In this issue:
The Year in Children's Rights 2017
- Civil and political rights
- Juvenile justice and deprivation of liberty
- Inhuman sentencing
- Sexual abuse and accountability
- Toxics, pollution and health
- Armed conflict and refugees
- LGBT rights
The Year in Children's Rights 2017
In today's CRINmail we are looking back at 2017, charting the highs and the lows of the last 12 months. While 2017 has been marred by conflict, division and discrimination, the year has also seen some notable wins and reforms which we should not be quick to forget.
Civil and political rights
Despite no countries yet allowing anyone under the age of 16 to vote in national elections, progress has been made towards giving children the political representation they are entitled to. Around 24,000 people aged 16 to 17 in Estonia
were able to vote in local elections for the first time
in October. Around 5,000 children will be allowed to vote for the first time in Malta
in 2019, as government officials explained that it was not a question of if
, but of how changes to election rules would be altered to allow 16 and 17-year-olds the right to vote. Calls for the right to vote in national elections and referendums were also heard in the Australia
and the United Kingdom
, to name only a few.
Civil and political rights were on the chopping block in many other countries this year, with intrusive surveillance, heavy-handed policing of protests, forced evictions and other abuses occurring virtually every month. Authorities across Russia
reportedly harassed and intimidated schoolchildren
and older students who participated in anti-corruption demonstrations across 90 cities in March, with reports that authorities arrested 70 children in Moscow alone. Thousands of members of the Otodo Gbame community in Lagos, Nigeria
were left homeless after police stormed their waterside settlement and set fire to their homes
, shooting a 16-year-old boy in the chest, despite an injunction to prevent demolitions being issued in January.
doubled down on surveillance of its citizens by authorising the creation of vast biometric databases
to record voice patterns, at the same time as it plans to launch a “social credit system
”, a way of ranking the loyalty and productivity of all 1.3 billion of its citizens. In the country’s northwestern Xinjiang region efforts were undertaken to undermine the rights of Muslim Uyghur citizens, with a ban on praying and fasting during Ramadan and rules forbidding the use of the Uyghur language at all education levels
Juvenile justice and deprivation of liberty
During the summer, lawmakers in the Philippines
both dropped potentially disastrous law reforms which would have adversely affected children in conflict with the law. Politicians in the Philippines withdrew proposals to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility
from 15 to nine, though many children were still killed by police and vigilantes
for alleged involvement with the drug trade. In Italy plans to abolish specialised youth courts were dropped
after the money-saving move drew criticism from human rights experts, NGOs and more than 26,000 people who signed a petition against the proposal.
The Global Study on Children Deprived of Liberty
has been in the works since 2014 but will soon be collecting data, with the appointment of Manfred Nowak as an Independent Expert to lead the project last year representing a major step towards the research actually taking place. A lack of funding from States had left many, including Nowak
, concerned that the Study would stall. But several countries eventually saw the potential of the Study and contributions have begun to materialise, meaning reliable research into the issue may yet be produced. As the Study gets underway, CRIN stepped up its work on the issue by launching a campaign website
on children deprived of liberty globally, pulling together data, visualisations, case law, and a call to action for those who want to end child detention.
Thanks to public pressure, several ex-officials and police officers will stand trial in Guatemala
in connection with the deaths of 41 girls in a fire at a state-run home for children in March. Five people will face charges
including mistreating minors, dereliction of duty, abuse of authority and manslaughter after the girls, allegedly locked inside a room, died as a result of burns and smoke inhalation. Systemic failures were also highlighted in Australia
in November, when the a Royal Commission reported that
children in the country’s Northern Territory were subjected to verbal abuse, physical control and humiliation.
Iran and Saudi Arabia drew the most condemnation for sentencing children to death in 2017. Iran carried out at least four executions for crimes allegedly committed when the accused was under the age of 18, and several people who were arrested as children remain at risk of execution in Saudi Arabia. Authorities in the Puntland region of Somalia also carried out the first reported judicial executions of children in the country in almost a decade, according to Amnesty International. Five boys aged 14 to 17 are reported to have been put to death on 8 April, all sentenced for their alleged role in the killing of three senior officials by al-Shabaab.
Lawmakers in the Philippines also withdrew a proposal to introduce the death penalty for children after a concerted civil society campaign. The country’s legislature considered several bills during 2016 and 2017 that would reintroduce the sentence in the country, but none have been passed so far. In Kuwait measures were approved on 31 December 2016, to reintroduce the death penalty and life imprisonment for offences committed while aged over 16, but these were repealed by an overwhelming vote in March 2017.
Sexual abuse and accountability
In the year of #MeToo
the UN announced the creation
of a high-level task force to respond to sexual exploitation and abuse in January, but was hit with fresh allegations of abuse by staff again and again as the year went on. In April an Associated Press investigation found nearly 2,000 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by peacekeepers
and other personnel around the world over the last 12 years, signaling that the crisis is much larger than previously known
By June documents had been leaked to the Code Blue Campaign, suggesting 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. By September Code Blue accused the UN of mishandling allegations
of sexual abuse against peacekeepers in the Central African Republic, revealing that internal documents on 14 cases show the UN conducted botched investigations, with eight out of 14 cases not including interviews with survivors and ten not appearing on the UN’s own public record of sexual misconduct cases.
The year was not without progress on accountability for sexual abuse, however. A series of countries repealed laws that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. Lebanon
all did away with such laws after public pressure and government lobbying, with campaigners hoping for the change to roll over into other Arab countries with similar provisions, including Bahrain
As the year went on more and more allegations of sexual abuse were levelled against priests and other public figures in Guam
, with nearly 150 complaints
lodged by December. Priests, scout leaders and teachers are all accused in claims dating back decades, all made possible by the country removing the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse claims in late 2016
. In Argentina
survivors of sexual abuse by priests also came forward in unprecedented numbers, with a new analysis showing that the number of clerics publicly identified as alleged sexual abusers has increased dramatically
in the last two years. No official statistics on abuse by the clergy exist in the country, but increased reporting in the media and tougher sentences for abusers may have helped drive the trend towards increased accountability.
Toxics, pollution and health
The attention paid to the effects of toxic chemicals and pollution on health, especially as it relates to children, found new prominence this year. Numerous reports from the UN called for urgent action to ensure people could live free from the negative effects of inhaling air pollution, with UNICEF reporting that 300 million children, one in seven of the world’s total, live in areas with the most toxic levels of outdoor air pollution. The problem was reported on twice in Mongolia’s capital, where pollution reached 80 times the safe level set by the World Health Organization, which can lead to respiratory and cardiopulmonary illnesses and even premature death.
The impacts of nuclear testing were revealed in Kazakhstan when newly uncovered documents showed the extent of Soviet nuclear tests in the 1950s and 60s. In the wake of some blasts more than 600 people, including many children, were hospitalised with radiation sickness, with contamination persisting to this day. The UN was found to have neglected Roma families during the Kosovo War for relocating hundreds of ethnic Roma in decrepit camps poisoned by lead-contaminated waste, soil and dust run by its peacekeeping mission. The toxic legacy of conflict was also examined in Iraq in November, when UN experts warned that the environmental devastation left after the battle to reclaim Mosul from the so-called Islamic State will linger for decades. During the fighting the destruction of hospitals, weapons factories, industrial plants and power stations left behind a cocktail of chemicals and heavy metals which can severely affect children’s health.
Despite these problems, 2017 was also the year the first binding environmental treaty in more than a decade entered into force. The Minamata Convention, which sets out governments’ obligation to protect citizens from the harmful effects of mercury, came into effect on 16 August. Efforts were also made in Nepal to reduce the amount of toxic materials present in children’s toys, with new legislation coming into force to regulate the use of toxic heavy metals in manufacturing of all manner of playthings.
Armed conflict and refugees
Towards the year’s end millions of people were living in a precarious situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo after a violent political dispute spiralled out of control in the country’s Kasai province. Attacks on children, the use of rape as a weapon of war and food insecurity have created a largely overlooked crisis, with as many as 400,000 children at risk of starving to death unless they receive urgent help. Meanwhile the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen produced fresh horrors every week, with children in both countries affected by violence, a lack of food and medicine, and at risk of recruitment by parties to the conflicts. Children in Yemen were particularly affected by damage to health facilities, and a blockade of the country by Saudi Arabia led to the worst recorded cholera outbreak in human history. In Syria, reports showed that as many as 20 children were among the dead after the government launched a chemical attack on a town in Idlib province. Evidence collected after suspected nerve gas attacks on civilians suggest that they may amount to crimes against humanity.
The world was also shocked by a new crisis, as government-backed persecution and “devastating cruelty” in the treatment of Rohingya children and adults forced as many as 600,000 people to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Reports surfaced of systematic gang rapes, beating and killings being used against the ethnic minority Rohingya population, while satellite imagery showed that many Rohingya settlements had been burned down, allegedly by security forces and militias. As many as 6,700 people - including some 730 children below the age of five - were reportedly killed by violence between 25 August and 24 September.
This year also reminded us that conflicts have consequences, even for those who think themselves immune. Former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladic was found guilty of genocide for his involvement in some of the worst atrocities committed during the 1990s Bosnian war, and sentenced to life in prison. A small victory was also won when Saudi Arabia was finally put back on the UN’s “list of shame”, a blacklist of parties to conflict who have committed grave violations of children’s rights. Although Saudi Arabia was singled out in a new annex for countries which have taken measures to improve during the reporting period their inclusion at all represents progress from 2016’s highly politicised list, which saw them included and then removed following the application of political pressure.
Those fleeing conflict also endured many hardships, with the Council of Europe’s expert on migrants and refugees describing conditions for those travelling to Europe as “abysmal”. Detention centres and camps in Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, France and Italy all contributed to the abuse and neglect experienced by migrant children with little available in the way of educational and health services. The European Commission announced late in the year that it would take Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to the European Court of Justice over their failure to accept their quota of refugees.
After being appointed as the UN’s first Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn resigned for health reasons in October 2017. After finalising two reports, conducting one country visit and engaging with numerous governments on issues related to his mandate, Muntarbhorn will be replaced by Victor Madrigal-Borloz, who was appointed in December and will take over the role on the first day of the new year.
Respect for the rights of LGBT individuals improved in several countries during 2017, with votes in favour of same-sex marriage taking place in Germany, Malta, Austria, Australia. But generally the situation left much to be desired. In February South Korea’s education ministry declared that the new national sex education curriculum would not mention homosexuality. The move contradicted South Korea’s leading role at the UN in recent years, where it has voted for resolutions calling for an end to violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Paraguay made a similar move by banning the teaching of gender diversity in school. The European Court of Human Rights also decisively ruled that Russia’s ‘gay propaganda’ law, spuriously justified on the basis of child protection, violates the right to freedom of expression and non-discrimination.
The summer also saw so-called “family rights” organisations backing a Human Rights Council resolution on the role of the family. The resolution supposedly supported the protection and promotion of human rights of older persons, but also had critical blind spots and attempted to use children’s rights to promote an anti-LGBT agenda. CRIN responded with an article on the “family rights” fallacy.
Conference: The impact of children’s rights education and research on policy development Organisation: CREAN Registration deadline: 8 January 2018 Dates: 18-19 January 2018 Location: Geneva, Switzerland
Call for papers: World Congress on Justice for Children Organisation: Terres des hommes et al. Submission deadline: 26 January 2018 Date: 28-30 May 2018 Location: Paris, France
Education: International Children’s Rights Organisation: Leiden University Application deadline: 1 April 2018 (non-EU) / 15 June 2018 (EU students) Dates: September 2018 - Summer 2019 Location: Leiden, The Netherlands
THE LAST WORD
Now that 2018 is just around the corner, it’s time to talk about the future. While we can’t predict everything, there are a few things we’re anticipating in the new year. First of all, the Global Study on Deprivation of Liberty will finally get underway in earnest, with data collection and consultations starting to take place.
The Human Rights Council's next full-day meeting in 2018 will focus on “protecting the rights of the child in humanitarian situations”, while the first decision on an individual complaint to the Committee under OP3 is expected to be published. Several important global and regional agreements are set to come into force in the new year, with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation coming into effect in May, and both the global compact for migration and the Paris Agreement on climate change expected to be officially adopted.
We know that 2018 will be a year of action for CRIN as well, with plans to revamp annual reports as we know them, to take the next steps in our campaign to end child sexual abuse in religious institutions, to publish a report on of the use of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in courts around the world, and to complete our analysis on how the UN addresses children’s rights issues across the board, and much more.
Watch this space...