A landmark treaty adopted 20 years ago has transformed the way the world views children but greater efforts are needed to ensure that their rights are protected and advanced, the United Nations human rights chief said today.
“Children are no longer regarded as the property of parents or the passive recipients of charity or goodwill, but as rights-holders,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay told a meeting of the Human Rights Council focusing on the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“This conceptual shift also underscored States’ accountability in fulfilling their obligations towards children’s rights,” she added. “The Convention anchors these obligations to the principles of non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, children’s right to life, survival and development, and respect for the children’s right to express their views.”
She noted that over the past two decades, national mechanisms and practices have furthered children’s rights, which are now a feature of many school curricula, and awareness of children’s rights has never been higher.
In a further effort to promote children’s rights, a new multilingual, “edutainment” website was launched today on the sidelines of the Council’s meeting aimed at raising awareness and generating knowledge about the Convention and the rights enshrined in it, as well as global environmental issues.
The site (www.CyberDodo.com) offers multimedia content, including 10 hours of cartoons, games and files, and is complemented by a book publication, or “Edupack,” available to schools and those without Internet access. It is currently available in English, Arabic, French and Spanish.
In her speech to the Council, Ms. Pillay also said that despite the many positive developments, there was cause for concern in a number of areas, adding that many crimes against children continue to go unpunished.
According to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), each year nearly 10 million children die from preventable causes before their fifth birthday.
The UN Study on Violence against Children reported that some 80 to 98 per cent of children suffer physical punishment in their homes, with a third or more experiencing severe physical punishment inflicted with implements.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2002 that 150 million girls and 73 million boys under 18 experienced forced sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual violence. Also, the latest data available shows that some 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide every year.
In addition, as noted by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, young people pay a heavy price in situations of conflict, where they are victims of attacks against schools, and are abducted and forced to serve as combatants, sex slaves or servants. More than 250,000 children are estimated to have been recruited as soldiers.
The current global financial crisis is also taking a toll on children, undermining their survival, access to housing, health and education. “When crises strike, social spending in programmes protecting children is to be counted among the first casualties of budget adjustments,” said Ms. Pillay.
“It is also true that in times of hardship, absent specific and targeted programs to support their education, children may be forced to abandon school and join the workforce. In this situation they may become more vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking,” she noted.
“We must remain vigilant in order to confront emerging challenges and ensure that the spirit and letter of the Convention shape the responses and remedial measures of the international community,” she said, adding that the Geneva-based Council can play an important role in advocating and advancing measures for the protection of the rights of the child.
“We need to translate our commitment, engagement, and work on children's rights into a tangible reality for each and every one of them,” Ms. Pillay stated, pledging through her personal advocacy and the work of her staff to continue to draw attention to the rights of children and help States to fulfil their relevant responsibilities.