Gehad Madi, 62, from Egypt, is a current Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and Egypt's former Assistant Foreign Minister and Director of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps Department. Mr. Madi is a career diplomat and has been Egypt's Ambassador to the UK and India. He worked for Egypt's Mission to the UN in New York during the drafting of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Click here to read Gehad's CV in full.
Why do you want to stand for re-election?
I have gained much experience during my first tenure in the Committee and I think I can gain more experience in a second tenure particularly with the entry into force of the Third Optional Protocol on a Communications Procedure. We have drafted the rules of procedure of the Optional Protocol and I have participated in the drafting process. So I think I will be able to contribute more to the rights of the child particularly in regards to the Optional Protocol which is very important as it gives children an opportunity to submit complaints to the Committee.
What do you feel you have achieved as a Committee member?
I would say much; all of us participated in the work of the committee and considered many reports during the last three years. All of us have gained a certain experience and have contributed to the rights of the child. Many State Parties who have participated in the review of their reports have taken seriously our concluding observations and we have seen on the ground that they have reformed national legislation and are contributing more and more to the rights of the child.
When we interviewed you in 2010, you said that the children's rights issues that needed more attention were child labour, children living in the street and child trafficking. Has this changed and how have your years on the Committee influenced your view?
Situations change, step-by-step, but there was no dramatic change particularly in regards to child labour and children living in the street. In reality children living in the street need more and more protection from countries. We have introduced different general observations in this respect and we are participating strongly in many conferences around the world on these very important issues. Having said that, children's rights in general are the most important rights for any State because children are the present and the future. If they want to have a strong and developed society they have to give children all right included in the Convention - and maybe more than that - in order to have a bright future for the country and the society.
Children continue to be disproportionately affected by poverty and the budget cuts states are making as a result of the financial crisis. How do you think the children's rights community can work more effectively to protect children's rights in this context?
Indeed we have noticed that due to the financial crisis many countries have made certain cuts to their budget in many fields, not only for children. We always emphasis during the consideration of State's reports that those cuts should not be applied to children's rights. Again, States should be thinking of the future and prepare children to be responsible for their future and for the wealth of the society. Yes there are cuts in certain States but we are fighting very strongly against them.
In our monitoring of children's rights issues, we have noticed a growing trend to restrict children's access to information. Some countries have laws banning the distribution of information about ‘non-traditional' sexual orientations to children; others routinely deny children access to information about sex, sexuality and health issues such as drug use. These restrictions are generally justified as being for ‘child protection’ purposes. What do you think about this and what more can be done to promote children’s access to information?
We are against all those trends and in fact the more children access information the more they are prepared for the future. We should help them understand certain situations particularly with regards to issues such as sexual exploitation. These are very important issues that children should understand. We are always emphasising during our discussions the need for sexual education of children in schools in order for them to understand better the situation rather than to be ignorant of their bodies and their needs. This is a very important issue for children to understand. I think we are doing this in the review of every State particularly with the review of the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. We are very strong on those issues.
In January 2014, the Committee reviewed the Holy See's record on children's rights, and in particular the widespread institutional sexual abuse of children. What more do you think can be done to protect children from sexual violence in religious institutions more generally?
Again, we are working very strongly in this respect and we have invited the Interpol to one of our sessions to have a discussion on this issue and they gave us many important information about those States where children are being sexually abused. It's a trend that exists all over the world. We are emphasising the need for a change in laws and regulations in order to protect children against sexual abuse. We have received some positive responses from different states. It's not only an issue in the Holy See but it was one of those flagrant issues that come out of a religious institution and we were very strong in our discussion and in our concluding observations. We had a positive response from the Vatican about these issues and we hope that they will build on such trends.
There is a lot of talk about ensuring children's rights are addressed across all UN bodies. In reality, children's rights are still not addressed systematically across the board. What do you think can be done to better 'mainstream' children's rights and how do you think the Committee can help with this?
We are focusing on children's rights and some other committees deal with issues where children’s rights are also important. In our focus on children's rights, we are cooperating with other committees, we are involved in a coordination and cooperation process with CEDAW on all issues related to children. This is an important factor: Treaty Bodies should coordinate together in order to better focus on their mandates. We also receive other Treaty Bodies' Concluding Observations and they receive ours.
If you were Chair of the Committee, what change would you make to how it works?
I think any changes are not being done by the Chair as a person by the whole Committee. And there's no one person who is responsible, it is no dictatorship. We are coordinating our efforts and we discuss things together and all documents are being issued in the name of the Committee.
I think the Committee needs to be prepared to deal with the provisions of the Third Optional Protocol because this will be a big challenge. It is the first time that the Committee is going to deal with complaints from children so we have to be well prepared.
NGOs and independent human rights institutions do of course have opportunities to contribute to the review of State parties by the Committee. But how do you think the Committee can work more effectively with civil society, including national organisations, in its work to interpret areas of children's rights in the CRC?
Corporation with NGOs is one of the most important aspect in our deliberations. During all pre-sessions we receive NGOs to listen to their point of views on children's rights in respect to the countries they work in and we receive the most important information from them. We have a continuous cooperation with NGOs.
I should underline here that we cannot properly work without the input we receive from NGOs. We learned a lot from their participation because they are on the ground and they know the issues and problems in country.
But the most important aspect is the follow-up to our Concluding Observations. We hope that NGOs are taking our concluding observations and following up with States because most unfortunately until now the Committee has no direct follow-up procedure to the Concluding Observations. So we are hoping that the job is being done by NGOs. We hope that they will communicate with us the process of the follow-up procedure instead of waiting untill the next review.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child is the only UN treaty body that lacks a follow-up procedure. If you were to develop such a procedure, what would it look like?
Any procedure in this respect depends on the financial aspect. But I think it would be very important for some Committee Members to visit States, for example, two years after the Concluding Observations to discuss with officials and with NGOs what has been achieved. They have to know what more they need to do in order to be in line with the Observations Particularly before the State Party starts drafting its next report. This will give States an advance notification of what actions they should take in order to come back to the Committee having implemented most of the previous Concluding Observations.
Now that the complaints mechanism has entered into force, how do you think the Committee can help ensure that it is accessible to children?
This is also one of the tasks and mandates of the NGOs. They have to spread the word that children can now submit complaints provided that it will be admissible - provided that local remedies have taken place. I think NGOs can do a great job in this respect.
What do you think are the main child rights issues in Egypt, especially in light of all the recent political changes in the country?
What I would like to promote here is to give more rights to children particularly in regards to street children. We have seen during the rule of the Muslim brotherhood that children have been used and abused in this respect. They were pushed to demonstrate, they were pushed to be in the frontline of certain demonstrations which jeopardises their safety. This has stopped last year since the June 30 revolution.
But we still have a problem with the situation of children living on the street. Our new Constitution incorporates all rights of children in a very good approach yet the Constitution needs by-laws to be implemented. This is a long process that will take some time.