohammed pointed out that those who commit these heinous crimes often escape justice while their victims are forced to live with the shame of having been raped, and of being rejected by their families and communities. Referring to the sexual abuses committed by peacekeepers, she highlighted that the response of the United Nations to sexual violence in conflict was “undermined by unacceptable allegations and incidents of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers”.
The global number of refugee and migrant children moving alone has reached a record high, increasing nearly five-fold since 2010, according to a new UNICEF report. At least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children were recorded in some 80 countries in the combined years of 2015 and 2016, up from 66,000 in 2010 and 2011. ‘A Child is a Child: Protecting children on the move from violence, abuse and exploitation’presents a global snapshot of refugee and migrant children, the motivations behind their journeys and the risks they face along the way. The report shows that an increasing number of these children are taking highly dangerous routes, often at the mercy of smugglers and traffickers, to reach their destinations, clearly justifying the need for a global protection system to keep them safe from exploitation, abuse and death. UNICEF said the central Mediterranean route between north Africa and Italy is one of the world's deadliest, with 4,579 deaths last year, including some 700 children, many from Eritrea, Gambia, Nigeria, Egypt and Guinea. Unaccompanied children and children separated from their families accounted for 92 percent of all under-18s arriving in Italy by sea last year.
The process of the first Global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration, due to be adopted in 2018, was started in May. The first of the six informal consultations to be held before then, was on the theme of the human rights of migrants. Louise Arbour, the Special Representative for International Migration called on States “to review and put in place effective migration policies that reject an “us vs. them” mentality between nationals and migrants”. “Migrants are not a burden. Even less so are they a threat. Properly managed, migration stands to benefit all”, she said. The UN General Assembly will hold an intergovernmental conference on international migration in 2018, with a view to adopting the global compact.
The High-Level Working Group on Health and Human Rights of Women, Children and Adolescents has published its report on “Leading the realisation of human rights to health and through health”. The report refers throughout to rights “to health and through health” to express the fact that the right to health does not stand alone, but is indivisible from other human rights. In other words, human rights cannot be fully enjoyed without health; likewise, health cannot be fully enjoyed without the dignity that is upheld by all other human rights. In the report, the group of experts urges governments to recognise and respect the integral relationship between upholding human rights and steadily improving health, particularly among women, children and adolescents. Calling on States to adopt concrete measures to better enable individuals to claim their rights, participate in health-related decision-making, and obtain redress for violations of health-related rights, the report emphasises in particular that “Respect for the agency of children as rights’ holders is a precondition for their full exercise of their rights to health and through health”. “This is enshrined in international human rights law, which stipulates that children’s views and wishes must be given due weight in accordance with their age and maturity”, it adds. The report also looks at adolescents’ right to health, expressing concerns over the fact that their access to health-care services, particularly sexual and reproductive health and mental health services and information, is often hindered by laws and regulations that impose restrictions relating to minimum age, third-party authorisation or marital status. The report highlights the need for a comprehensive sexuality education, stressing that providing young people with comprehensive sexuality education — scientifically accurate and rights-based information about sexuality and reproductive health appropriate to their age — is effective in improving their health.
The High-Level Working Group was established in May 2016 by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to secure political support, both nationally and internationally, for the implementation of the human rights-related measures required by the Global Strategy for Women’s, Children’s and Adolescents’ Health (2016-2030).
For more information on this you can also read CRIN’s submission to the High Level Working group on Health and Human Rights.
A new publication “Protecting Children against Torture in Detention: Global Solutions for a Global Problem” has been launched in the presence of the Special Representative of Secretary-General on violence against children, Marta Santos Pais and Juan Méndez, former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture. As Professor Méndez highlighted at the launch: “Children in detention are at heightened risk of experiencing violence or abuse, and significantly more vulnerable than adults to being subject to torture. States therefore have a heightened due diligence obligation to take additional measures and apply higher standards to ensure the human rights of children to life, health, dignity and physical and mental integrity”. Looking at the intersection between children’s rights and the international prohibition of torture, ill-treatment and other forms of violence against children, the contributions of more than 30 international children’s rights experts, including from CRIN, address a variety of contexts, including children deprived of liberty in the criminal justice system, in the context of armed conflict, in orphanages and other care institutions, and in the context of migration and of seeking asylum.
According to a new study, published by UNICEF, at least 2.7 million children in 140 countries live in residential care worldwide. Yet the figures published in the “Child abuse and neglect” publication are likely to be just the tip of the iceberg, with wide gaps in data collection and accurate records found in the majority of countries. “It is critical that governments keep more accurate and comprehensive listings of all existing residential care facilities, as well as regularly undertake thorough counts of children living in these facilities in order to help strengthen official records,” said Claudia Cappa, a statistics specialist at UNICEF and co-author of the study. “In residential care, such as institutions or orphanages, children who are already vulnerable due to family separation are at increased risk of violence, abuse and long-term damage to their cognitive, social and emotional development”, said Cornelius Williams, Associate Director of Child Protection at UNICEF. Central and Eastern Europe was the region found to have the highest rate of children living in residential care worldwide, with 666 children per 100,000 living in State care, more than five times the global average of 120 children per 100,000.
CRIN recently published a guide on accessing justice for violations of children’s rights in care institutions in Eastern and Southeastern Europe and the Caucasus. Read our new guide here.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern at the selectivity of Argentina’s criminal justice system in relation to persons from different socioeconomic backgrounds and those engaged in social protest. The group noted that “Those in situations of vulnerability such as children, including street children, LGBTI persons, indigenous people and migrants, are more likely to be arrested by the police on the suspicion of the commission of a crime or ‘withheld’ for the verification of identity”. They pointed out that the police powers to arrest are broad and that the use of pretrial detention is excessive, noting that up to 60 percent of detainees are in pre-trial detention. The Working Group’s experts observed that the exceptionality of the deprivation of liberty in relation to juveniles was not fully enforced in Argentina. “During our visit, we heard of individuals below the age of 16 being deprived of liberty and ill-treated by law enforcement agents”. The Working Group encouraged the authorities to look for alternatives to detention, and to apply them in all possible cases.
After visiting the Dominican Republic, the Special Rapporteur (SR) on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, noted that although considerable progress has been made on poverty reduction, education, combating trafficking and online sexual abuse and exploitation, and in implementing child-sensitive judicial proceedings, the sale, sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children remains an issue of grave concern. The Dominican Republic has the highest rate of child marriage in Latin America and the Caribbean, which is linked to early sexualisation, the pressure exercised on girls to get pregnant, violence within the family, and marriage being seen as a way out of poverty. The SR also emphasised that sex-tourism has resulted in vulnerable women and children being increasingly targeted and is an issue that needs urgent action. De Boer-Buquicchio also raised a number of other issues, focusing on children living and/or working on the street, the exploitation of child labour in agriculture, domestic work and sports, all of which the State must do more to address. Lastly, the SR called on the State to be more effective in tackling intercountry adoption of children.
On concluding her mission to the Zambia, the SR on the right to food, Hilal Elver, highlighted that access to adequate and nutritious food in rural areas continues to be a challenge, especially for women and children. Children in rural communities described being limited to one meal a day, and an alarming 40 percent of children under five were found to be stunted through the effects of malnutrition. Pregnant women were found to be particularly vulnerable to malnutrition with around ten percent of women of reproductive age being underweight. Poor nutrition in mothers, both before, during and after pregnancy is having a direct impact on children’s health and development. While breast feeding rates are high, acute and chronic malnutrition of women of reproductive age may be reducing the nutritional value of breastmilk. Child labour was also found to be widespread in agriculture with the SR noting that children as young as seven are often left to work in difficult and unmonitored conditions, forced to apply potentially harmful pesticides to crops, and sometimes sleep unattended overnight in fields, exposing them to gender based or other forms of violence.
The SR on the rights of persons with disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, concluded her first visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) noting that women and girls with disabilities are ashamed to participate in community activities due the strong stigma attached to disability. Children with disabilities enrolled in mainstream schools were also found to face multiple barriers to accessing education on an equal basis with others, due to the lack of accessible infrastructure, and the unavailability of assistive devices. The SR also highlighted the need to transition children from residential care institutions to family and community-based forms of child care in accordance with the CRC (article 20 and 23) and the CRPD (article 7). Lastly, the SR identified a need to expand the effective coverage of those benefits and services to all persons with disabilities, including people with dwarfism and those with intellectual, developmental, psychosocial, multiple and severe disabilities, so as to ensure their enjoyment on an equal basis with others.
The SR on the right to health, violence against women and the chair-rapporteur of the Working Group on the discrimination against women have encouraged El Salvador’s congress to advance the protection of the human rights of women and girls by approving legislation that would decriminalise abortion in specific circumstances. El Salvador is one of the few countries in the world that still criminalises women for terminating a pregnancy in any circumstances, even when a woman's life is in danger, in the event of rape or incest, or when a fetus would not survive the pregnancy. "The criminalisation of the termination of pregnancy imposes an intolerable cost on the women, their families and the society," the experts said, highlighting that it restricts women's access to sexual and reproductive health services and information and that due to the threat of criminal punishment, women and girls are often afraid to seek medical attention when suffering from pregnancy-related complications.
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The UPR reports of Haiti, Venezuela, Timor-Leste, Republic of Moldovaand Uganda adopted during the Human Rights Council’s 34th session in March are now available on CRIN’s website.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) held its 75th session in May and June and reviewed the situation of children’s rights and the implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols in the United States, Bhutan, Lebanon, Qatar, Romania, Mongolia, Antigua and Barbuda, and Cameroon.
During the session, the CRC also proceeded with the election of the new Chairperson and members of the bureau. Renate Winter was elected as the new Chairperson. Susanne Aho Assouma, Clarence Nelson, José Angel Rodríguez Reyes and Olga Khazova were elected as Vice-Chairpersons. Bernard Gastaud was elected as Rapporteur. Five new members of the Committee also made the solemn declaration: Cephas Lumina, Ann Skelton, Mikiko Otani, Luis Pedernera, and Velina Todorova. The full membership of the Committee is available on the OHCHR website.
The Committee against Torture (CAT) held its 60th session in April and May and reviewed the compliance of six countries with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment:
Afghanistan: Deeply concerned at the recent cases of executions of minors, the Committee urged the State party to immediately end the execution of minors and commute all existing death sentences for offenders on death row who had committed a crime while under the age of 18. The Committee also expressed concerns over the practice of "bacha baazi", a practice that facilitates sexual violence against, and sexual slavery of boys, and recommended the State to take all measures to promptly adopt and enforce the new prohibition law to eradicate this practice. The Committee recommended this include action to ensure that all cases of sexual violence against boys, including those involving officials, are promptly and impartially investigated and that the perpetrators are prosecuted.
Bahrain: The Committee was concerned that the age of criminal responsibility for children is at the age of seven years and that minors over 16 years of age are in fact regarded as adult offenders, considering that this increases the minors’ exposure to risk of torture and ill-treatment. It urged the State party to raise this minimum age to 12 years, as recommended by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its General Comment No. 10. It also recommended to ban corporal punishment in all settings, including in the home, alternative care and day care settings, as well as in penal institutions.
Lebanon: The Committee remained concerned at various consistent reports that security forces and military personnel continue to routinely use torture against suspects in custody, including children, who are often held incommunicado, primarily to extract confessions that are to be used in criminal proceedings, or as a form of punishment for acts that the victim is believed to have committed. The Committee also expressed concerns at the situation of women and girls, particularly from South and Southeast Asia and East and West Africa, forced into domestic servitude.
Pakistan: The Committee was concerned about allegations of sexual abuse of minor prisoners by adult prisoners and prison staff which have not been subject to effective investigations and for which perpetrators have not been punished. It also expressed concerns about the execution of individuals who were allegedly minors at the time of the offense, in breach of international and domestic prohibitions. It recommended that: minor detainees be held separately from adults; that allegations of sexual abuse are duly investigated and as appropriate prosecuted and punished; and that the State party ensures the existence of effective mechanisms to determine the age of juvenile offenders in line with due process and fair trial standards.
Republic of Korea: The Committee was concerned that corporal punishment of children remains permitted in the home, in schools, as well as in alternative care and day care settings, in particular in orphanages and child welfare facilities, especially in parts of the country outside the capital city of Seoul. It recommended the State party amends and enacts legislation explicitly and clearly prohibiting corporal punishment in all settings and take the necessary measures to prevent it. It also expressed concerns about the absence of legally prescribed maximum duration of immigration detention and immigration detention of minors and recommended the State avoids detaining immigrant minors, applying non-custodial measures for minors instead.
The Committee’s concluding observations for Argentina are not yet available in English.
The Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) held its 26th session in April and reviewed the compliance of three States with the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families:
Bangladesh: The Committee expressed concerns over reports about undocumented Myanmar nationals working in the State party, including children, frequently subjected to sexual and gender-based violence as well as sexual and labour exploitation, including forced labour, and other forms of ill-treatment. It recommended that the State party provides adequate assistance, protection and rehabilitation, including psychosocial rehabilitation, to all migrant worker victims of sexual and labour exploitation, especially women and children. The Committee also recommended the State party ensures that all children of migrant workers are registered at birth and issued personal identity documents in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Jamaica: The Committee was concerned about reports regarding “sex tourism”, domestic servitude, forced and child labour, and commercial sexual exploitation, and the lack of information on measures taken to combat such abuses. It also expressed concerns over the situation of children of Jamaican migrant workers, and the conditions of their resettlement and reintegration upon their return. The Committee also recommended that the State party amends the Immigration Restriction Act to protect children of prohibited immigrants, including unaccompanied children.
Nigeria: The Committee expressed concerns about the lack of information on measures taken to prevent the engagement of children trafficked from neighbouring countries in forced child labour in agriculture, construction, mining and quarrying. It recommended that the State party ensures the effective enforcement of applicable sanctions against persons violating existing legislation on child labour, including by raising awareness of international standards relating to child labour among labour inspectors, the general public and law enforcement agencies; to prosecute, punish and sanction persons or groups exploiting migrant workers, or subjecting them to forced labour and abuse, especially in the informal economy; and to provide adequate assistance, protection and rehabilitation, including psychosocial rehabilitation, to victims of sexual and labour exploitation, especially women and children.
Committee on enforced disappearance: 10 August for the review of Gabon and Lithuania.
Committee on migrant workers: 14 August for the review of Indonesia, Ecuador and Mexico
Written contributions to the 29th Session of the working group on UPR: 29 June for the review of France, Tonga, Romania, Mali, Botswana, Bahamas, Burundi, Luxembourg, Barbados, Montenegro, United Arab Emirates, Israel, Liechtenstein, Serbia. More information on the OHCHR website.
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THE LAST WORD
Sexual orientation and gender identity at the HRC
The Human Rights Council (HRC) opened its 35th session on 6 June, and on the same day, the Independent Expert (IE) on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI), Vitit Muntarbhorn, presented his first report during an interactive dialogue. He underlined the need to recognise that gender identity could be different from the gender assigned at birth. He recalled that in many countries, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons were still victims of torture, mistreatment, killing, harassment and bullying from a young age. Muntarbhorn further explained how promoting non-discrimination in education and raising awareness were essential to put an end to disrespectful and hateful attitudes.
CRIN has submitted its contribution to the next report of the IE focusing on the specific rights violations affecting children who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or intersex. This submission aims to highlight the different forms of discrimination they experience on the basis of their actual or perceived sexuality or gender identity focusing on the worrying trend of restricting children’s access to information, violations of their right to bodily integrity, legal recognition, access to sex and relationships education and bullying. See the full submission here.
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