The United Nations today launched a major campaign for universal adoption of treaty protocols that outlaw the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography, and protect youngsters in armed conflict, with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling for full ratification by 2012.
“The sad truth is that too many children in today’s world suffer appalling abuse,” he told a ceremony at the headquarters of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in New York marking the tenth anniversary of the adoption of the two optional protocols strengthening the Convention on the Rights of the Child by providing a moral and legal shield for youngsters vulnerable to prostitution and pornography or caught up in armed conflict.
“Two-thirds of all Member States have endorsed these instruments. On this tenth anniversary of their adoption, I urge all countries to ratify them within the next two years.”
Mr. Ban cited recent advances: the release three months ago by the Maoist army in Nepal, under UN supervision, of more than 2,000 soldiers who had been recruited as children; the UN-assisted freeing of children from the ranks of armed groups In Côte d’Ivoire; the prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of former Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga for war crimes against children.
He noted, too, that fewer and fewer States now permit children to join the armed forces and reiterated his previous calls to the Security Council to consider tough measures on those States and insurgent groups that still recruit children.
More countries are also reforming legislation and criminalizing the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography and the sexual exploitation of children, with international cooperation helping to dismantle paedophile networks, remove child pornography from the Internet, and protect children from sexual exploitation by tourists.
“Nonetheless, much remains to be done,” he declared. “In too many places, children are seen as commodities, in too many instances they are treated as criminals instead of being protected as victims, and there are too many conflicts where children are used as soldiers, spies or human shields.”
UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake said the Optional Protocols “represent a promise made to the world’s most vulnerable children – children born into extreme poverty and despair, children in countries torn apart by conflict and children forced into unimaginable servitude by adults who regard them as commodities.”
The Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict has been ratified by 132 States; 25 States have signed but not ratified it and 36 States have neither signed nor ratified it. “We know from the situation on the ground that much remains to be done. Violence against children in all its forms remains a challenge for societies in the world,” Mr. Ban’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy said.
“There are a multitude of conflicts where children are used as soldiers, spies, human shields or for sexual purposes. Every additional ratification of the Optional Protocol would therefore bring us closer to a world in which no child is participating in hostilities and forced to serve the national military or irregular armies.”
The Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, has been ratified by 137 States; 27 have signed but not ratified and 29 have neither signed nor ratified it.
“The Optional Protocol is an important tool for tearing through the mantle of invisibility surrounding the sale of children, child prostitution, child pornography and other forms of sexual exploitation, to mobilize societies and to translate political commitment into effective protection of children from all forms of violence,” Mr. Ban’s Special Representative on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais said, citing significant law reforms to criminalize such crimes.
At a later news conference UNICEF Deputy Executive Director Hilde Johnson cited called the use of child soldiers and their sale and misuse in pornography and slavery-like sex work as two of the most brutal abuses of children. “This has to come to an end, so the first step is to ensure universal ratification,” she said.
Ms. Santos Pais praised the change that has taken place over the past 10 years, with new legislation introduced and protection system strengthened in most countries. “But unfortunately we are halfway. We are absolutely impatient to see this process of change touch upon the lives of all children in the world.”