Human Rights Council Holds Interactive Dialogues on Violence Against Children and on Children and Armed Conflicts

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held separate interactive dialogues with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict.
Najat Maalla M’jid, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children, noted that the measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the risk of children being exposed to violence at home, online and in the community. More than 1 billion children were exposed to violence every year, a problem that required a genuine child-rights based and multi-sectoral approach. To achieve this, her mandate had continued to mobilise and cooperate with partners at the global, regional and national levels.
In the ensuing discussion, speakers said that fighting violence against children required a decisive response, and urgent action was needed. They noted that every year almost half of the children across the world were exposed to violence. This phenomenon, which remained hidden yet pervasive, notably affected their mental health. Speakers encouraged the inclusion of mental health coverage in violence prevention programmes. In the face of COVID-19, child protection workers should be considered essential staff, and efforts should be made to protect women and girls from violence.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were State of Palestine on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Iceland on behalf of Nordic and Baltic countries, United Nations Children’s Fund, Togo, Belgium, Tunisia, Malaysia, Paraguay, Russian Federation, Sovereign Order of Malta (video message), Ecuador, Cuba, State of Palestine, Thailand, Angola, Libya, China, Venezuela, France, Pakistan, Montenegro, Armenia, India, Philippines (video message), Spain (video message), Iran, Jordan, Indonesia, South Africa, Morocco, Colombia, El Salvador, Iraq, Hungary, Austria, Sudan, Egypt, Nepal, Slovenia, Malta, Georgia, Switzerland, Myanmar, Gabon, Algeria, Albania, Ghana, Maldives, South Sudan and Angola.
The following civil society organizations also took the floor : Defence for Children International, Beijing Children’s Legal Aid and Research Centre (video message), Make Mothers Matter, World Organization against Torture, International Humanist and Ethical Union (video message), International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII (video message), Friends World Committee for Consultation, World Vision International and Health and Environment Program.
The Council then began an interactive dialogue with Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict.
Ms. Gamba stated that throughout 2019, children had continued to be the primary victims of armed conflicts, which caused great concern, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, some 4,400 incidents of denial of humanitarian access to children were verified, as compared to 795 incidents of this nature in 2018 : an exponential increase and the highest one for any violation in any one year.
Speakers in the ensuing discussion noted that the best interest of the child should always be a primary focus, and that children associated with armed groups should be treated as children first. The recruitment of minors was a war crime, and States must ensure that they had mechanisms in place to prevent such human rights violations. The COVID-19 pandemic had further exacerbated violations against children in armed conflicts, and speakers expressed support for the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire.
Speaking during the interactive dialogue were Estonia on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Burkina Faso on behalf of the African Group, Uruguay on behalf of a group of countries, Costa Rica on behalf of a group of countries, United Nations Children’s Fund, Belgium, Malaysia, Fiji (video message), Russian Federation, Sovereign Order of Malta (video message), State of Palestine, Libya, China, Qatar, France, Pakistan, Armenia, Philippines (video message) and Syria.
Speaking in right of reply were India, Israel and Pakistan.
The Council will next meet on Friday, 3 July, at 10 a.m.
to conclude the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, which started in the morning meeting . The interactive dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict will resume on Friday afternoon.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children
Documentation
The Council has before it the Annual report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children( A/HRC/43/39).
Presentation of Report by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children
NAJAT MAALA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children , speaking via video message, noted that the measures taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the risk of children being exposed to violence at home, online and in the community. This was why her mandate led the development of the United Nations Agenda for Action for protecting children from violence in response to COVID-19, addressing actions that States needed to take to keep children safe. One of the main recommendations was for States to ensure that child protection services were officially recognized as essential and lifesaving, and that they continued to be accessible to all children. To succeed in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 during the Decade of Action, States needed to do more and act together, better and faster, now, not tomorrow. This required a genuine child-rights based and multi-sectoral approach. To achieve this, her mandate had continued to mobilise and cooperate with partners at the global, regional and national levels. Ms. M’jid said she had reactivated the Inter-Agency Working Group on violence against children, which had produced the joint Agenda for Action on COVID-19, and deepened cooperation with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, and the Special Procedures. She also continued to chair the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on the global study on children deprived of liberty, which was now addressing follow-up to the study.
The most important stakeholders were of course children themselves. The promotion of ethical and meaningful child participation was a cross-cutting priority for the mandate, for instance promoting the #COVIDUnder19 initiative to gather children’s experiences during the crisis. More than 1 billion children were exposed to violence every year. They faced violence in many forms and in many places, both online and offline, and more preventative and responsive action was needed. There was growing evidence on cost-effective interventions to tackle this problem. For example, preventive interventions that focused on maternal mental health, mother–infant interaction, and play and stimulation had positive and long-term benefits. Community-based rehabilitation programmes and socio-emotional learning interventions in schools had also been shown to be effective. Mental health services must be similarly scaled up as an essential component of universal health coverage. In order to achieve these reforms, her mandate would soon publish a more in-depth report on mental health and violence against children, highlighting further examples of good practice and evidence-based interventions. She concluded by recalling the words of a victim of child sexual abuse : “Not speaking was like an emotional cancer … you don’t begin to heal until you disclose.”
Discussion
In the ensuing dialogue, speakers said that fighting violence against children required a decisive response, and urgent action was needed. Every year, almost half of the children across the world were exposed to violence. This phenomenon, which remained hidden yet pervasive, notably affected their mental health. Speakers encouraged the inclusion of mental health coverage in violence prevention programmes, and asked the Special Representative to comment on the key strategies in that regard. In the face of COVID-19, child protection workers should be considered essential staff, and efforts should be made to protect women and girls from violence. Violence against children, whether online or in real life, impeded the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. Advocating for an integrated approach, speakers urged consideration of the role of boys and men in preventing domestic violence, and stressed that identifying risks of violence against children provided the basis of protection.
Interim Remarks by the Special Representative
NAJAT MAALA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children , in interim remarks, noted that the gender dimension was a cross-cutting issue in the mandate and the report drew attention to the gendered impact of violence. Protecting children and preventing violence and mental health problems was fundamentally about making sure that children lived in healthy, protective environments. This meant ensuring that safety nets and social protection services were accessible to children, and that children were empowered. At the same time, at the local level it was important to strengthen community and social workforces, empowering them to react quickly to risk factors. Children must be seen as actors, and as part of the solution. Ms. M’jid emphasised that in her work, the actions children usually proposed were concrete and cost-effective. The mandate was related to preventing and ending violence against children, and its main reference was the Convention on the Rights of the Child. At the beginning of this Decade for Action, countries were not on track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 16.2, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was why multilateralism and international solidarity was more important than ever.
Discussion
Referring to the various measures and policies in their countries in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, speakers urged efforts to realize a “cultural transformation” through education and awareness raising. Some speakers drew attention to the psychological violence suffered by children living in countries that witnessed terrorist attacks. The number of children affected by violence was staggering, and yet it could further increase. Some speakers urged a positive attitude towards all children, especially those who were being raised by lesbian, bisexual, gay, trans and intersex families. Some asked how Member States and other partners could better contribute to fostering the mental health of children. Other speakers emphasized the need to address female genital mutilation, child pornography, child sexual exploitation, and forced marriages. Children often suffered from domestic violence, which had been heightened in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, they said. Children should be perceived as change agents and subjects of rights. Speakers urged governments to find alternatives to the detention of children whenever possible, and warned against the negative impact that the deprivation of liberty had on them.
Concluding Remarks
NAJAT MAALA M’JID, Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children , in her concluding remarks stated that as she highlighted in her presentation, the mandate had carried out a mapping of recommendations with regards to children who were deprived of liberty. During the COVID-19 pandemic many countries had released children from detention centres, which led to the question : if this was done now, why could this not have been done sooner? At the same time, many countries were proactive and set up many good practices on tackling violence against children during the pandemic. She was working on a way to share these practices publicly among States. The main thing was to make sure that child protection services were seen as life saving policies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
Documentation
The Council has before it the Report of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict **on **Children and armed conflict ( A/HRC/43/38).
Presentation of Report by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
VIRGINIA GAMBA, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for children and armed conflict , stated that throughout 2019, children had continued to be the primary victims of armed conflicts, which caused great concern, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, some 4,400 incidents of denial of humanitarian access to children were verified, as compared to 795 incidents of this nature in 2018 : an exponential increase and the highest one for any violation in any one year. This shrinking of the humanitarian space had disastrous repercussions on the rights of conflict-affected children, said Ms. Gamba, urging States to call upon all conflict parties to remove impediments to humanitarian access to children. Two other grave violations had worsened during 2019 : rape and other forms of sexual violence against conflict-affected children continued to be significantly underreported, particularly when perpetrated against boys. Of equal concern was the constant numbers of attacks against schools and hospitals as well as protected personnel, as the lockdown and emptying of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic increased the risk of military use of empty buildings and of attacks on health facilities. Ms. Gamba urged States to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and implement its Guidelines.
The impact of COVID-19 lockdowns extended to increased risk of child abuse, including those in detention, the limiting of children’s access to child protection actors, and complicating the delivery of services. Last year had also seen a high rise in the numbers of children detained for their alleged association with armed groups or on national security related charges. These children were highly vulnerable survivors of intense fighting and had witnessed unimaginable atrocities, and as such they must be primarily treated as victims. On the other hand, 2019 saw 30 joint action plans or other forms of commitments signed between the United Nations and conflict parties, which was the largest annual number ever. Nationally, 2019 had seen many governments in conflict affected States drafting and enacting child protection legislation such as in Myanmar, the Central African Republic and the Philippines. More States should ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, said Ms. Gamba, thanking Gambia and Myanmar for their ratifications. In 2019, 13,200 children were released from conflict parties. However, the release was only the first step and sustainable reintegration programmes must be made available to all separated children. Ms. Gamba ended by noting that she found that regular information exchange with relevant partners enriched her agenda and provided her with new approaches to better protect the most vulnerable of all children.
Discussion
In the ensuing discussion, speakers noted that the best interest of the child should always be a primary focus, and that children associated with armed groups should be treated as children first. The recruitment of minors was a war crime, and States must ensure that they had mechanisms in place to prevent such human rights violations. The COVID-19 pandemic had further exacerbated violations against children in armed conflicts, speakers said, expressing support for the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire. Ms. Gamba’s work was commended, as speakers highlighted the relevance of her special advocacy efforts to put an end to the adverse effects of armed conflict on children, and the importance of the monitoring and reporting mechanisms of the Special Representative. The 2019 figures portrayed a bleak picture, as children were increasingly exposed to violence and conflict. Speakers encouraged States to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Arbitrary deprivations of liberty must be avoided, and all children who were detained based on association with armed groups must be immediately released. Some speakers noted that cooperation on this issue should be carried out in strict compliance with the mandate, avoiding overlap with other mandates, and that certain language allowed other issues unrelated to children in conflict to be on the agenda. Speakers noted that certain non-State actors recruited children under cover of presenting themselves as human rights defenders or schools. The term “parties to the conflict” was questioned by other speakers, as it created an environment in which States, and non-State and terrorist groups, were treated on equal footing.

Source: United Nations

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